Sunday, May 22, 2011

EPW edition on Cash Transfers

This week's edition of the EPW is devoted to Cash Transfers as a policy measure. It contains several articles which are for and against the move towards cash transfers.
The debates on cash transfers have intensified in the last one year. Highly satisfying to see that I worked on a project in a course at IRMA on this cash transfer aspect.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Govt. phobia at IIMs

The IIMs want the government out of their affairs. What this will do is that the IIMs will become no more than a placement agency for Indian and more so for foreign business houses.
The IIMs will be completely dependent on the industry for meeting expenditure. I am afraid this will lead to a real loss of "autonomy". There is a conspiracy theory ( conspiracy since I have only heard this from the alumni) about a B school in the eastern part of the country which give out favourable reviews of rehabilitation projects of mining companies only because a large part of revenue is derived from these companies which conduct MDPs for their executives in this B school.
The IIMs have to realise that they are a "management"institute and not a Business school. They also conduct research studies which are supposed to be unbiased and in line with the best interests of the society. This will be lost as they depend on large corporations for revenue generation.
When the government is extending a warm welcome to professionals from private sector (Nandan Nilekani of UIDAI, Arun Maira in the Planning Commission), why are the IIMs so keen on getting the government out of their affairs.
Also, the IIMs especially A, took on Murli Manohar Joshi when he decided to reduce fees. The same IIMs did not even complain when Arjun Singh autocratically and cunningly raised the quotas for OBCs. All of them increased their intake quietly.
There is a protest though against this vocal desire of getting "autonomy". Prof. TT Rammohan, a senior faculty member of IIMA has questioned the rationale of asking the government to leave the IIMs to run on their own.
I think it time the IIMs delve into some introspection and there would be no better guiding light than the vision of each IIM which would always look at IIMs as more than just producing managers for business houses.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jean Dreze on Conditional Cash Transfers

Jean Dreze in an Indian Express article is not too gung-ho about cash transfers. He does raise some interesting issues. But, given the excitement of UID being a panacea for leakage issues, I see Cash Transfers being a reality pretty soon.

'We are Poor but so Many'-The Story of Self Employed Women In India

Ela Bhatt is an extra-ordinary personality. Her life long dedication towards upliftment of self-employed women has been appreciated and honoured all around the world. Hence, when I received a copy of her memoir (We are Poor but so Many/OUP/INR 345), I enthusiastically started to read it. And read one must, if one has to appreciate the determination, innovativeness and doggedness of self employed women in today's economy. One also appreciates how much is to be done for ensuring that a large section of society, no less productive and no less hardworking than the 'organised sector' does not get a raw deal in our quest for achieving high economic growth.
The book starts with Elaben (in Gujarat, women are addressed as ben meaning sister) recounting how, a lawyer brought up in a rich family, was attracted towards working for the self employed women due to her huband's own work towards the poorer sections of society.
As a lawyer, Elaben started her career in the Textile Labour Association (TLA) in 1955. During the strikes, she realised what an important role women played in ensuring that households get by with minimum income. When the men of the house were out attending rallies, the women carried out odd jobs to make ends meet. Yet, no one recognised this vital role! This led her to form SEWA (Self Employed Women's Association) in 1972.
The book goes on to recount struggles against the bureaucracy (the registrar not ready to form the co-operative since the women were illiterate), the Government (SEWA has been known to take a different stand than the one taken by Modi during and after the riots), market actors (medical shop owners issuing physical threats to women manning the SEWA medical shops), etc.
The book is divided into various chapters on the basis of the occupation of its members and on the interventions. It is amazing to see how women engaged in occupations like rag picking, garment stitching, hawking groceries, mid wives, etc have come together to uplift themselves.
One can feel that Elaben has understated her own efforts.Nowhere one can find Elaben glorifying her own work. In fact, her co-workers who came from backgrounds similar to the members of the union provided her the strength to carry on the good work.
In fact the idea of owning one's bank came from a member who when told by Elaben that a bank requires a considerable amount of money retorted "We are Poor, But so Many"! The work done
by her co workers is immense. That many of them were illiterate and poor accentuates their contribution in building such a large organisation.
SEWA has also benefited from professionals who usually came down as interns from top Universities but stayed back and have made a meaningful contribution to SEWA. So you have Renana Jabvala who came with degress from Yale and Harvard to conduct a study but never left. Jayshree Vyas, a CA who is the MD of the Bank. Mirai Chatterjee, that wonderful personality who won many an admirer when she came for a pre placement talk at IRMA, with a Harvard and John Hopkins degree who looks at the health co-operative, etc.
What comes through in the book is this-inspite of SEWA being such an established name, it still has to struggle to get the administration and the bureaucracy's support for its programmes. One can only wonder the difficulties that smaller NGOs/producer companies, etc have to go through for undertaking their activities.
Also, all our social security measures for labour are directed at the organised sector. This sector does not constitute more than 10% of our workforce. The remaining part constitutes the "unorganised" sector. This sector is responsible for the "low cost" economy. They are all around us. And yet there is no adequate social security measures for this vast section of our population.
Hence, Elaben philosophically asks in the end " In India where a majority of workers fall outside of this current definition of work, perhaps it is time we asked, what is Karma?"

( Prof. Sriram has written a beautiful and personal review of the same book which can be accessed here)

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Vodafone Experience

Since I am on a "customer providing feedback" spree, let me recount my experience with Vodafone. Now, there have been several experiences but I will limit myself to the latest experience.
Vodafone, and I am sure this will be true of other operators also, does not care about pre-paid customers.The ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) in the prepaid category would not be more than 15% of that of the post paid category. I would hazard a guess that Vodafone is in fact making losses on the prepaid category. I arrive at this conclusion since it charges 50 paise for three minutes when you talk to a customer care executive. This is free for post paid customers. Also, 9 out of 10 times, a pre paid customer will never be able to connect to the customer care executive. When you press the number which, as the IVRS tells you, will connect to the customer care executive, you are merely sent back to the original menu!
Now, last week the operator did not activate my internet services. I was forced to call the customer service guys from my Dad's phone (which is a post paid connection) and tell them about the non-activation of the service. A week and several calls later, they were as clueless as I was. The standard answer I got was "It will start tonight". So I finally forced them to register a complaint and give me a docket number. Now, the executive will try his level best not to give you a docket number. Not by trying to resolve the issue but merely frustating you. The main weapon is keeping you on hold for more than half an hour.
After receiving the docket number, I shot off a mail to the nodal officer. Now the minute you write to the nodal officer, these guys suddenly start treating you like a valuable customer. A series of calls later, they fixed my problem and sent me a mail stating the same.
So, it is not necessary to believe that multi nationals are a cut above the rest when providing customer services. Imagine what would have happened if I did not have access to a post paid connection and I did not have the free time to pursue this issue with them.
A neo-classical economist would obviously tell me that I would rationally move onto another operator. And more so now, since switching costs are relatively low given the introduction of MNP (Mobile Number Portability). But, I will not as I believe that "the known devil is better than the unknown devil"

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The SBI customer experience

Since I would be starting my career next month, I thought I might as well do some financial planning. The first step was to open a PPF (Public Provident Fund) account. One can open a PPF account at the Post Office (you can do it through an agent as well) and at an SBI Branch.
I decided to open one through the SBI since it provides the facility of electronic transfer through my savings bank account.
The branch below my building does not conduct this business and hence I had to go to a fairly distant SBI to open an account. This is my experience with the "Banker to every Indian"
There is one lady who is only responsible for the PPF business. She was very kind and helped me fill the form (not that it is a difficult one). I filled it up and gave it to her with proof of identity and proof of residence (Hail Weber's bureaucracy). Surprisingly, she cannot check the documents. For that one has to go to the "operations" manager. Now this guy goes through the documents at his own pace. In the meantime, he has all the officers coming to him for permissions regarding allowances for certain deviations. HE is the BOSS. He also finds time to call up customers and ask them if they have indeed sent some person (a domestic help) with a cheque. He checks my documents and then logs on to my SB account. Surprisingly, he doesnt find my signature in their records! He asks me whether I had faced cases of cheques being dishonoured. I say a yes only to find him asking me the reason given by my Branch. A bit shocked, I said that the reason given was "signature does not match with original". The fact was that they had never scanned my signature. For the past two years, they have dishonoured three of four high value cheques. I decided to go to my branch once this PPF business was over.
After verifying my documents, he tells me to go back to the lady and fill up a pay in slip. I do the needful and before I could submit the documents to the lady for opening up the account, I find that she has gone for lunch. After half an hour, I go to her and she opens up an account. I thought that was it. But she tells me to go back to the operations manager and take an account number. I go back to the manager and he tells me to come back next week as the branch manager is not there!! I protest and he asks me to give a cheque ( I had intended to give cash)! I give him the cheque and he tells me to come back next week. Resigned to my fate, I give back the documents to the lady and ask her whether the PPF account would be automatically linked to my online profile. She answers in the negative and points to another person in the bank. Tired of documention, I tell her I will do that next week and head back to my SB account branch to resolve the signature issue.
At my branch, the operations manager checks my account, and with an indifference attitude, tells me to fill one more form. I enquire as to whether my PPF account cheque would bounce and he answers in the affirmative. A bit angry, I tell him to hasten the process of getting my signature on their records.
Today, I downloaded the Bank Code of Conduct and was planning to write a complaint. While the document was downloading, I logged into my SBI account and I see that a PPF account has been opened. They have transferred the amount to the account (so the cheque did not bounce) and the PPF account has been linked to my account.
Do these guys at the branch do this purposefully so that I can be delighted later and probably sign off a blog post, not as an irate customer but as a delighted one? I dont know!!