Arvind Kejriwal

All posts in the Arvind Kejriwal category

Smart Cities : More Questions Than Answers

Published May 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

SMART CITY
A ‘smart city’ is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. It is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents. A Smart City, should have Power, Water, Cleanliness, Seamless Information, 24/7 Utility Services, WiFi zones, Recreational Spaces, Waste Management, Connectivity in transport as well as communication, Speedy Service, Transparency and Accountability etc.

While there are good points & it is also a good and needed step, but…. firstly, it doesnt take into account the realities of the Indian Demography, Polity, Bureaucracy, Governance and Systems. it doesnt take into account the Indian Economy, and its doesnt take into account the status of the real estate sector, as also any number of other realities that beset the Indian Economy.


ECONOMIC STRUCTURE

Economic output by the entire corporate contributes just 18% or thereabouts to the Indian Economy. The rest is Agriculture, and unorganised sector. A smart city implies high doses of technological capability, which scores upon scores of our companies do not possess, and the gap is too large for them to plug, given the history and the monetary requirements. Other nations enjoy economies of scale and can produce whatever we can at cheaper rates. If we keep a purchase local condition, we are finished before we start, like the FDI in retail brouhaha.


If we cant compete in a commodity like Stainless Steel, it is foolish to believe we can compete in high-tech sectors. We have skills aplenty; they have the economies of scale, which is what is needed. For that, we have to dismantle a large part of our taxation structure, which is inverted in more than a few categories.



Next, how do you fit in the small variables like the thelaa-gaadis, small eateries, roadside stores etc – all the things that define a lovely Indian City in a Smart City concept? Is it clear? What happens to these small support services? They are a cultural reality; I wouldnt be caught dead in a 5-star; too stuffy and showy for my taste, Give me the fantastic Idli-Vada at Sion Station; given a choice, I would eat Idli Vada over those showy dishes in a Marriott any day! The point is that these minor details need to be idenitified and clarified before we start, or we run the risk of overzealous officials banning or relegating such activities to the backburner, leading to loss of livelihood to thousands, and an erosion of uniqueness and attractiveness as well.



Next, Sustainable Real Estate. End of Story. Take a gander at the real estate market in India. It is controlled and cartelised, beset by crime and corruption. TIll last year, prices were holding in Urban India depsite their being a 50% vacancy rate of unsold inventory. What happens when the Smart City Ball gets rolling? Sustainable? That it isnt. Valuations will go through the roof, and that is a fact. 


It completely ignores the structure of the Economy, which is characterised by small entrepreneurs. I would like to understand how the small entrepreneur with 50000 seed capital can make a mark in your smart cities. These ventures are capital intensive, and import oriented, which is the real reason why everyone from China to USA is agog; they see $$$$Kaching$$$$! Study the incomparable report on the Indian Economy by Prof Vaidyanathan – India, Uninc; it gives figures from Government sources and introduces you to the real India.


There are two data points available : 5th Economic Survey, 2005 and NSSO 2011, Both tell the same story: Smart Cities are nothing but a fantasy. They are premature, they are the future, but very premature. The Idea is right, but a decade or two too early. As per the first, there are 41.83 Million establishments in India; 76% of these worked without any power; employing 100.9 Million; 46% were own account establishments. As per NSSO 2011, 66% were OAE; retail trade slipped from 42% to 30% and ,manufacturing grew from 23% to 31%. Own Account Establishments were 60% of retail, 72% of Manufacturing, and 63% of service. Contribution to the GDP : between 46-58%.


Given the Smart City definition, a good number of them don’t fit – and largely for no fault of theirs. These organizations do not have the money to upgrade – they will upgrade eventually : a process that is currently underway. That is the time these concepts can work. And this will happen in tandem with improvements in education etc basic facilities in India, not before.

PRIORITIES & REQUIREMENTS

What does the nation require? Research shows that nearly 93Million of our farmers are losing 800-odd per crop; data shows the level of poverty in our nation; consumption trends corroborate, with the top 10% growing at a rate of 3% as opposed to 1% consumption growth for the bottom 40%. Farmer suicides are going up; the economic fundamentals are shaky; the global economy is in unprecedented turmoil, and all we can think of is Smart Cities? Our Armed Forces are in dire need of funds; and all we can think of is Smart Cities? We spend the lowest in GDP terms on Education, Defence and Health, and all we can think of are Smart Cities?



We dont need Smart Cities, We need Schools, Colleges, Primary Health Centers, Rockets, Mortars, Fighter Aircraft, Missiles, Satellites, Seed Research, Irrigation, Water Purity for Agriculture, Extension Workers to teach our Small and Marginal Farmers, Redoing our Duty and Taxation Structures, Fair prices for farmers at farm-gate, cement or pukka roads, etc etc. A smart city can come after that.



Besides, a Smart City requires – data connection. We in India have average & unreliable speeds of around 1,5mbps; the developed nations have a speed of upwards of 22mbps. They have high penetration of credit and debit cards and acceptability of online commerce; we dont. India has precisely 73Million broadband connections – this is including individuals with a double connection; I have three. Less than 69Million Indians consume more than 512mbps of data on a monthly basis; and cashless transactions are unknown outside the protected environs of top places.


The logic is sound, I clearly stated that concept is needed – but a decade or two too early. This will work in a relatively corruption-free atmosphere, where the Land issues are under control. That we dont have. Next, this works in economic reality which enable the above, which again we dont have, as I have been at pains to point out.


The shift to the small cities will not happen in the industrial sector; the vast majority – upto 90% – of the actual producers are concentrated in only a select few agglomerations, namely Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, followed by Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad. Other second-level sites are Nashik, Meerut, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Ludhiana, Kanpur, Rajkot,Surat. No one else comes even close to these cities, although Jaipur, Chandigarh, Hissar, Nagpur and a couple others do try hard. These are further populated by small enterprises.



The shift will not happen from these established centers; there is in existence an ecosystem that now is impossible to replace,. with manufacturing facilities being deeply interlinked with their vendors and suppliers who have now set up in the same or nearby areas. In B2B industries, a symbiotic relationship has started with the consumers and the manufacturers sometimes co-located, or located within 8-10Kms of each other.



The proof is in the manifest failure of industrial areas in other wannabe metros, like Indore and Bhopal, which have simple failed to take off. They remain consumption and trading centers, not producers, despite an incredible level of support given to them by successive Governments. The failure of Bhilai to rise as a comparable center to even Nagpur, let alone Surat & Rajkot, is a case in point.


MY FEAR
We are only exacerbating the rural-urban divide. As on date, few Urban Indians show the same level of passion for rural development, which is the only thing we need. Rest will take care of itself! We are asking people to focus their valuable- sorry, waste their valuable time on cities, where the conditions are utopic in comparison to villages and that is a fact! Large numbers of villagers would willingly settle for facilities comparable to our current “stupid cities” and that is also undeniable.


No amount of planning will overcome the serious objections there are, some of which are enlisted below. I dont buy visions; they are a dime a dozen. I buy execution – call it my sales instinct, but I am not impressed by Grand Visions without a proper execution document, which contains detailed studies & steps.  And this is not made after finalising the plan; that is stupid, blunt and straight. Typically, that is to be visualised before finalising the plan and the execution.



Where is that plan? If it exists, why isnt it in the public domain? Where is the detail on what exactly a “Smart City” means in practical terms – real world terms, not meaningless jargon, which even I can write, given I am a part-techie and a part-telecom / business person to boot?????? Give a person time and opportunity, and out comes a logical sounding plan! That is dead easy; doesnt require any great skill whatsoever. What will be the mode of transport in a Smart City? Residence and Commercial Areas? Connectivity in Roads? Size of internal roads? Drainage?



What will be the connectivity in terms of data and communication? What technology will be adopted? How will the technologies communicate with the other “stupid’ cities? What will it cost the residents?What happens to the slums? Or doesnt the concept apply to the slums? If they are in a smart city, they should be smart slums too! Each city has bylanes with crowded marketplaces; these are the epicenter of business in India, commanding a lion’s share of the business volume pan-India. What does this mean for them? What is in it for them?



How will rural India benefit? Please give specifics : not general statements like find jobs, or employment generation. Jobs in which industry, at what level paying what? Where will they stay? Where will the land come from? What will it do to land prices? How will you ensure proper settlement for dues – and if you think this is not important, I can produce 40 years worth of terrifying tales of neglect? How will you ensure Land Mafia is controlled – without real and serious administrative reform which no government – AAP apart- has shown any appetite for?



A Smart City means Power, Water round the clock, Where will that come from? We dont have enough power now, wont have for another 2 decades. Who will sacrifice their power for these Smart Cities? And why should any stupid city sacrifice even one kilowatt for a smart city, pray tell? Where will water come from? Any number of cities are seriously water deficient. Where is the plan for all this?????????



A Smart City implies a certain level of data connection backbone; which we dont have, and wont for a minimum 5-10 years more. It also means seamless information availability. How will you ensure that, given the various data collection points, formats, protocols? When your land records are not computerised? When any number of public facilities are not online fully, and there are no plans for them either? When you still have no common information system in the Government? When there is a redundancy in several documents?  I could go on and on… Where is the real plan?


Why does this generate this level of interest? Why doesnt the question of farmer suicides, famers earnings, rural facilities, etc generate the same level of attention, interest, passion in Urban Indians? Arent they Indians? What is being done for them, pray tell? We are still focussing on cities, not on the villages where the situation is decidedly bad. Why hasnt the same level of euphoria, the same level of passion, the same vision, the same money been generated for setting things right in Rural India? The government is hard selling this concept abroad, showcasing our development, whereas we require basic steps like Education, Health, Governance and Defence!



What it should have done is launched rural programmes with the same fervor, passion, vision and attention – which is not the case. We have finite resources both in terms of money as well as other aspects. How we spend those resources is the key.

In point of fact, Smart Cities is the last thing we need; we dont have the ground realities even in urban India for it, and that is a fact. Not one person anywhere in India has even tried to meet the serious and potent objections being raised by any number of people; and are focussing on the vision. 




Remember : Great plans fail on execution as, among other reasons, it turns out that the ground realities did not support the plan in the first place.



Advertisements

Is This Government On The Wrong Path?

Published March 3, 2015 by vishalvkale

I closed my previous article with these words  : 
What we are in effect saying is, Corporate India, Middle Classes can reap immediate benefit, while making no efforts to tackle the real problems beings faced by Rural India, like reducing middlemen, education, etc. This is a majority government, they can easily take hard decisions. And yet they are not doing so – as I had foretold much earlier. And that is what makes this budget completely unimpressive, and very UPA 3-ish. “
Given below are the problems that I consider to be the real problems that impact us as a nation, encapsulated in very short : 
A) DEFENCE : Dramatic increase in budgetary allocation to defence. The plain and sad fact is that The Indian Armed Forces are in dire need of funds infusion; we need Fighter Aircraft : Medium Role Combat Aircraft in particular; we need Artillery Guns to replace the ageing bofors; we need munitions; We need urgent infusion of Naval Craft in several categories and so on and so forth. We further need to the Eastern Army corps that is being planned as a defence against China. The status of the Armed Forces has been extensively documented in the books by Gen Malik, in Gen VK Singh’s leaked letter, and in numerous articles in newspapers and magazines 
B) EDUCATION : Major focus on Primary and Secondary Education, not higher education. India does not need any further higher educations institutions as yet; what it needs are the refurbishment of existing facilities, and major fund infusion in Rural India especially. In terms of budgetary allocation, we are among the lowest – which is sad for a developing country. 
C) HEALTH : A clear definable plan to counter malnutrition, and fund infusion in the Rural Health Sector, encompassing PHCs, Taluka, Tehsil and District HQ hospitals in terms of staff, medicines as well as facilities. We need an increase in budgetary allocation to bankroll this 
D) RURAL INDIA / AGRICULTURE : A clear shift in focus from Urban to Rural India in terms of infrastructure : easier access to nearest agricultural mandis, markets, rural facilities like digitisation of land and revenue records, connectivity of the village with the local district and state capitals, making it feasible for the farmer to sell his produce directly ensuring better price to him, amending APMC etc related acts and so on and so forth. What is required is a clear focus on forgetting Urban India for now, and focussing on Rural India; with the benefits from the above, Urban India stands to gain automatically given the productivity enhancements. This requires budgetary allocation of funds, and a workable plan for the same – and a clear implementation focus.
E) SUBSIDIES : Tackle wasteful subsidies. On Agriculture, streamline subisidy; remove undue focus on Nitrogen, and develop a more equitable and more logical subsidy plan. I do not recommend cutting back on Subsidies in this sector; farmers cannot afford it. That is a fact. What is needed is a rebalancing. This is a structural component, and cannot be so easily altered. Reduce subsidy even further on petroleum products for all IT payers; they can afford higher cost of petrol. The farms cannot. Alternatively, remove petroleum subsidy altogether; develop cash reimbursement through Aadhar for the poor and the rural sector. 
F) RAILWAYS : Increase fares across the board, period. Invest proceeds on modernisation and increased security. Stop cross-subsidisation of passenger with freight; be logical, consistent and transparent. 
G) EXPENDITURE : Curtail wasteful expenditure, and all non-productive expenditure; period. No explanation required, no justification need be given. It is our money you are spending. This does not include expenditure on social imperatives, and support causes, without which we may have a human tragedy, Those expenses are a priority; here I refer to Governmental expenses, making the states accountable, cutting back on wasteful non-productive freebies etc. 
This, in the order of priority, is what the nation requires. What I am a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y shocked is that few people thought of defence. Boss, they defend our lives, and their problems are serious! It is a shocker that no one – not one person here thought of the needs of the defence of India! And their needs have been documented by several authentic people, and in detail. Shame on you, India. Shame!
Now look at education. You first shout to all and then some – education is the focus, we need a school every so-and-so Kms… And then dont budget for it. And on top of it all, in a classic mark of crass stupidity, increase allocation to states – without ensuring a mechanism for extracting value of this excess fund flow to the states, quite a few of whom are known for fiscal profligacy of the worst kind. And then, you expect the states to implement what is in essence a centrally thought plan. While the plan to devolve to states is laudable, there is a dire need to pull up recalcitrant state governments. Interested people can go through this report : State Finances – RBI Report
What has been done to ensure buy-in by stakeholders at the state level? What has been done to improve efficiency of monetary utilization in the states, and ensure that the excess funds dont get spent in idiotic schemes, for which quite a few of our states are famous? If the states were so efficient, they would have already improved on-ground governance, which they havent. One look at state budgets is enough. What mechanism has been implemented – or is being planned to be implemented – to ensure that the states’ budgetary health improves, and that real value for money spent is obtained? This is what I expect a good PM to do, a good central government to do! 
The budget document is also a strategy document, it reveals your real priorities. If you are not putting your money where your mouth is, it clearly raises the suspicion that you are insincere in your words, or you have no idea what you are doing – or you have compromised. And dont have the guts to say so openly. And that is precisely what this Government’s actions in totality are stating to me as a worried and concerned citizen. I am already on record accepting that this is the best Government we have had in a long time – and if this is the best we can do, we had better get seriously worried!
Why the hell do we need more Engineering Colleges? That too IITs? And more management colleges? So that they can run away from India, rather than help solve the problems? And that too in a scenario where  thousands of Engineering graduates, management graduates and other graduates are running around from pillar to post jobless? That is being smart? The definition of smart has certainly changed, if that is the case. Why not upgrade existing colleges from D and C category? 
You know why not? Because it is hard to do. Because you will have to roll up your sleeves and really work! Because you will have to challenge vote banks; vested interests; etc. I feel jilted! I had high hopes from the BJP. I feel jilted! They are doing exactly what the Congress did – NOTHING!
Next, defence. “Already, more than 90 per cent of the defence capital allocation is pre-committed towards instalments for purchases made during previous years. While the exact figures would become clear only after March 31, it is already evident that no more than Rs 8,000-9,000 crore of the Rs 94,588 crore capital Budget for 2015-16 would be available for new purchases. A few percentage points of army revenue overspend (it overspent 5.5 per cent this year) would whittle that down to zero.” 
This is a brutal shocker – the nation’s armed forces are in dire need to refurbishment, and the best you can do is this? Add to that the zero action on health and education : the conclusion is inescapable : the priorities are wrong. The Government is wrong on this, demonstrably so.
The needs of Agriculture which have gone unattended for many years, have again been postponed. Agriculture needs subsidy rebalancing – not done. Ideal ratio – 4-2-1. Indian ratio – 6.5-2-1. QED. Largely due to the Subsidy imbalance. Why wasnt this attended to?
Next, APMC act. How do you intend to ensure that the farmer gets the right price- the government states it want to do this – without dismantling the credit scenario-mandi power and giving free market access etc? {This is not just a budget issue, but also a governance one} Why hasnt this been done? This isnt a good government, sorry. I feel jilted. And I can do a similar analysis for Health, Education etc. I feel jilted.
And we, the middle classes, we are all jumping for joy as rates were not increased in Rail budget. We travel with family once or twice a year, and earn Several Hundred Thousand every annum. Total additional expense to us taking 2 trips for 4, and a {huge} 15% rise : 2000 Rs.
Wow man, WE middle class can go bankrupt if we have to shell out 2000 Rupees extra. F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C! Keep it up!
What is required is a sense of balance : while the needs of growth and business are real, and vital – they will, after all,  generate the profits and the employment to solve our poverty problem – the needs of the people are also equally important, so that they are in a position to partake in the economic development in the form of an educated and healthy people of India. I am worried since this is a good government we have; but whose direction is as wrong as the previous ones!
India isn’t about the Middle and above classes alone; it is equally about the other 80-plus percent. What we are currently doing tantamount to giving them freebies, and alms, and not developing them so that they can stand on their feet. What they need is the ability of stand on their feet, and assistance in the form of support programs till the time they do. That is a fact – and the sooner India realizes this, the better for all of us.

New Delhi’s Astounding 67: Why The BJP Should Not Panic

Published February 11, 2015 by vishalvkale

The astounding 67… a major victory of the Aam Aadmi Party, and an almost seminal event in Indian Politics. Any election that returns 95% successful candidates is an astonishing event, deserving of accolades as well as hopes of genuine change. But let us not go overboard and read too much into this, for a deeper look at the ground realities and figures reveals a slightly different picture.

This cuts both ways and has major positives as well as negatives. The positives have been exceedingly well documented and commented upon, including the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party as a significant player in the consideration set of voters. Once can be a fluke, or euphoria; twice cannot. The AAP now has emerged as an acceptable alternative in front of the people.

It is being said that this is a setback for the BJP, and a comment on Narendra Modi and the current Government. That it is – but only up to a point. On this, I agree with the BJP Government, but the reasons are different. And that reason is not connected to this being a state election, or limited to one city-state alone.

Firstly, this election does not represent an rejection of the BJP government by the electorate : their vote share remains intact at 32.2% vis-à-vis the last state election in New Delhi. What this essentially means is that those voted for the BJP and Narendra Modi, elected to do so again, by and large. Thus, prima facie, there hasn’t yet been a major shift either way for the BJP, neither is there any discernible dissatisfaction with their performance among its supporters. To know more, we shall have to wait for more detailed figures and psephological analysis to emerge, as well as more data from other coming state elections this year. As of now, it is too early to comment.

The biggest, and indeed only, defeat of the BJP has been its inability to expand  its voteshare, and appeal to a broader cross-section of the society. It has apparently not been able to appeal to a larger cross-section, which should be the cause of deep introspection within its ranks. If they think they have nothing to worry about in other areas, they may just be right. A few days ago, Indore returned the BJP in a majority in the municipal elections. The BJP remains limited to its core set of followers, and this is both a strong point as well as an Achilles heel.

In a straight one-on-one contest between two parties, the BJP was decimated. Nowhere else in India can this be a reality, thus making the chances of BJP victories elsewhere as well as in 2019 almost certain, or at least making it the only strong contendor. The learning for the BJP is that the moment the fragmented vote consolidates; it will get decimated by the electorate.

It needs to take a deep look at its own failures and tone down the fundamentalist aspects of some of its people to grow beyond this share. It also needs to take a deep look at its economic policies, as well as how it markets and sells them to the people. There is a good chance that the recent episodes of fundamentalist proponents, and the attendant silence of the officialdom at the top, has ensured that its appeal has not grown despite a good performance in the central government till date. This is combined with the other economic issues, creating a lack of growth.

This is a worry because you are performing well {excellent, in fact}  in the government, and are yet unable to win the electorate. This also places at risk your existing vote share, in that they may get swayed by the negative coverage of some of the policies and aspects. If you are doing a great job, you should grow : this is a clear basic aspect of life itself. And this election shows that despite an excellent performance, it has not been able to grow.

In other states, the electorate gets divided, with other strong contenders who have their own set of followers, which ensures a division of the non-BJP vote bank; with the BJP maintaining its appeal, their victory becomes easy, as recent history has proven. Thus, there is no reason to hit the panic button – but there is reason to worry for the BJP.
In one way, this represents a clear rejection of at least some aspects of the BJP’s agenda; what precise aspects of the agenda have been rejected is not yet fully clear, and will require more data. But, as I observe above, they have completely failed to convert non-voters into their agenda, who remain unconvinced regarding the BJP. That is why, in the presence of a credible single alternative, with a pedigreed track-record of the past year when the AAP did ground-work, the BJP was decimated.


And that is also why this election has thrown many questions for us as a people, as well as clarified once and for all the full scenario. Furthermore, as we shall see in the next article in this mini-series, this election has also actually relegated the AAP to the level of a regional small outfit, with very little chance of growing into a national player as things currently stand. Thus, this election represents in a small way a major electoral triumph of the BJP. For the nation, this election is a cause to celebrate as well as worry, as I look at in the next part of this series, which will deal with the Aam Aadmi Party…

NaMo, RaGa and ArKe… A List Of Questions…

Published March 6, 2014 by vishalvkale

There is a new party on the Horizon – The AAP. In just 48 days of Governance, the people of India are picking on their mistakes – just 48 days – unmindful of the fact that both the BJP and the UPA have had chances to rule India, and have committed massive errors – errors which the people of India have conveniently forgotten. I have been seeing questions being asked of the AAP; why isnt anyone asking these questions to both the UPA and the BJP? The below occurred in their tenures; neither can escape answering these : 
1) A special group was set up to study the defence structures in India, Its recommendations lie unheeded – and all this while, our defence preparedness continues to suffer, Why?
2) During Kargil, emergency supplies were needed; for ex, the Swiss company supplying Bofors had to be de-blacklisted on an emergency basis. Other examples abound. This caused the then Chief of Army Staff to comment, : “We will fight with what we have”. What are our politicians doing? Are they not seriously compromising the security of the nation?
3) Kargil was a serious intelligence failure; we were caught with our pants down. And yet, the intelligence set-up, while decidedly improved, has still to be unified. Are we not compromising on the lives of our citizens? Examples abound. NCTC remains a pipe dream, and the NIA is supposed to lack substantive powers
4) Moving On, there were 2 major scams – Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh, Have they been properly investigated? The CBI’s investigation apparently had numerous loopholes; all regulators were blamed or faulted in an investigative report by Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu. The money is still untraceable. Where is the money? What about the small investors, several of whom were destroyed? Why were SBI officials targeted, when they were the ones to expose the scam? Why werent the systemic flaws attended to? The investigators claim that huge numbers of junior functionaries lives or careers were destroyed, or are fighting to clear themselves. Why? 
5) Why is the CBI still not an autonomous body, despite numerous CBI directors coming out openly in favour of this?
6) Why have the police reforms, accepted by everyone and demanded by no less a body than the Supreme Court, not been implemented? Isnt this causing risk to the lives of the people?
7) Why has no Government been able to control the Fiscal Deficit, and has insisted on running freebies and leaking schemes, and ignoring the real demands of the people?
8) Why is the expense on Education, as a percentage of GDP, among the lowest in the world? What have our politicians been doing all these years?
9) Why is the expense on Defense as a percentage of GDP at the lowest level since 1962?
10) What has been done about Black Money by anyone?
11) Mining – across states, is mired in illegal activities. There have been documented murders of even IAS officials because of this. What is being done to control this? How has this come about?
12) What has been done the check the banks after the Cobrapost expose, and to check systemic flaws and abuse? 
13) Telecom : security aspects. The questions remain unanswered till this date. What is being done to address this?
14) Telecom scam : What has happened? Why are the guilty still free?
15) Commonwealth scam?
16) Why is the status of India on HDI parameters comparable, or lower than, even sub-saharan nations?
17) Why is malnutrition such a serious issue in the interiors?
18) What is being done to address the concerns of the people from whom land is forcible taken away for development? This is a serious impediment causing several developmental projects to be blocked up.
19) What has been done to overhaul the RBI, SEBI, Banks and their working?
20) What is being done about Fertiliser and Oil Subisidies? Why are the rich being subsidised by cheap petrol?
21) Why is good Healthcare in Rural India such a serious concern even in 2014?
22) Good Motorable Roads: It takes more time now to travel by road {by truck} than 40 years ago, Fact, Why? Why dont we have good motorable roads connecting villages to marketplaces, when this will result in savings and benefits for the people?
23) Why is Agricultural Productivity among the worst in the world in any number of crops? What is being done about this?
24) We are facing a serious electricity shortage in the years to come. Why is there no traction in planning and implementing this?
25) Farmer Suicides : Why are large amounts of farmers committing suicide?
26) 76% of our farmers are small and marginal farmers, who lose 840 – 1400 Rupees per hectare per crop – in Modern India. Why?
Why is each and every political party silent on these {or a majority of these) matters? Why is no one addressing quite a few of these serious issues? Why is this absent from the English Language press? {Dont read the vernacular, so no idea of them}. Why are we not concerned about these serious, serious issues? Because they dont impact us directly? Farmer Suicides, Malnutrition, Healthcare, Land Acquisition, Project Implementation, Defence Preparedness, Police Reforms – no one is talking about these. Why? Why only focus on Urban India? We Urban Indians comprise only 17.68% as per 2011 census – speaking from memory. What about rural India? What about their concerns? And I have not even started asking questions!
There are many more questions that can be asked. Why should only the AAP be answerable for just 48 days of power, and not the NDA and the UPA for their mistakes? Why the differential treatment? Not only that, the AAP is being asked for clarity on its economic and other policies. Please tell me which party has a clearly defined economic ideology? Which party has clearly stated its objectives in no uncertain terms, encompassing various aspects of trade and foreign policy – things which are being asked of the AAP? 
  • Just how is the NDA / UPA going to reign in inflation? 
  • How are they going to contain fiscal deficit? 
  • How do they intend to fill the tax deficit that will arise from their grandiose taxation reforms suggested – I mean specific, time-bound implementable measures? 
  • How much will they spend on defence? 
  • How much will they spend on Education? 
  • How much will they spend on Plan and Non-Plan Expenditure? 
  • How much will they spend on Healthcare? 
  • What are their specific plans for disinvestment of Blue Chip PSUs? 
  • How do they intend to stoke the slowing manufacturing engine?
  • How do they intend to reverse the IIP numbers? 
  • How do they intend to tackle inflation?
  • What is their foreign policy? 
  • Precisely how will they tackle the challenges now arising in the Malidives, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka? 
  • What is their defence outlook? 
  • What is their stance on the relationship with Japan, Israel and France? 
  • On Pakistan? 
  • On Terrorism? 
  • On centre-state relationships? 
  • On sharing revenue with the states? 
  • On the plans to bring in the GST? 
  • On the excise duty structure and the customs duty structure? 
  • What is their stance on the exim (trade) policy?

No one is asking these questions – I can ask dozens more. There isnt a single document, a single article – at least one that I have seen on mainstream media; neither is anyone asking these questions of the NDA or the UPA.
But Lo and Behold, along comes a new person – and everyone pounces on that person! Asks for a detailed manifesto covering these points! Everyone in the Media and the Public, members of my friends and family included! There isnt even a hint of a discussion on these vital parameters anywhere – but the new guy has to answer these questions. The NDA was given 5 full years; and their failure in innumerable areas is a matter of documented record. I am not an AAP fan – but within a span of 48 days people are willing to write off the new guy! Fantastic!
As far as I know, as on date, the AAP is the only party with a clearly documented vision and action plan; the others are playing ad-hoc. Read the book swaraj. also remember that they have promised a detailed clarity on all points. No one else has promised that… it may not be what you are looking for – but they have a clearly defined ideology, and a set of policies; they have further promised a detailed clarification on all points. This is more than anyone else’s statements. 

The Great Inclusion Vs Growth Debate

Published August 21, 2013 by vishalvkale

Some people state that India requires inclusive growth, that we require to support the people through interventionist and populist policies, that we need to shepherd the people with a supporting and guiding hand. Others state with equal vehemence that we require easier competition, that we require to unlock the industry, that we require to give market forces an opportunity… and so the debate goes on; and so the great Indian circus of development efforts continues; and so the great and misdirected Governmental efforts to direct – or misdirect, in reality – India continues. And the fun (or sadness, depending on your point of view) continues, unabated and unstoppable, regardless of who is in power…

A cursory perusal of the newspapers will readily bring out the above as simple fact. It is there in just about every daily; in just about every magazine that you would care to pick up and read. Some articles glibly suggest an even more diabolical and dangerous viewpoint, that the correct method lies in a blend of the above – namely, market-friendly policies and reforms with a human face of support and intervention for the poorest of the poor. These are views that, regardless of which side of this debate you are on, sound good to the ears; and yet, are totally off the mark as they don’t address the core issue that is currently facing India, that is threatening to engulf all of us; perhaps it already has swallowed all of us, for all we know!

The reality of Capital Flight is now there for all to see, as businessman after businessman invests abroad; as international investors give India a bypass; as our Current Account Deficit balloons; as inflation reaches stratospheric levels and as the exchange rate enters new territory almost every trading session! These are factors and realities that can no longer be ignored, or wished away. And neither are they unconnected; the glib reason aft stated for the slide of the Rupee – QE-related problems and developed market concerns, cannot explain away the sustained run on the Rupee, neither can they explain away the steady fall against all currencies; neither can they explain the steady decline for the past 2-3 years; and neither can they explain inflation, or investment decline or anything else. 

Similar is the case with any other solution proffered – for example, that now-famous grand strategy statement named market reforms, a statement that can have the distinction of making a great statement while meaning nothing in real terms, a feel good statement that sounds good to everyone, as they can then sidestep the real issues that are confronting India, one that no one wants to confront, as it shows  a mirror to us… and as in that mirror, we can see our own ugly, distorted faces. 

Even the most cursory eye over the various sectors of the economy will throw up one inescapable reality: that nearly every sector from core to consumer goods, from services to manufacturing has been buffeted by scams, scandals and corruption. In the entire great debate being conducted in newspapers between eminent thinkers, editors, politicians, businessmen and economists – you will be hard put to find even a passing mention to this problem. You will, at best, find oblique references in the form of beautiful statements like “it is difficult to do business in India” – statements that mean nothing, while seeming to sound informed and full of meaning. Statements that seem to address the issue head-on, while neatly sidestepping the real issues very adroitly. 

I would like to understand how can we possibly unlock our potential by mere market reforms / How can we solve the problems of the poor by interventionist policies – when 90% of the inputs don’t reach the intended targets, be it investments or subsidies. It is like throwing good money away. You might as well collect the entire cash and throw it in the Indian Ocean, for all the real effect that occurs on the ground situation. This is also supported by hard-core data, as I have previously espoused on my blog on many an occasion.

No amount of policies and changes in them can make an impact, unless implementation on the field is looked at with equal, and perhaps greater emphasis. This is what the entire picture shows – when analysed from a 360-degree approach. Each round of “reforms” is accompanied by grandiose announcements of investments into the country; how many of those get translated into reality – and most critically, and in what time frame do they actually materialise? Furthermore, how many get cancelled due to various and sundry issues? How many get stuck in the red tape?

Corruption is a massive drag on the economy; it is also a brake that is stopping all development. In land issues relating to investments, in subsidies, in regulatory approvals – this is an ever-present brake that is acting on every economic activity. Projects get stuck as people don’t get their dues, leading to protests. Projects get stuck due to laxity, acting as a further impediment. And the nation pays the price of the negligence of our so-called intelligentsia, who have so far not shown the guts, the courage, the audacity and the gall to take on this scourge.  

Let alone corruption, these so-called great men and women in politics, universities and society have so far not shown any inclination to seriously link the other great scourge that is acting as a disk-brake that is threatening to bring the economy to a dead stop, and as a reverse gear that threatens to pull it back. And by that, I mean the total lack of accountability in our so-called public service, for which a pretty strong case can be made out for a renaming to Civil Disservice. The total lack of accountability on Government Servants, and the intertwined corruption is like a spreading cancer that has now engulfed the entire body of Mother India. The lack of accountability means that Primary Health Centers go unattended and unstocked; that medicines get diverted; that schools go unattended, that no genuine teaching occurs, that free books get sold, that projects get stuck and delayed for sheer lack of proper implementation… and so on and so forth. 

And that is the real issue; we require someone with the bloody guts to link the two; sure we need market reforms. We sure as hell need to support the poorer section of our society. But we most of all need a strong implementation culture in our country, a work ethic and a corruption free atmosphere to do business in. 

And judging from The Great Debate that has been on in the Media among Government Servants, Politicians, Economists, Thinkers, Strategists, this is light-years away from the minds of the people who matter. The article that talks of problems facing the economy will usually totally omit the real problems of implementation, while the anti-corruption brigade totally ignores this other side. There is no one that is linking the two; for they are connected and intertwined into one indivisible whole. 

No one has shown the courage to take the real steps to tackle corruption and implementation – tame the Civil Service, include a work-ethic and culture, free the police from political control, improve overall policy implementation. Sadly, there is no debate on the national level on this problem either. All you hear is a deafening, all-engulfing silence, with intelligent people spouting grand strategies that translate into rubbish on the ground.  Only Arvind Kejriwal has come close to this, with his Lokpal campaign… only he has shown the guts… I very much fear that even he has not gone far enough!

And I very much fear that if this is not done post-haste, India faces greater tension in the day to come…

Jaago, Sonewaalon!

The Silence of the Media, leading from the silence of the people…

Published March 24, 2013 by vishalvkale

This little tit-bit of news is tellingly absent from any other news website as at 6:38 pm today. It can be seen only on Hindustan Times… link above. 
For the rest, I had to do a  search…



More importantly, India has moved on…
Corruption? Chaltaa hai. 
Bribe? Ok. No problem
This precise same attitude can be seen in each and every case that has happened in living memory… AMRI file case. Remember that? What happened afterwards? Were the guilty punished? What steps have been implemented by various state governments and the central government to ensure mandatory fire-safety equipment and procedures in buildings? There has been at least 1 major incidence of fire after this that I can recall… but no.  How many of us have checked whether our offices and flats have the mandatory clearances and procedures / equipments in place? Our Media is silent; and our people are uncaring…
Remember the Nirbhay case? Silence… absolute silence. Just about everybody and his uncle was voicing an opinion on social media and mainstream media just 3 months ago. And today? She lies forgotten; steps taken by Delhi to improve its roadways and auto-drivers largely ignored by everyone. And as regards the juvenile, his punishment is now a thing of forgotten memory. There is no pressure from any side on this matter. Perhaps a small Media comment somewhere, and no reaction from the public. Once again, our Media is silent, our people uncaring…
We have moved on… 
Jo raah chuni toone, ussi raah pe raahi chalte jaanaa re…. 
(Please dont sing the second line of this song; it doesnt fit our society…)
Well done, India. Our freedom fighters must be so proud at the state of the nation… well done, indeed…
How many more Nirbhays’ how many more Kejriwals and how many more AMRI-like fires do we require to wake up? Astounding! Astonishing! I for one, am speechless… despite the above rant! 
Jaago, Sonewaalon!

The illusion of Growth since 1991…

Published March 1, 2013 by vishalvkale

The question asked by AAP and Arvind Kejriwal deals with the devolution of power to the bottom of the pyramid…  why is he advocating this? Especially when India is growing great guns right now? In this concluding section on AAP policies, let us go into the backdrop and try and understand. I shall also attempt an alternative solution and its analysis, although in very short. I welcome any suggestions as to alternatives that I could not think of…
Please remember – India resides more in its villages than in towns and cities; when we talk of development, you have to look at the entire picture – that is what determines sustainability… Urban India, it is high time you woke up to this reality…
Backdrop of the question
Before I answer this question, It becomes necessary to understand the real problems facing India. It is important that we undestand from what realities is this question emanating: We have, since 1991, been growing at an average of 7-9% on GDP terms. Our Per Capita Income has increased; our exports have increased; the value of brand India has gone up; sectoral competitiveness of Infotech/Space/Pharmaceutical Generics/Automobiles/Telecommunications have increased to global standards (to name a few sectors) – judging from exports, or from Indian companies expanding abroad, or from Indigenous designs capturing world attention being adapted for international use; The BPL numbers suggest a trend of increasing prosperity in the underprivileged; The stock markets have deepened; Dollar reserves have gone up by a huge amount…. in short, we are experiencing an economic boom, recent recessionary trends notwithstanding.
This sounds great, doesnt it? Makes your heart swell with pride to read this heady stuff. Look around you: you will find examples of economic success everywhere – in professionals, in entrepreneurs, in the consumer goods in homes and shops, in the variety on display. These are all visible and tangible results of our economic progress…
Well, I strongly suggest that all of you park that misplaced pride somewhere for the time being. There is another side to the coin: one that is extremely worrisome, and points to impending disaster. . The per capita income of the bottom 20% of India’s population has not changed (as a percentage share) since 1978. That means, the bottom 20% of our population has not benefited at all from our economic boom. This is also confirmed by consumption patterns: with the consumption by the bottom 20% of the population being static @ between 0 – 1 growth%, in complete variance with the 3% growth registered by the top layers. While in the 1990s, India’s Gini Coefficient was 0.32, it has now gone up to 0.38. The top 10% now make 12 time the bottom 10% – as opposed to 6 times in the 1990s.
As per http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?278843
But looking at contemporary India from another angle, one could equally tell the following—more critical and more censorious—story: “The progress of living standards for common people, as opposed to a favoured minority, has been dreadfully slow—so slow that India’s social indicators are still abysmal.” For instance, according to World Bank data, only five countries outside Africa (Afghanistan, Bhutan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Yemen) have a lower “youth female literacy rate” than India (World Development Indicators 2011, online). To take some other examples, only four countries (Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Myanmar and Pakistan) do worse than India in child mortality rate; only three have lower levels of “access to improved sanitation” (Bolivia, Cambodia and Haiti); and none (anywhere—not even in Africa) have a higher proportion of underweight children. Almost any composite index of these and related indicators of health, education and nutrition would place India very close to the bottom in a ranking of all countries outside Africa.”
And the numbers are not too different if you consider even the bottom 40%… think about that! BPL numbers do not mean we have pulled people out of poverty!
Are these numbers indicative of an economic boom? Dont these sections of our society have the right to participate in the growth? What nonsense are we talking about? Gender Equality, Primary Schooling, Life Expectancy, Infant Mortality, Nutrition, Literacy are all basic indices that indicate quality of life and governance. We look at economic indices and worry… perhaps it is high time that we looked at these basic indices – for the very simple economic reason that a healthy, literate, Well-schooled and taken care of population will be more productive.
What is the quality of governance that we are giving our people? More to the point, how sustainable is our model of growth if the basic needs of the majority of the population are not addressed? This is indicative of a deeper problem within us: unless the changes initiated in the past 20 years are not drilled till the grass-roots levels, the figures are not going to be very different. We are creating an urban rural divide within us wherein the rural population will lag behind. And unless literacy levels go up & mortality goes down you cannot expect productivity to significantly improve
The Problem
First read The Mahatma (bear with me, this is extremely relevant): I came reluctantly to the conclusion that the British connection had made India more helpless than she ever was before, politically and economically.. . . Before the British advent, India spun and wove in her millions of cottages just the supplement she needed for adding to her meager agricultural resources. This cottage industry, so vital for India’s existence, has been ruined by incredibly heartless and inhuman processes as described by English witnesses. Little do town dwellers know how the semi-starved masses of India are slowly sinking to lifelessness. Little do they know that their miserable comfort represents the brokerage they get for the work they do for the foreign exploiter, that the profits and the brokerage are sucked from the masses. Little do they realize that the Government established by law in British India is carried on for this exploitation of the masses. No sophistry, no jugglery in figures can explain away the evidence that the skeletons in many villages present to the naked eye.
    I have no doubt whatsoever that both England and the town dwellers of India will have to answer, if there is a God above, for this crime against humanity which is perhaps unequalled in history
Substitute British Empire for the GOI, and these words still hold true in every letter, word and in spirit. And let me place this on record: the current trend is a sure-fire recipe for unmitigated disaster. Disaster in staring us in the face – if the numbers quoted above are anywhere near accurate. The current trend will only heighten anti-government stances, increase disaffection with the centre (perhaps even the state), fuel militant anger and create a divide that will be the cause of downfall. We dont have a choice about this: not anymore. Governance has to improve.
The problems can be identified as:
  1. Absent or inappropriate Health Services in Rural India
  2. Lack of even basic educational facilities in Rural India
  3. Leakage in funds allocation to the priority sector and villages
  4. Lack of even basic amenities in certain villages
  5. Resultant continuing Urban Migration
  6. Severe shortage of needed infrastructure in the hinterland
  7. Very low knowledge transfer from universities to Rural farmers, entrepreneurs etc; this has nothing to do with the internet: here I am talking about upgrading farmers with latest techniques; awareness of opportunities that arise with economic growth; awareness of technological developments that can be used to generate business etc
I could go on, but these will suffice.
Solutions


Now look at the problems in the backdrop outlined above. The central – state approach has failed to deliver results, What changes can be brought in to make it more responsive? Even a cursory glance at a newspaper will tell you that the entire system is top-driven, with deep systemic malaise. Changing that requires changing just about everyone in the entire political spectrum and top bureaucracy; even that will not have a total impact, as the middle and lower segments – the people who actually implement the programmes designed in the central and state capitals – are also taking a part of the pie home. Further, the government’s latest solution: The Direct Cash Transfer Scheme will not precisely zero impact on any of the problems given above. How will that ensure that doctors turn up at PHC’s, medicines reach on time, agricultural innovations reach the farmer, the teachers turn up to teach – and are good at teaching? It wont. Therein lies the rub. I respectfully submit that anyone who thinks that real change in the HDI factors can be brought about by current methods – or any refinements – is totally off the mark.

At the same time,one cannot ignore the pitfalls along the path of total devolution of power to the people – the chances of anarchy, as most other answerers have been quick to point out, are there, The only solution is limited devolution: to ensure implementation of programnmes, make the bureaucracy truly accountable to the people, Increase the power the Gram Sabhas -and other local self governments – and give them the power to take action against the primary school teachers, agricultural researchers, PHC doctors and medical staff, anganwadi staff, central program scheme implentors, PDS staff – all those people who come in daily contact with the people. Let the decision making reside in the centrel and the states; but put in place a system that says if a majority of the people want “x” to be implemented, then it will have to do be done. Place restrictions on what such decisions can be – allow only intervention from the people in the primary areas, like education etc. That is, local issues. Issues extending beyond a village or a tehsil, cannot be devolved.
In place of central and state schemes, place the money directly in the people’ hands: the Gram Sabha; let them decide on how to use the money. Since decision will be taken based on majority votes from the people, there is little chance of skullduggery. And before you start objecting – this is precisely how Kerala does it. 40% of funds are decided by the Gram Sabhas. And look at its HDI numbers! This is not a communist viewpoint – I am talking pure economic sense. I am just advocating a limited devolution of powers to the people to ensure targeted schemes and proper implentation. I am not advocating touching the capitalist framework; just a modification that ensures implementation. If the people can do something about lack of implementation, it stands to reason that fear of a loss of salary and job will propel an increase in effectivity as well as help control corruption.
Hence, to answer your question – yes, limited devolution is the only answer…
Just take a look at these very same parameters for any of our competing nations- from China to Brazil, and from Russia to Turkey. Remember: The Demographic dividend we have can turn into a demographic disaster if we dont give attention to it. It is high time we realised that India resides in the villages; Cities and Towns are still in the minority.
And in conclusion, read Nandan Nilekani  – Imagining India – Ideas For The 21st Century. For those not too keen on reading, I shall be reviewing the book on my blog @Reflections.
The green revolution, the white revolution and the IT revolution have, to a greaty extent, passed them by. The politics of revenge has obscured development. 


The challange now is that many voters, or rather interest groups within our electorate, view the solution to such inequalities as the problem. The policies that would address our inequalities and emancipate our farmers, our illiterate and our rural poor are precisely the ones that are now politically volatile and locked in debate… without these reforms in place, we will again have a system that promotes the sharing of elite power…. as before, the elite will close themselves in… and the others out”  – Nandan Nilekani

And read this: http://agbssem1.webs.com/Business%20Economics/HUMAN%20DEVELOPMENT%20INDEX%20final%201%20Compatibility%20Mode.pdf
Wake up, India…
As I always say in such posts…
Jaago, Sonewaalon!
or rather, this time, it is rural India that is calling out to us:
Jaago, Sonewaalon – Suno Meri Kahaani!