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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.



Modi Sarkar and The Farmer : The Achilles Heel

Published May 2, 2015 by vishalvkale

MODI SARKAR : THE ACHILLES HEEL

It has taken a long time to manifest itself, but at long last, we see a developing Achilles Heel in our famed Modi Sarkar; a sad development indeed, given that this is the best government we have had in the past several decades. The only good thing is that the Achilles Heel has manifested itself from a totally unexpected direction; not only that, it also holds serious potential of rekindling a genuine opposition on a national scale, which is a needed and vital component of a functioning democracy.

It has taken twin developments in two connected areas for the weakness to manifest itself : Farmers’ Suicides, and The Land Bill. Taken together, this has created a situation in which, if properly strategized, the opposition can rebuild itself, while simultaneously undermining the central government.

THE CONGRESS : AWAKENING
The sad part is that once again,  it is the Congress that has the opportunity to rise from the ashes. This is sad because it has yet again failed to democratize, and has placed its faith on Dynasty. I have nothing against Rahul Gandhi; he may be an excellent potential leader for all I know; then again, he might not. That is not relevant; what is relevant is the fact that The Congress does not have any leader it feels can connect with the people, despite having some good people on its roster.

Be that as it may, the  Congress has taken what seems to be the right step; change track from the all-too-familiar “communal politics” track to a far more sensible and development oriented focus : that of the farmer and their issues. This bodes well for our democracy, for our economy and for our society, as now there is a chance the real issues might get a much needed attention and focus.

The best way to tackle communalism is not to fan it; all the while building solid relationships within communities. A politically charged message has a polarizing impact, and if the community specific plank is being abandoned by all parties, this is a development worth celebrating. If all parties can abandon a community specific focus, the only way India can go is up and forward. Aag ko jitnaa tool doge, jitni hawaa doge, utni failegi.

And harping on the communal message, which was not making a connect with any definable voter base was always a suspect strategy. Besides, there has to be a provable base for such a strategy that can be directly traced back to your opposition; and this is clearly absent in the BJP.


THE BJP : SLEEPING!
The BJP, meanwhile, is basking in the glory of its rise to power, and ignoring these undercurrents, which might yet turn into a deluge. While it is doing excellent work in any number of areas, its approach and presentation to the people on these two issues is strange and more than a little disturbing, given the party’s admirable understanding of the pulse of India and the Indian people.

Please note my choice of words : in this article, I am taking no position on the Central Government’s Agricultural and Land Policies – that is the subject of another, research based and supported article/s that I shall take up a little later on the Agricultural challenges being faced by India. I am only analyzing the potential impact of the presentation in front of the people, and the angst among them.

It adheres to a top-down development ideology, counting on investment in infrastructure, amenities to drive rural upliftment and employment, while attempting to ensure good governance at all levels of Government. It has also taken a few good steps in the Agriculture sector {Analysed on my blog here : Union Budget Analysis}; these will require time to properly strategise and implement.

What is more pertinent that it has done little to meet head-on the anti-farmer label that is being leveled against it by some, beyond messages to the farming community by the PM. More and more parties and  groups are now coming into the open, calling its policies as pro-Urban India and anti-farmer. The most important aspect that the BJP seems to have forgotten is the population of India – the top 200 Urban Agglomerations account for only around 15.46% of population as per Census 2011

Thus, any message targeted at the rural community that is focused not on ideology, religion, regionalism but rather on their bread and butter is certain to get the attention of the people. That is a foregone conclusion; the needs of the stomach will take primacy; that is a primordial fear. The BJP is giving a message of development : how is this message being received by the population? Is it making a connect with the people?

THE HISTORY
For Urban India, it means investments, growth and jobs. What does it mean for Rural India? What have the prior experiences of Rural India been in this regard? It should mean the same for them : but is this the way it is being perceived in Rural India? Farmers stand to lose their lands; what will they get in return? Each piece of land further supports landless labourers, input vendors etc – we are talking of snatching an entire ecosystem.

What is the history, the prior experiences of the farming community in India? As This Article : Why Farmers Have Every Right to Feel Gypped explores in painful detail – there is a sad, almost terrifying history of governmental failure of monumental  proportions behind this rising tide of protests against the BJP Government with regard to the Agricultural Sector;  what is sad is that this Government has actually started a series of steps that drive some hope into the refurbishment of this sector in the budget, which makes this image of anti-farmer a real tragedy in itself.

And look at the third and recent case reported this month in The Times of India which makes you want to cry and laugh – both at the same time!
The gist of the case is: in 1998, the Railways acquired land from Mela Ram and Madan Lal to lay the Una-Amb track in Himachal Pradesh. As usual, the Railways adopted delaying tactics when it came to paying up. The farmers filed a case for enhanced compensation. After a fair amount of legal to-ing and fro-ing,  in 2013, the HP High Court directed the railways to pay the money within six weeks. “But the railways hasn’t deposited the amount until now”, the farmers’ advocate AK Saini said a few weeks ago. Typical.
So, on April 9, 2015, Mukesh Bansal, the additional district and sessions judge of Una ordered the attachment of the train if the railways failed to pay compensation to the two farmers!! The court said if Mela Ram and Madan Lal did not get Rs. 8.91 lakh and Rs. 26.53 lakh respectively, the train would be stopped at Una station at 5 am on April 16 and attached by it. The farmers were asked to select one out of four trains – and they selected The Delhi-Una Janshatabdi Express!


SUMMARY
My point is simple : the steps taken by the BJP Government have exposed a chink in their armoury, one that is now being exploited by the opposition. This is the Achilles Heel; their weakness. And there is nothing they can do about it; not over the short term. I have purposely taken an isolated case history above : the point is that there is a feeling of inadequacy and helplessness that is rooted in genuine truth and a terrifying history of crass incompetence on the part of successive central governments over the years.

And this atmosphere is giving rise to an opposition movement that is, for the first time in my memory {correct me if I am wrong}, focused on real issues that make a powerful connect with the target audience in Rural India as on solid whole. For the first time, we now have an issue-based discussion in Indian Politics, which is bringing this issue mainstream.

All it really requires to bring the BJP juggernaut to a grinding halt is a solid loss in a few upcoming state elections; were that to happen, coming on top of the shock in Delhi, things will get interesting, as the BJP will be forced to recalibrate and reassess its approach and its communication. Unless the BJP can get its house in order and connect with Rural India and its real issues in light of the historical experience and the on-ground realities and challenges in Rural India, they stand to lose ground…

India Versus Japan 1947

Published April 2, 2015 by vishalvkale

One of the most common rejoinders of our failure to develop ourselves, at least among the Urban Educated Indians, is a straight-on comparison with Japan, about how it was destroyed by World War 2, and how it is now a developed country, taking on The West on its own terms, standing tall among the committee of nations as a developed country with a tremendous set of achievements in its past 60 years, a nation with every comfort the West has, and more; whereas we stumbled from mistake to mistake, resulting in a massive gap between the two of us.
From an outside perspective, it seems like Japan and India were at comparable stages; 2 destroyed economies; and that today, Japan is years ahead. While the above statement is completely true in every respect, it also hides the reality that lies underneath. Let us peel away the above statement and take a look at the reality of the situation, which goes a long way in explaining this riddle. While we did make some mistakes, we cannot extrapolate those mistakes to the complete story, not without looking at some underlying facts that tend to throw rather a different light on things.
Just one statistic is enough to drive home the difference between Japan and India – and that we cannot compare the incomparables. The literacy rate in Japan in 1929 was 43.8%, with over 90% enrollments in schools. In India, in 2001, the literacy rate is 62.8%. Japan was at this level of literacy around 1960 or thereabouts. Whatever economic strategy we took, we would never have been able to catch up Japan, given this reality.
The net result of this high level of education in Japan can be seen in the inventions that happened between 1900 – 1945. Inventions and discoveries like The Power Loom, Aberic Acid, B Vitamin, Portable ECG Machine, VectorCardiograph, Epinephrine, Thiamine, Monosodium Glutamate, Japanese Typewriter, Electric Rice Cooker were all discovered or invented by Japanese scientists between 1900 – 1950. These are symptomatic of the overall climate in Japan in those days, as well as act as indicators of the readiness and potential of the Japanese to innovate. For, War can take away everything – but it cannot take away the basic indices of Human Development; in which Japan in 1947 was already approaching developed economy levels. War also cannot take away the culture of innovation and the internal climate from the people.
It is thus a complete fallacy if we compare India and Japan in 1947, or indeed today. The Japanese were as ahead of us in 1947 as they are today. You cannot compare the incomparables. In 1947, India was a new nation, whereas Japan was a colonial power with established nationhood concept going back a century or more. India was a shattered and demoralised new nation, who had achieved near-static GDP growth between 1900 – 1945, whereas Japan had clocked a GDP growth rate that fluctuated between -0.53 to as high as 15.85% in the run-up to 1939. There were only 4 negative years; the others were between 4 – 16 %! Japan was the first non-European country to Industrialise in 1868. Japan had hospitals, schools, basic infrastructure in place; India had nothing. Japan had an educated population with a per capita GDP that India enjoys today. In fact, as far back as 1868, the Japanese per capita GDP was 740 dollars – and the Japanese were independent to boot.  It would not be wrong to state that we are only today at the position where Japan was at in 1947!
It is thus no surprise that Japan is where it is today. And, unless we set basic parameters – Education, Health etc – we will never be able to catch up Japan – regardless of the economic model we follow. The Japanese success is the demostrated success of concentrating on the Human Development Indices. And the most critical difference of all: Japan was a colonial power, India was not. It had access to colonies, which it could harvest so that investments could be made in their own country. This is a vital factor; for 80 years, the Japanese were brought up on a diet of we-are-as-good-as-the-west; this fuels national sentiment and confidence. Take this factor, add high education levels, and established record of innovation – the result is there for all to see.
Japan is ahead today because it was comparably ahead in 1947 – along any parameter you may choose to assess. And I have not even considered the factor of diversity and national size- and the attendant difficulties being faced by a diverse  large nation as compared to a small homogenous nation. I have not even started to look at the absence of the basics of life and governance in newly independent India, or its security challenges, its internal problems or its varied challenges. We could have done better with better economic planning, yes – but that does not change the fact that Japan is ahead, primarily because it always was ahead… as we shall see in detail in this series, as I move into the Mieji Restoration in the next part…
We can be justifiably proud of our achievements, even while acknowledging our mistakes. Our mistakes harmed only us, not anyone else – unlike The West, whose mistakes destroyed civilizations and resulted – and still do result – in untold and incalculable misery across the planet. We have developed ourselves, fought our own battles, made and learnt from our own mistakes, paying for them ourselves. And in the light of the status we were in at Independence, our achievements are tremendous and a matter of intense, and thoroughly justifiable pride and celebration! Be confident of this lovely miracle called India, of this lovely, mesmerising and stunningly beautiful nation we call Bhaarat!

Jai Hind!  

{In the next part of the article, I shall look at the Japanese Mieji Restoration, and try and draw learnings for Modern India}

Make In India – A Critique

Published March 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

Make in India is the flavour of the season, almost – with Media going overboard on its prospects, and waxing eloquent on the benefits it holds for India. Lost in all this panjandrum are the voices – some small, like mine, and others highly influential, who have been raising questions {not objections} on this entire affair. Let us look at some hard facts, conclusive facts that can drill a hole through this initiative, or at least raise some serious questions. 
1) India is a primarily agricultural economy with employment in agriculture being at around 57% 
2) The total number of dependants on agriculture can easily be around 500-700 Million people, perhaps more 
3) Data supports the above : let us look at just one data point – number of land holding in agriculture. There are 121 Million individual land holdings in India. If you assume one family per holding, you are straightaway staring at a figure of around 500 Million. Add landless labour and support services, and you have a humongous number. 
4) Another proof can be had by taking a look at Census Data; more than 75% of the population stays in Rural India. The population of the top 200 Urban agglomerations do not exceed 20%. It was 15.4% as pre census 2011, and 14.4% if you take out the agglomerations and list only the cities. That is the reality. 
5) The Indian Economic structure is not a large-company structure; Corporate India – towards whom this plan is pointed – contributes less than 20% {I think it is less than 19% even} of national income. Ditto on any other parameter you may care to check up on. 
6) Another proof is the data on employment, which also shows a skewness towards unincorporated and unregistered employments, as also data on Rural-Urban split of employment 
7) Consumption data is another interesting data point, with the consumption of the bottom layers of economy having grown by around 1% since 1978, and by 3% in the top layers of the economy, thereby proving that increased economic activity does not lead to riches for all. We do not have consumption trends of consumables, unfortunately – so we have no way of knowing the relative speads of this increased consumption 
India isnt just about Corporate India, which is a rather insignificant contributor to any economic number you may care to anaylse; and there is a strong possibility that Make In India might not directly benefit the people who need change the most – the rural population, whose needs and challenges are not the same as those of Urban India; the same can be said of the economically deprived segments of our society.
In order that the potential of the bottom 80% of the population is unlocked, and the impact of growth is felt across all sectors and income-levels in a more equitable distribution, some basic steps are vital. In fact, it may even be possible that the absence of these steps might actually stall the entire MII initiative, and ground it fully and finally. I havent seen any indication from the GoI that it intends to do these; if it is in the works, excellent. If not, we are still hurtling form one crisis to the next. 
1) Agriculture ; Data again clearly show that nearly 93 Million of the 121 Million holdings are losing money on every crop {NSS – 2005; am not aware of any survey conducted after this}. This indicates that earning for the farming community have to improve; which means that the entire ecosystem needs looking at : viz subsidy structure and outlay, inputs, market access, price controls, APMC, price realisation at farm level, education of farmers in latest techniques, spread of knowledge from ICAR and other research places to farmers, etc. Not one point from these is being talked about. 
2) Unless the farmers and those dependent on agriculture earn real money, there is zero chance that they will educate their children beyond the basics – and even that is doubtful. Literacy does not mean education – and economic growth requires education, not literacy 
3) Rampant Health Problems in rural India; economic growth means health is a prerequisite. And we as an economy spend among lowest on health worldwide. Fact. 
4) Education{1} – IITs and IIMs are not required, where the focus currently lies – and quite a few of these people run away from India, and that leaves out scores of colleges that require upgradation. Why should we focus on building capabilities that enable those who dont want to call India their home encash and leave, forgetting their mother? Not all leave, I admit – but then again, we do not require more IITs and IIMs for internal candidates – it is far better to upgrade existing infrastructure that will benefit not the select few but the large majority! That is the need of the hour!
5) Education{2} – For the mid and lower level colleges to perform better – another input is the quality of incoming students; improving their education levels requires investment in primary and secondary education. This isnt happening – GoI is not spending on these 
6) Education{3} – Participative growth requires education that enables people to take advantage of the opportunities. This will not happen under the current MII plan, that is a foregone conclusion 
7) Education{4} – Education is a state subject, or a subject in the concurrent list, What initiatives are being taken by the states? What pressure is there on them to improve, to ensure proper education and implementation? 
Ditto Agriculture – with focus being on freebies and irrelevant matters like GM Crops which will have no impact whatsoever. Ditto health. It is one thing to give them money – which is excellent; quite another to ensure its proper utilisation. RBI report on states budgetary health 2013-14 categorically lists the improvements as well as shortcomings of the states of India, as I stated in an earlier article. Please google and read.
It is indeed a laudable objective that GoI has undertaken – MII; but the question remains, is the timing right? Can it be postponed will we have the right infrastructure and mechanisms in place? Of course it can; these years can be far better utilised in building strength and capabilities across the board rather than undertake a high-risk venture like MII. 
An initiative like MII requires a few basics to be in place for it to be successful and implemented smoothly without which, delays are inevitable, as also massive cost overruns as businesses find a lack of requisite resources playing spoilsport. Some, like a digital backbone, can be implemented side-by-side {see data at the end}; others cannot. These others are matters related to people parameters like health and education. 
1) Factories require workers, Where will you get them? If you get them only from Urban or Semi Urban India, the time taken for the percolation to reach rural India will ignite resistance as the perceived gap between Rural and Urban India increases. The objective is to make all India a wealthy nation – not just Urban India. Does rural India have the ability as of now? I do not think so. As I stated above, there is a massive difference between literacy and education. We need education, not literacy.
2) They require Land. Where will you get land? Create draconian laws that ignore the interests of farmers? You do that – and you are guaranteed failure. We are a democracy, and have an excellent judicial system. The only result of ignoring the land-owners interests will be court proceedings, resulting in stalling of the entire MII initiative fully and finally. Irrefutable historical evidence exists of this. There is no option but what the UPA did- approval of 70% {pecentage negotiable as per me; point is community interests need taking care of} of the community who stand to lose. 
Urban India has no conceptualisation of Rural India; MII only stands to benefit the Urban population, not the interiors. And the result of a skewed growth will be another crisis as Urban India will not find the resources to fuel their growth as they go into hinterland, leading to a massive crisis of gargantuan proportions, given Corporate India’s idiotic penchant of investing without proper analysis and on half-hearted reports created by people living in secluded AC environs of Metros, from excel sheets and data inputs which are highly suspect for their content and accuracy. 
That leads me to the most vital set of reforms – proper data collection, and statistical analyses; and digitisation of everything – which includes digitisation of land records, economic activity, data collection authentication and analysis, everything. Please remember that Millions of our enterprises are unregistered, and Millions more do not reveal the full story. For a proper reasoned analysis – data is vital; and unless captured properly and completely, surprises will arise that will cause hiccups, delays and wrong turns.
There will be tax and legal repercussions that will need to be thought through – which is relatively simple; It will also require taking various vested interests on board, which is exceptionally hard, and the only real challenge; vested interests who will see no benefit in lieu of losses in various ways – not without the concurrent reforms in the comments above. The result? More delays. 
On the dream of digital India etc, please take a look at the reality in a national perspective. Coverage alone will suffice, we need not go into the aspect of quality of coverage, which is a subject unto itself. Data Points in the coverage do not support the contention of most people that India is a digital nation. And data is sufficiently important a factor for it to merit an independent analysis, given that we are in the information age. The reality is starkly exposed by data :
Average Data Usage Per Customer Per Month on GSM : 62.16 MB; CDMA : 192.99; Avg Tot : 70.10
Broadband : 68 Million; Narrowband : 190 Million subscribers approximately

Data Arpu, while it is growing, is still in the doldrums; the average Indian consumer consumes less than 500MB as per this news article – a figure that is corroborated by the TRAI report.
The figures above are again borne out in this report : http://www.trai.gov.in/WriteReadData/WhatsNew/Documents/PR-TSD-80-05122014.pdf, which clearly states on page 12 that the number of user in India on 31st October accessing speeds of greater than 512kbps is 75.73 Million, including 60.61 Million from mobile devices.
We are a nation of 1.27 Billion! Penetration is abysmal; can we afford to wait till penetration rises? Will it rise in the absence of other reforms – or will it hit a glass ceiling? The data clearly states that only a small insignificant segment of our population stands to benefit from the data revolution as of now; things are changing fast – but this is where it stands today. This goes hand-in-hand with income – for the people in the bottom income levels to gain, they should be educated, and earning enough to have access to the services. 
We do not, as per me, have the proper ecosystem to sustain such an initiative; at least not one that can ensure fast devolution of benefits to the lower income segments. We run the risk of increasing the income differential. Furthermore, MII requires an ecosystem conducive to it, not rhetoric.Is it rhetoric? Or is it real? We dont have enough data to make a definitive conclusion of that as yet. But the indicators are worrisome. Let us see.

India – Bridging The Gap, and Facing Our Mistakes

Published March 6, 2015 by vishalvkale

It has taken a long time coming, but at long last some central government is at least talking about the right things – Defence, Education and Health. It is a separate matter that they aren’t doing anything about it, hemmed in as they are with issues, expectations and pressures from all sides, and with the attendant demands and needs of a myriad set of sub-groups and institutions that are present in a diverse and multicultural democracy such as India, especially given its income distribution and economic structure.
One of the reasons for this inactivity, or rather inadequate acrivity, is admittedly the lack of funds and the difficulty in generating excess funds, or allocating enough funds, or generating resources internally for the same. There are other issues – I shall deal with these in another article, as they are equally vexatious, dealing with implementation problems and tackling vested interests.
What amazes me is that people in India seriously believe that several hundred highly qualified and intelligent people {As are present in the Government} cant get together, rise above their vested interests and create some fiscal space for Defence, Health and Education expenses, the current demands and pressures notwithstanding. All it requires is a will, a determination, a clear directive, hard decision, and some sacrifice somewhere; in other words, setting the priorities and the direction
The directions of the Government, while speaking rightly, and passionately, in favour of these basics, are clearly towards an urban tilt, with infrastructure thrown in. Is it the contention of the Media, the people as well as the Government that the lot of the balance 80% – the people in the bottom 80% income profile – especially the bottom 40%, will improve by smart cities, IITs, IIMs, Infrastructure investments {which wont get implemented as too many structural hurdles are present. I can myself name 2 or 3 with detailed proof} and Corporate India – focus? 
Fine, Job generation may happen. How will people who are malnourished, and lack a decent education, partake in that job growth? That is a manifest impossibility. How will MNREGA and other social sector expenditure {which is essential, but how much is the question} ensure that the disenfranchised will be able to partake in that growth? That just ensures survival! Don’t these people – Indians like us – have the to grow and have a decent life? Or are we to condemn them to a slow and painful growth? How can they grow, if they do not possess the tools, the education for it, or are not healthy enough?  The result will be richer cities, richer Middle and Above classes – meaning you and me – and next to nothing for the rest of India,  as India continues to give low focus on Defence, Health and Education, and Agriculture
These classes – those who stand to benefit, people like you and me – make up less than 10% of India, and even that is a huge exaggeration. And as regards Corporate India, anyone here who thinks Corporate India drives the Indian Economy is advised to study the Indian Economy in detail. The contribution of the unorganized sector far outweighs the corporate sector. The contribution of Corporate India to any economic number is nothing to write home about., be it NDP, Savings, Employment – anything. Corporate India is not in the biggest contributors. 
What we are in effect saying is, the Poor can survive on doles from the Rich, and they have no right to self-development at the same rate as the rest of India. In order that people get greater income, they require better education, easier access to health, and solution to the main problems impacting their lives, not one of which is benefited too much by your IITs and Smart Cities, keeping in mind that a large majority of the people live in rural India, and are employed in agriculture. We are effectively throwing money after the Rich, who dont need it and can afford higher expenses
Next, Defence. What happens {God Forbid}, if we are pushed into a face-off? No less than 2 army chiefs have openly criticized the delays. Please read the works of General VP Malik, who stands as one of the most respected Army Chiefs in Indian History. Look up the leaked letter of yet another highly regarded chief, General VK Singh. A General has even openly stated that “we will fight with what we have”. 
Respect, Sir! To the entire Indian Armed Forces. None to the people of India, who are by and large too self-centred to even think of this matter. Respect even to the Government, who are trying to do a near-impossible task, given the scale of challenges, pressures and demands – most genuine and some ingenuine,  they face in other fields – and are yet spending 246000 Crores on the Armed forces, although it requires more. 
Why should the Government do more – when the people themselves dont care to tell them, we can take some more hardship, please focus on the Armed Forces first? The Government takes a hard call; it is not an easy decision to put off these expenses, Pressure distorts perspective, and the pressure is on them from all sides for economic growth jobs etc; and none for the upliftment of the Armed Forces, We are after all a democracy; the government is a mere reflection of the desires of the society.
Question is, can anything be done to find a way out? No easy answers – but yes, a lot can be done. Even a relative layman like myself can find ways, although none are easy. You have given 8% more to the states – you can take it out of that. How the states fund their budgets – perhaps they can look to being more fiscally responsible – like some states in South and East India have already done? Or reduce expenses. Or do any number of other tactics. Alternative, dont do anything. 
And then go on an emergency purchasing binge when a problem occurs, which means you lose your negotiating power, and close deals in a rush at the other party’s choice. 
A small example : you are giving crores in support to the Railways or PSUs as a budgetary support. Why? Why not increase rates? You can allocate that expense to the Defense, or to Education {hopefully defense}. Even 67 years after independence, PSUs, Railways {at times even banks} are dependent on the Central Government for support. Far better to tell them no, fund yourselves! Improve internal efficiencies, cut flab, get competitive strength. Tell them generate your own expenses through your own operations; Cut The Umbilical Chord! It is far better to throw them aside, and force them to compete and improve themselves, teaching them to fend for themselves.
Done properly, in a phased manner, with proper planning and thought, this is doable. These are unpopluar measures, but doable. Or reduce the size of your bloated Government- that is pure revenue wastage, given the levels of productivity. I could go on and on for a fairly long period of time.  All such measures are doable, but hard. And this is a majority government. They can pull it off. Let us see if they do… there can be only one reason for their reticence – the lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha… I know I am clutching at straws, but at least this Government is saying the right words!
The problems related to agriculture are varied, serious and huge, and cannot be taken up as a sub-point; I shall look at these subsequently, as I shall have to look at Agricultural Inputs, Market Access and Legal points etc. Even in that, our current Government does have the right ideas, only the speed of execution is a matter of concern.

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.

India, Stockholm Syndrome, and Hindutva {Nehru – 3}

Published February 7, 2015 by vishalvkale

This article is the next in the Nehru Series, and carries on from the previous one : Blaming Nehru : Partition – The Role Of The British,  This article focusses on meeting the question of why is accurate History important, and carries on and connects into Hindutva. I  {and people like me} am {are} still battling the Stockholm Syndrome among Indians : these posts are only an attempt to lay bare the ugly reality, and  clarify the completely misunderstood sense of history that some Indians have. I dont know how many read me; but I still do it in an attempt to tell the truth
There is a general impression among a large number of Indians that history is just history, and does not deserve great thought and attention. Added to this is the belief that all that has been told to them is Gospel, wedded to a deep-seated adulation for The West, which leads to people treating alternative viewpoints on Indian History with condescension, and a resultant blind unquestioning acceptance of the prevalent version of History.  

This is a classic sign of Stockholm Syndrome : associating all the positives with the conquerors, and blaming internal forces and factors to the exclusion of all else. We can see this everywhere : in our constant aping the western culture combined with condescension for Indianness, This can be seen in attributing false negatives to pre-British times & unquestioning acceptance of the British narrative. This can be spotted in  a variety of aspects of our day-to-day life in India, and is only to be expected, given the long captivity we have suffered. 

These two factors have deep and lasting repercussions into the modern world; on a very practical level and in all fields from economics to sociology. The only way to tackle the stockholm syndrome is for the truth to be told; and that is where an incomplete understanding of history leads to serious modern issues. The rise of the so-called Hindutva is one such example. Modern Indians – “Hindus”, to use the commonly accepted term – dont even know that Hinduism is itself a British term, and has precisely zero historical truth or relevance. The correct term? There is none. The closest we come to a name is Sanaatan Dharm
What’s in a name, you might say? It isnt just the name; the entire narrative, instead of being anti-white, has shifted to anti-Mughal, and nonsense like a Hindu period after a 1000 year rule by foreigners, which is at best a half-truth. We are a multicultural society – which is more healthy for us : blaming an external force, or an internal sub-population? Isnt it far better that we blame The British? And the icing on the cake? That version is also the truth, as we shall see in other aspects as well in subsequent articles. 
The spread of half-truth and falsehoods {originated by the British} has laid the groundwork for the communal tensions we see everywhere {not just India}, allowing communal and/or polarising viewpoints gain strength. Before attending to this, let us ask ourselves : can the Hindu be faulted for this, like 100% of Western Media is habitual of? No. That The Hindu has been {and continues to be oppressed or ridiculed elsewhere} is an absolute fact. Other faiths should understand that The Hindu has been through more persecution than anyone in recorded history – the Jews apart. If they are now rising, it is only because they {or rather, we Hindus}, have suffered for long. 
The misunderstandings of history need to be met head-on and clarified. That is why I even support the heavy-handed intervention by the BJP. I see no problem at all in telling a biased and completely exaggerated version of history and pride, given that for the past 250 years we have been told a version that is the complete opposite. Fact of the matter is that whereas the current version is based on complete falsehood, the Hindutva version is based on facts and existing ancient literature, making it far better than the western nonsense we currently have in common circulation. I would rather we also learn the Hindutva version in school apart from the illogical version currently taught. 
It is exaggerated, sure. But it is also warranted, needed as a balm, and creates a swing; with time, good sense will prevail, allowing the full truth to be told, as the more discerning challenge this new version, creating a debate, allowing truth to percolate through. Upto this day, no one was questioning the accepted versions, despite there being various holes in it. High time that the truth prevails. And for that, curdling the waters is essential
Take for example the recent utterance by the VHP stating that every Indian is a Hindu, or words to that effect. I am a confirmed moderate, but let me tell everyone : that statement is actually the a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e, verifiable and historical truth. The term “Hindu” does not have any religious overtones at all. It refers specifically to people living beyond the river Sindhu {Indus}. The religious connotations and associations to this term were started by the British. 
See how distorted historical understanding is creating and has the potential to create modern tensions? Had this been generally known, the response would quite possibly not have been anger from the other religions, but ridicule! Further, since the public does not have any conceptualisation of the reality, the interpretation they place on the above utterances is completely different. And that is what places the above statement in the objectionable category, And further, had this been common knowledge, the scope for rousing passions through this route reduces to zero. 
What is in evidence in this case is a hunt for restoring lost pride. And for true peace, it is vital that that pride be restored. And for Pride to be restored, self confidence has to return… which requires that the truth be told and accepted…
For true healing, what was once ours has to come back to us. I mean the money as well as the confidence in our culture, It has to return to its true owners. Only when we have learnt to deal with our anger can lasting peace be a reality. Hopefully by means we are best at : Trade, Economics, Diplomacy, Internal Strength, internal questioning attitude, Negotiation and Democracy. There can be no healing until the Indian People – or all colonised people – get justice… and learn to be confident of their identity, learn to be confident in who and what they are…