Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting priorities right

UNICEF data shows 48% of India's children under five suffer from malnutrition, that is some 60.8 million children. Both in percentage terms and in absolute terms it compares poorly with neighboring countries like China ( 15%),Bangladesh ( 43%) , Pakistan (42%)and African countries like Nigeria (41%), Tanzania ( 44%) and Congo ( 46%). Only Ethiopia seems to be worse off at 51%. And this when the GDP has more than doubled since 1991. What development are we talking about ?

Lets look at another piece of information. Between 1997 and 2007, the Parliamentary Committee found that 1.83 lakh tonnes of wheat, 6.33 lakh tonnes of rice, 2.20 lakh tonnes of paddy and 111 lakh tonnes of maize rotted due to either lack of storage facilities or poor maintenance of stocks in the existing facilities. And against a buffer norm of 31.9 Million tonnes, FCI was having a stock of 57.8 Million tonnes. With such a poor track record why maintain excess stock ? So the point is not about availability . The point is about willingness to feed people. What kind of Government are we having ??

And the third piece of information is this. An amount of Rs 28054 Crores has been spent to host the Common Wealth Games in Delhi. And we know the quality of the infrastructure created with this money.

The basic question is this : Is this the infrastructure that India needs now ? Cant the tax payers money be better spent in creating adequate storage facilities for grains or in distributing food at affordable price to the needy rather than let it rot...What national pride are we talking of when we have our children suffering for want of proper and adequate food ? When will we get our priorities right ?????

Monday, September 27, 2010

Development - in numbers..

Over the years we have been seeing development quantified in numbers - more specifically in terms of the amount spent. A more interesting way is to talk of allocation - and that is not even spending !!!

So we hear of around Rs 1.34 trillion allocated for education etc ..or we hear it in terms of percentage of GDP spent. The focus is hence on spending and there are saner and some less saner ways of representing it.

The basic premise appears to be simple : If money is spent , then development or a positive change is guaranteed.

The questions are

1. Is the money well spent ?

2. Is there a mechanism to assess the actual development or change that has been created by way of this development ( basically are the assumptions made at the time of approving the spending tested and verified ?) Are there independant ( politically and economically independant) systems to study the impact of the spending ? ( The key point is Independant - if one arm of the government spends and another arm measures impact and both report to one ministry , it is not difficult to understand how the assessment would be ! )

3. Is there any monitoring and accounting mechanism to see the above

In the absence of these ; or in the absence of the information actually made available widely ( actually , this is the only information desired ), talking in terms of expenditure is meaningless.

Statistics they say, conceals more than it reveals. And spending is not equal to developing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A 120 Schemes

...that is the approximate number of schemes that a DDA ( Deputy Director of Agriculture) is supposed to manage. The Agricultural Department in the State is in a state of mess. Recruitment into this Department stopped long time back - as a part of the austerity drive to control Government spending ( I keep wondering if what the Agri department does is spending or investing .... but na, it has steadily moved to spending these days)...and the officers are busy today putting up vegetable arches and fruit arches when a minister visits or setting up exhibition stalls on the roads to please some visitor...

There is a scheme for everything ... for instance there is a scheme under the national horticultural mission , where if one were to submit (a copy of) the title deeds, the saplings of one's choice, the agricultural inputs - the bio fertilizer required, oil cake ..everything is given free. Such a wonderful scheme ....- except that one can never be sure if the sapling given is of the variety one actually asks , or if what has been given will ever grow , or if there is any nutrient at all in the fertilizer supplied or if what is supplied as oil cake is oil cake or soil. No wonder there are hardly any serious takers for this scheme. Similarly there are schemes for rearing cattle , growing earthworms etc etc ...all adding up to several crores of rupees. It is no rocket science to know what happens with all this money....and who actually gains.

And if there are 120 schemes to manage, one wonders if the scheme is actually managed or the vouchers and auditors are managed.

There is no vision for the Department. Or probably there is one - of how the create fancy and free schemes running to several crores to benefit select individuals. What else can one say of a scheme to increase pulse production - where the concerned official is simply given an amount to be spent in any way suitable to increase pulse production and he/she just conducts awareness programs ? or of the revised nutrient based subsidy scheme which no one seems to fully understand - except that now every fertilizer manufacture prices his product differently...

There seems to be no serious application of mind on actual agriculture development - on augmenting irrigation capabilities ,on rainwater harvesting , on water conservation, on extending responsible post harvest technologies , on creating good storage and market infrastructure , on supply of quality seeds, focused nutrient management etc. And we are happily turning prime agricultural land into SEZs and residential apartments and what not. No 'educated ' individual wants to take up agriculture as a career - oh forget the educated mass - even the not so educated mass benefiting from the 100 day employment scheme does not want to look at agriculture. Labor is probably the biggest problem that a farmer faces today - that is if the rains don't fail him. And we still keep talking of India living in villages and of more than 60 % of the population depending on agriculture for livelihood. That number surely should go down by over 20%. ...

I keep wondering how long we can pull along this way...

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Math Lecturer ...

Haircuts are typically weekend morning ( the earlier the better) chores. Yesterday was an exception though.In an unusual, impulsive act, I decided to go for a haircut at around 8.00 PM.

The hair dresser was new to the place and the owner called him close and instructed .

"Sir is working in the University ...give him a nice stylish haircut" .

I realized it would be a futile exercise trying to explain that the institute I work is legally not a part of the University and so I shifted my thought to something more productive .... the haircut per se . By any definition , mine is certainly not a stylish hair syle. I hence closed my eyesa and started to mentally picture different stylish hairstyles on my head.

The interesting thought process was interrupted by some discussions on differential calculus !!... I almost jumped from the seat preparing to run away. (I have always had this healthy allergy for Math in general and calculus in particular)..

But was'nt I in a saloon ?? ....I opened my eyes and was reassured to find myself still in the saloon ... I saw a pair of hands silently 'cutting away and styling' my hair. Before I could close my eyes again to resume my thoughts on hair styles, I heard the word 'calculus' yet again and was stunned to realize that it was my hair dresser who was uttering it . I had not looked at his face properly till then ...I glared into the mirror and saw a fine face. Politely I asked him what he has studied ...and he said he had a M.Sc in Mathematics and an M.Phil at EVR College (The college was named after the great rationalist leader Periyar E.V.Ramasamy, who had bought that piece of land and donated it to the Government to start the College. My Father had served as Librarian in this college for a large part of his career)....

What the hell was happening to the education system ....

I looked at him ....and he said he was working as a Lecturer in Mathematics in an Engineering college ...softly adding that they were not paying him too well.....

I did not know how to react ... The hair styling was over. The Math Lecturer had done a decent job...I paid and left ...wondering not just if I would take a comb and a pair of scissors to style somebody's hair, but of Periyar and the current day Education Industry, of dignity of labor , of the purpose of education etc etc...