Renu Pokharna

Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Andhra’s small-debt trap

In Microfinance, Poverty Eradication on October 25, 2010 at 7:30 am

As microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Andhra Pradesh come under the scanner, Sreenivas Janyala travels to Chennaipally in Medak district to find how villagers have taken multiple loans from various MFIs.

AT 7 a.m. in Chennaipally village in Andhra Pradesh’s Medak district, women anxiously peer out of half-open doors in muddy bylanes, their eyes filled with fear. Though loan recovery agents have stopped coming here since the last four days, any newcomer in the village is cause for alarm. Seven in the morning was the appointed hour at which loan recovery agents of microfinance institutions (MFIs) would arrive to collect the weekly dues. If the villagers didn’t assemble outside their houses by 7, the recovery agent would charge a ‘waiting’ fine of Rs 5. The 7 a.m. routine has become so ingrained in the lives of the villagers that even those who didn’t have loans to pay back would get ready and assemble outside their houses at that hour.

It takes at least half-an-hour of explaining that I am not a recovery agent and an intervention from an elderly villager, before the women open their doors and pour out their anger, tears, frustration and helplessness. “I don’t want to die for a few thousand rupees,” says Bandaru Mangamma. “I am scared of venturing out of my house because of the recovery agents,” she says.

Microfinance institutions in Andhra Pradesh have come under the scanner after the state government said over 20 suicides reported in the last few weeks were a fallout of high interest rates and coercive methods of recovery followed by microfinance institutions that lend to women self-help groups(SHGs).

As a pioneer in organising women’s SHGs, Andhra Pradesh provided an opportunity to MFIs to provide small loans to lakhs of rural women who are otherwise denied credit by banks. As MFIs expanded operations in the state, they targeted individual borrowers too. In recent years, many MFIs turned into for-profit organisations in a race to make a quick buck begun. MFIs are now under fire for charging exorbitant interest rates and using strong-arm tactics to collect interests.

On October 4, unable to pay back the five loans she had taken, 23-year-old Bandaru Padma jumped into the village well along with her two children. “The total outstanding against her name was Rs 79,000. She had taken loans from Sharemicrofin, Spandana, SKS, Basix and L&T,” says Padma’s father Balaiya.

An uneasy calm settles in the lane, broken by sobs in the background. “I don’t want my children to suffer because of the loans that I have taken which we are in no position to repay. Our maize crop did not yield as much as we had expected and now we do not have money to pay the weekly interests on loans,” says P Satyamma, the most senior member of a SHG.

But none of the villagers knew of the interest they were being charged. “All I know is I have to pay a weekly amount of Rs 250 for 50 weeks on a loan of Rs 10,000,” says Satyamma. She’s not sure which MFI she has borrowed from.

As more women emerge out of their homes, the story differs only in the depth of debt and despondency. Medak district has one of the highest penetration of micro-finance institutions in the state. In fact, its reach is often compared to that of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.

Villagers say they have been hit by a series of crop failures since 2001 and so took loans from the MFIs since their procedures are easier than those of other agencies.

The District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) estimates that nearly Rs 9 crore has been given by MFIs as loans in Medak district in the last five years. And, Chennaipally illustrates not only how MFIs provided easy credit, reaching almost every home in the district, but also the debt trap they have created.

Of the 150 families in the village, 147 have taken loans. What’s surprising is that all these 147 families have taken multiple loans—six or seven from four or five MFIs. The small Chennaipally village now faces a debt of over Rs 40 lakh.

“We have had SHGs in the village for several years now and it started with simple chit funds. Then people from SKS Microfinance came and offered us loans of Rs 5,000. All we had to do was furnish a photocopy of our ration card. Even before that loan was cleared, Share Microfin MFI came and offered Rs 10,000 as loan. They were followed by L&T, Spandana Sphoorti and Basix. Within a year or two, all the 147 families had taken multiple loans amounting to nearly Rs 1 lakh or more,” says village sarpanch Siddhiramulu.

“A majority of the villagers took the second loan from the same MFI to clear the first loan and make a few household purchases. Then they took the third loan from another MFI to clear the second loan,” says Vamsi Krishna, the village coordinator for DRDA.

Women of the SHGs say they did not know or think of the consequences of taking multiple loans. “The MFI people come to visit us during our SHG meetings with offers that appear good and we are lured. When you see that one woman who has applied for loan gets a handful of cash delivered at her house the next morning, you too are tempted to borrow,” says G Swarna, an SHG member who has taken five loans totalling Rs 90,000. “So, all the women apply and go home next day with lots of cash. The husbands are happy, we buy things for children so they are happy too,” she says.

There are 30 SHGs in the village and many members who gathered at the gram panchayat office say that the MFIs fell over each other to dole out more loans. “If one company comes and gives loans of Rs 10,000 to a couple of SHGs, the next day another company’s representatives would arrive with an offer of

Rs 15,000. We were spoilt for choice,” says Swarna.

But other women members admit that the women competed among themselves. “It had become a matter of prestige among the SHG women to take loans. Everyone wanted to flaunt cash, jewellery, expensive sarees. Men were not allowed to attend the SHG meetings,” says G Malamma.

But when it came to repaying the loans, the women found themselves cornered.

“When loans are given on the basis of a ration card, all that husbands of women of the SHGs have to do is put down one signature. The men are not asked about their income or assets or repaying capability. But when the couple starts finding it difficult to repay the loan, the men simply refuse to take responsibility and blame the women for getting them into a debt trap. Only when there is a crisis they want to know at what rate of interest they were given the loan,” says H Lalitha, member of an SHG who has taken loans from Share Microfin.

Where did the money go?

In Chennaipally and in the surrounding three villages, no one used the loan money to start an income-generating venture. B Yadagiri, a daily wage worker, bought a mobile phone worth Rs 3,000 from a loan of

Rs 5,000 that his wife took. “The agent of Spandana MFI got me the phone and handed over the balance cash of Rs 2,000 to my wife,” he says. P Balaiah took a loan of Rs 20,000 and bought a portable TV for Rs 6,000. “The balance was spent on various things. I don’t remember on what,” he says.

H Lalitha who took four loans admits that she “bought four sarees and a small gold coin”. Others took loans to pay for health or hospital expenses, maternity expenses, or for fertilisers and seeds. “Taking loan for farming is a justifiable expense but when the yield is not that good or the crop fails totally, how do I repay the loan,” asks G Mallaesh, pointing at the orange heap of maize kept out to dry on the village road.

The money brought along some social problems as well. DRDA counsellors say alcohol consumption among men in the villages has shot up ever since their wives started taking loans. “When they had cash in hand, the men even stopped going to work as farm labourers. In spite of appeals and counselling, none of them chose to invest wisely in any income-generating activity,” says DRDA’s Project Director in Medak, P Ravinder.

Recovering the loan

In the villages of Medak district, there is no sound as dreaded as that of a motorcycle in the morning. By the time the loan recovery agents reach the villages on their bikes, the men here would have left their homes in order to avoid meeting them. The women scamper for cover but have no choice but to meet them.

The recovery agents who are spreading terror in the villages are far from being the toughies they are made out to be. “They are mostly youngsters who apply for vacancies of ‘business developers’, ‘helpers’ and ‘assistants’ advertised by the MFIs. Once they get the job, they are assigned the task of recovery with a carrot-and-stick approach. There are incentives for maximum recoveries and threats of being fired for every bad loan. The MFIs make sure that the recovery agents assigned to one village hail from the nearby town and belong to a caste that is higher than those living in the village they have been assigned to,” explains a recovery manager of an MFI.

“If you are giving money to someone, you will want it back. If you are giving a loan, you will take it back with interest. If that person is not paying, you should know how to recover,” says Venkat, an agent.

MFIs like SKS, Spandana, L&T, Basix, and Share Microfin offer several kinds of loan. For an amount of up to Rs 10,000, the collection of the interest and part of the principal amount is done every week. If the amount is above Rs 10,000, then the collection is monthly. “But it depends on what model of loan repayment the MFIs have offered a particular SHG in a particular village. There are many models to suit as many requirements. I pay Rs 250 a week to Basix on a loan of Rs 10,000 and Rs 1,000 a month on a loan of Rs 10,000 to L&T. Weekly or monthly, it amounts to the same,” says M Mallikarjun who encouraged his wife to opt for both loans.

For instance, SKS Microfinance offers income generation loans ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 12,000. The term of the loan is 50 weeks with principal and interest payments due on a weekly basis.

Share Microfin charges an average of 28 per cent. Its head Uday Kumar says they borrow at an average cost of 13 per cent and operational and delivery costs of nine per cent are added. Share Microfin’s ‘general loans’ are in the range of Rs 6,000 to 25,000 for a period of 50 weeks. The effective interest rate is 23.60 per cent to 28.13 per cent.

“But it is the fine print in the clauses and loan agreement

that really create the debt trap. When borrowers fail to pay one EMI, the additional interest is calculated at double or triple the interest rate. The interest continues to remain the same until the principal amount is paid off. More often than not, the final interest rate works to nearly 50 per cent,” says R Subramanium, Principal Secretary, Rural Development.


Indian Express, 24 Oct 2010



Cut government spending now

In Bureaucratic Delays, Corruption, Poverty Eradication on October 25, 2010 at 7:28 am

The piece you are about to read has been inspired by the spending cuts that the British government announced last week. Over the next four years, David Cameron’s government will cut spending in government departments by 19 per cent. This made no news in India because, on account of decades of socialism, the one thing that the average Indian does not expect from our government is that it will ever cut spending on itself.

This despite the well-known fact that by the time government salaries have been paid and huge amounts wasted on vast and leaky schemes to ‘alleviate’ poverty, there is almost nothing left for building roads, modern railway lines, power plants and other vital infrastructure. There is even less left for spending on schools, hospitals and sanitation. And yet, although political pundits like yours truly bang on week after week about the importance of physical and social infrastructure, we never point out that this can only happen when government cuts its own spending.

This week I make a few humble suggestions. To start with, let us talk about land. Government owns huge swathes of very expensive land in our most expensive cities. It makes no commercial use of this land even though it is sometimes worth more than Rs 100 crore an acre. So in Mumbai on Worli Sea Face, where a small apartment can cost more than Rs 30 crore, the Government of Maharashtra has a sprawling dairy farm on acres and acres. And in Lutyens’ Delhi, where an acre of land last sold for more than Rs 150 crore, we have mostly government housing. It has been said before in this column and I am happy to say it over and over again: we must stop housing our politicians and bureaucrats. We cannot afford it any more. It would be much cheaper for us to pay them salaries equivalent to the private sector and let them find their own housing.

The next step our economist Prime Minister must take is to cut down the size of our bloated government departments. Not only can several ministries simply be abolished (Information & Broadcasting comes instantly to mind), but we can no longer afford to treat the government as an employment agency for lowly clerks. The Central government employs nearly 40 lakh people of whom less than 6,000 are from the Indian Administrative or Foreign Services. What are we doing with so many clerks? Well, pop into your nearest government office anywhere in India and you will get your answer. You will see small armies of people pretending to work. Mostly, all they do is obstruct files from moving anywhere but sideways on their desks. Even when you oil the process with a hefty bribe, it can take years before a file actually moves upwards.

I have room here for only one more suggestion and here it is. Public sector companies that do not make profits must be sold or closed down. We cannot allow them to continue eating up money that could be much better spent on feeding our children and paying for them to go to decent schools.

It is sickening that international indexes of human development continue to report that India has infant mortality and malnutrition rates that are worse than countries much smaller and poorer than us. It is sickening that because our useless officials cannot find ways to move food grain with any urgency, it rots in the open and gets eaten by rats while nearly half of India’s children remain malnourished.

Since Sonia Gandhi has shown that her only answer to India’s hideous poverty is charity of the rural employment guarantee variety, there is no point in suggesting real solutions instead of salve. But to pay for these schemes, we must make the government cut its own expenses if we want India to prosper.

For those of you who believe that India has prospered enormously since the economic reforms began, please observe that our high rates of annual growth have come almost entirely from the private sector. Indians of Leftist persuasion have taken to lamenting the rapid increase in the number of our billionaires but they never point out that it is privately owned businesses that have brought the small measure of prosperity that we see. If government had behaved more responsibly and done its bit, we would not see the ugly disparities that we see in the streets of metropolises like Delhi and Mumbai. The poor can only be empowered when they have real tools—like good schools and decent public healthcare—to lift themselves out of their poverty. It is because of the profligate ways of government that there is never any money to invest in these tools of empowerment. It is high time government mended its ways and stopped squandering taxpayers money on itself.


Indian Express, 24 Oct 2010

Don’t bet on it

In Corruption, Uncategorized on October 13, 2010 at 9:58 am

Abhishek Manu Singhvi is no longer a spokesperson for the Congress, at least temporarily, until the party figures out whether there has been an irregularity. The issue concerns his appearance in the Santiago Martin and Megha Distributors case, agents for Sikkim and Bhutan lotteries, and a consequent ordinance passed by the Left Democratic Front. Local body elections are due in Kerala and the state-level Congress thinks the Singhvi action deprives the party of an opportunity to embarrass the LDF and that it embarrasses the Congress instead. Even before the party’s action, Singhvi announced that he had voluntarily withdrawn. The Congress has the right to take its own decisions and beyond members of the party, such decisions do not concern other citizens. Singhvi’s decision to take or refuse a brief is also a matter of individual choice and preference. However, two aspects have broader policy import.

First, is politics an exclusive career option? People have argued the bane of Indian politics is existence of career politicians, who regard politics as a profession and expect to earn a living from it. We must get more professionals into politics, so that it is no longer the exclusive preserve of perceived scoundrels. If that proposition is accepted, there can be potential conflicts of interest. We haven’t been able to solve that ethics issue for MPs. Earlier, business lobbied with MPs and ministers. Today, we have businessmen as MPs and ministers. That conflict remains unresolved, especially for the more serious issue of ministers.Singhvi is not a minister. He is a Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan. Should that prevent him from accepting a brief, be it for Dow Chemicals or Megha Distributors and/ or the Bhutan government? The legality of whether Megha Distributors has violated the law is yet to be determined. In the interim, should one prejudge because it concerns lotteries?

This brings us to the second point, our hypocritical attitude towards gambling and lotteries. Courtesy the Public Gambling Act of 1867, most forms of gambling are banned. Logically, a colonial piece of legislation that dates back so many years must be outdated and deserves a re-look. For a start, it doesn’t even define gambling and doesn’t apply to gambling in general. It applies to gambling in public and is “an Act to provide for the punishment of public gambling and the keeping of common gaming-houses”. Other sections of the statute talk about “cards, dice, tables or other instruments of gaming”, and “setting birds and animals to fight in public streets”, suggesting these were what colonial legislators were bothered about. So ban them and specifically ban any attempt to make commercial profits out of gambling. However, this will not “apply to any game of mere skill wherever played”. But the PGA isn’t all there is to it, since entry 34 of the Seventh Schedule places betting and gambling in the state list. This is important because the Supreme Court’s oft-quoted 1996 judgment (K.R. Lakshmanan v State of Tamil Nadu) was more about Madras-specific laws than the PGA.

One wonders what colonial legislators had in mind when they wanted to exclude games of mere skill. Perhaps they meant horse-racing. That’s what the SC judgment was about. It allowed horse-racing and betting on horses. In separate judgments high courts and the SC have ruled rummy is a game of skill. By the same token, if ever tested, bridge will probably be construed a game of skill. Perhaps even poker. But not “teen patti”. The mindset becomes clear, and it is no different from the colonial mindset, from a quote from the judgment: “We find it difficult to accept the contention that those activities which encourage a spirit of reckless propensity for making easy gain by lot or chance, which lead to the loss of the hard earned money of the undiscerning and improvident common man and thereby lower his standard of living and drive him into a chronic state of indebtedness and eventually disrupt the peace and happiness of his humble home…”

The rich know what’s good for them, the poor don’t. In that sense, getting birds and animals to fight (animal cruelty is a different matter) can’t be condoned. Horse-racing is acceptable. So is on-line gambling, which the PGA doesn’t cover, though exchange controls may get in the way. Casinos in Goa and Sikkim, especially if they are on cruise ships in the former, are acceptable. Brouhaha on betting over cricket has got intertwined with issues of match-fixing. Had that not been the case, we would have allowed betting on cricket too. But we won’t allow betting when a poor person, the “improvident common man”, is involved. In the process, we will invoke Mahabharata and Yudhishthira and gambling with dice. Neither Yudhishthira, nor Nala, two individuals involved with gambling in the epic, were poor. They were kings. And both were later taught skills of the game, which meant those were games of skill, not chance.

Other than horse-racing and casinos, we will allow lotteries, courtesy Lotteries Regulation Act (LRA) of 1998. That’s because state governments wish to earn revenue through lotteries, even if the poor purchase these tickets. Incidentally, under the LRA, a state can prohibit sales of lottery tickets from other states within its territory, relevant for the Kerala case. Thirteen states now organise lotteries and percentage profits are fairly high for states like Meghalaya, Mizoram and other northeastern states. Bans rarely serve any useful purpose. They only drive the activity underground and colossal figures float around on size of the illegal gambling market and there are links with money-laundering too. Just because some “improvident common man” is imprudent, why ban an activity? That’s like saying we should ban trucks because truck-drivers often spread AIDS.

Or ban elections because people, also poor people, also bet on them. Kautilya had far better sense. While lamenting the vice of gambling, Arthashastra advocates what we would today call better regulation. A superintendent of gambling is suggested. Why did Kautilya write Arthashastra? To rescue scriptures and science from the intolerance and misrule of the Nanda king, a relevant image.

Legalisation of gambling will mean greater revenue for government and better regulation and the latter is good for the poor. We should get newer products and more choice, better for the poor consumer too. If we are that concerned about the poor, let us earmark government revenue from gambling for social sector expenditure. In any event, let us give up this hypocrisy about gambling and lotteries. The LDF wishes to protect the Kerala government’s monopoly and no more. If in power, the UDF will do the same.


Indian Express, 10 Oct 2010

In UP panchayat polls, lure of NREGA money fuels contest

In Corruption, NREGA on October 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Elsewhere, people may be obsessed with the Commonwealth Games, but games of a different kind are being played in UP villages these days. Panchayat elections in UP are round the corner and these are being fought with an intensity not seen before.

The poll are still three days away and at least eight persons have lost their lives in the last 15 days in the polls-related violence. Hoardings dot countryside; feasts have become a daily routine; liquor, money and clothes are distributed freely; and candidates are touring constituencies in a large number of cars and SUVs.

In comparison, the Lok Sabha elections of 2009 and Assembly elections of 2007 were a sedate affair. “So much money and violence was not seen in those elections,” said senior BJP leader H N Dikshit.

Officially, all parties have announced that they are not contesting these elections. But candidates have put up hoardings, claiming blessings of Mayawati, Rahul Gandhi or Mulayam Singh, with their photos. Ministers, MPs and MLAs have fielded their relatives and are openly campaigning for them. There have been complaints of the misuse of official machinery.

An official in the State Election Commission said, “Violence was there even during elections in 1995, 2000 and 2005, but that was only on the day of polling. This time it began right with the poll notification.” The elections are being held to elect grams sabhas and village pradhans at the grassroots level, members of kshetra panchayats which constitute the middle rung, and the district panchayats at the apex of the panchayati raj system. The members of the khsetra and district panchayats elect the chairmen of these bodies.

The kshetra and district panchayats have often been regarded as a stepping stone to Assembly or Lok Sabha, but the scale on which senior politicians are trying to push their own people, often relatives, is unusual.

The increased level of rivalry in these polls is being linked to MNREGA, the launch of which by the UPA in 2005 has led to a quantum jump in the flow of funds from the Centre to village panchayats.

Although, technically, all decisions in MNREGA are taken by the gram sabha, in actual practice it is village pradhan and panchayat secretary who maintain control on its implementation right from the issuance of job cards. Over the past five years, since the introduction of MNREGA, there has been a dramatic change in the life styles of gram pradhans. Said Dikshit, “After the launch of MNREGA, the office of the village pradhan has become very lucrative. What was a trickle under the Jawahar Rojgar Yojna has turned into a windfall with MNREGA. Recently, I went to meet a pradhan in Purwa area of Unnao but I could not locate his house I used to visit for last four decades. In place of a small house now stands a palatial building.”

Dinesh Mishra, an official posted in Maharajganj district, said, “During the days of JRY, the pradhans graduated from bicycles to motorcycles. After the launch of MNREGA, they move in SUVs.”

These pradhans now have money and they spend it to gain muscle power and political connections. The stakes were never so high in the panchayat elections in UP.

Even before MNREGA, pradhans were involved in all rural development and welfare schemes and they got their cut. But money in MNREGA comes daily and it is much more than they received in any other scheme.

Official sources said that in the current year, as much as Rs 9,000 crore is going to be spent in UP under MNREGA. According to the Panchayat Raj Department, the allocation under MNREGA to a big village with a population of 25,000 could be as high as Rs 3 crore in a year and Rs 15 to Rs 20 lakh for a small village.

In kshetra panchayats and district panchayats, however, it is political power at local level that has drawn relatives of ministers, MPs and MLAs like never before.

Sadhna Singh, wife of Forest Minister Fateh Bahadur Singh, is contesting from Campierganj ward in Gorakhpur for member of district panchayat. Wife of Finance Minister Lalji Verma is in the fray in Ambedkarnagar. Panchayat Minister Swami Prasad Maurya is leaving no stone unturned for getting his wife elected as the member of the district panchayat from Rai Bareli. In Moradabad, Haji Akbar, Minister of State for Non-Conventional Energy has fielded his daughter Gulnar for member of district panchayat.

Vijay Yadav, BSP MLA from Thakurdwara in Moradabad, has fielded his wife Sumitra Yadav for member of district panchayat. In Bulandshahar, BSP MLA Anil Sharma fielded his teenage daughter and wife for the Zila panchayat election. His daughter’s nomination was rejected as she was found to be a minor.

From the opposition, Premlata Yadav, wife of Rajpal Yadav, younger brother of Mulayam Singh Yadav, has been declared elected unopposed as member of the district panchayat. Ankur Yadav, son of the leader of the opposition in the UP Assembly Shivpal Singh Yadav, is also in the fray for election as member of the district panchayat from Etawah.

The elections will be held in four phases on October 11, 14, 20 and 25. The counting of votes will be taken up across the state on October 30 and the results are likely to be announced the same day.


Indian Express, 9 0ct 2010

On eve of Commonwealth Games, India’s persistent red tape is in spotlight

In Bureaucratic Delays, Corruption on October 7, 2010 at 6:05 am

IN NEW DELHI It didn’t take long for the first athletes arriving in New Delhi last week for the upcoming Commonwealth Games to catch a glimpse of modern India’s two faces.

Their gateway to the country was the capital’s gleaming new international airport terminal, built by a privately led consortium and opened in June four months ahead of schedule.

But the official wristbands that the visitors were handed at the airport turned out to be an emblem of India’s famous red tape and government inefficiency. When the teams reached the athletes’ village, the police guarding the facility refused to recognize the IDs, saying that the Games Organizing Committee had not sent the required authorization order.

The jet-lagged athletes stood about under a tree for hours with their luggage, calling their embassies for help, and the problem was not finally resolved for four more days.

To observers, the incident illustrated more than just the well-documented sloppiness that has marked India’s preparations for the Games. It also underscored the gap that has emerged between a government rooted in a slower-moving, socialist era and a private entrepreneurial class that is busy building global IT companies, the world’s largest oil refineries and spectacular structures such as the $2.8 billion airport terminal.

“It is about two aspects of the India story,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an entrepreneur and member of Parliament. “India’s private sector has been exposed to competition and therefore has developed capability. Accountability is firmly built into the entrepreneurial mind-set. But the government structure is a relic of the colonial past and continues to plod along.”

While the terminal opened early despite delays caused by village protests and litigation over land acquisition, the government has struggled for seven years to prepare for the Games. It had hoped the event would showcase India’s rising might. Instead, on the eve of the opening ceremony Sunday, setbacks such as unhygienic accommodations and collapsing structures have triggered accusations of corruption and ineptitude.

For a bureaucracy known for delays, dithering and lack of accountability, the standards the Chinese government set for the Beijing Olympics did not help, either. It has become apparent that New Delhi’s hydra-headed management style was ill equipped from the start to stitch together an event on this scale, particularly in the full glare of global publicity.

A full week after the Canadian hockey team landed in India, customs officials had still not released its sticks and uniforms. An official who was battling Tuesday to resolve several crises in the village said that the bureaucracy’s left hand did not know what its right hand was doing. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

At least 21 government departments oversaw the construction projects for the Games. Many of the agencies were either unaware of their assigned responsibilities or disputed them, and they maintained different sets of timelines for the same project. Almost all the construction deadlines were revised three to four times.

“It is the problem of too many cooks. There is no single person who is in charge, who is accountable and whose neck is on the line,” said Tarun Das, former head of the Confederation of Indian Industry. “Every project was delayed, and quality was compromised.”

The athletes’ village on the Yamuna riverbed was beset by problems from the beginning. It was slowed by environmental lawsuits, on-site protests and the global economic slowdown. It took 17 months to get all the bureaucratic clearances. Workers are still carrying out last-minute fixes at the village.

“We can brag as much as we like about the new India. But when it comes to delivering on an international commitment, we are no China. We are still corrupt, slothful old India,” the Hindustan Times’ editorial director, Vir Sanghvi, wrote Sunday.

A World Bank report about the ease of doing business in different countries ranks India 133rd and China 89th. Enforcing a contract in India takes an average 1,420 days, compared with 406 days in China. Closing down a bankrupt business takes seven years in India, whereas it takes 20 months in China.

“If you want to build a world-class transport infrastructure in a city in India, you are challenged by an already overcrowded place, with narrow roads and no maps for the underground water, electricity and sewerage lines,” said Grandhi Mallikarjuna Rao, chairman of the GMR Group, which builds power plants, highways and airports across India and led the consortium that built New Delhi’s new terminal.

For the Delhi project, Rao said, his company worked with 58 government agencies.

“Our nation is in the process of transition from a command-and-control economic system to a more efficient market-driven structure,” he said. “It will take some time till this transition is complete.”

There is, however, at least one government structure that works: the Delhi Metro. A fully owned state company, it laid 77 miles of track in less than five years to meet the Commonwealth Games deadline. It helps that the Delhi Metro has as its chief executive an award-winning, tough railway engineer named E. Sreedharan, who does not tolerate bureaucratic or political interference and treats targets as sacrosanct.


The Washington Post,  2 Oct 2010


Declining by degree

In Education on October 7, 2010 at 6:04 am

FIFTY years ago, in the glorious age of three-martini lunches and all-smoking offices, America’s car companies were universally admired. Everybody wanted to know the secrets of their success. How did they churn out dazzling new models every year? How did they manage so many people so successfully (General Motors was then the biggest private-sector employer in the world)? And how did they keep their customers so happy? Today the world is equally in awe of American universities. They dominate global rankings: on the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy’s list of the world’s best universities, 17 of the top 20 are American, and 35 of the top 50. They employ 70% of living Nobel prizewinners in science and economics and produce a disproportionate share of the world’s most-cited articles in academic journals. Everyone wants to know their secret recipe.

Which raises a mischievous question. Could America’s universities go the way of its car companies? On the face of it, this seems highly unlikely. Student enrolments are higher than ever this year, as Americans who cannot find jobs linger or return to education. Cambridge, Massachusetts, shows no outward sign of becoming Detroit. Yet there are serious questions about America’s ivory towers. Two right-wing think-tanks, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Goldwater Institute, have both produced damning reports about America’s university system. Two left-wing academics, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, have published an even more damning book: “Higher Education? How Colleges are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It”. And US News & World Report, a centrist magazine, says in its annual survey of American colleges that: “If colleges were businesses, they would be ripe for hostile takeovers, complete with serious cost-cutting and painful reorganisations.” College fees have for decades risen faster than Americans’ ability to pay them.

Median household income has grown by a factor of 6.5 in the past 40 years, but the cost of attending a state college has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students and 24 for out-of-state students. The cost of attending a private college has increased by a factor of more than 13 (a year in the Ivy League will set you back $38,000, excluding bed and board). Academic inflation makes medical inflation look modest by comparison. As costs soar, diligence is tumbling. In 1961 full-time students in four-year colleges spent 24 hours a week studying; that has fallen to 14, estimates the AEI. Drop-out and deferment rates are also hair-curling: only 40% of students graduate in four years. The most plausible explanation is that professors are not particularly interested in students’ welfare. Promotion and tenure depend on published research, not good teaching. Professors strike an implicit bargain with their students: we will give you light workloads and inflated grades so long as you leave us alone to do our research.

Mr Hacker and Ms Dreifus point out that senior professors in Ivy League universities now get sabbaticals every third year rather than every seventh. This year 20 of Harvard’s 48 history professors will be on leave. America’s commitment to research is one of the glories of its higher-education system. But for how long? The supply of papers that apply gender theory to literary criticism remains ample. But there is evidence of diminishing returns in an area perhaps more vital to the country’s economic dynamism: science and technology. The Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship, argues that the productivity of federal funding for R&D, in terms of patents and licences, has been falling for some years. Funding is spread too thinly. It would yield better results if concentrated on centres of excellence, but fashionable chatter about the “knowledge economy” stirs every congressional backwoodsman to stick his fingers into the university pie.

The Goldwater Institute points to a third poison to add to rising prices and declining productivity: administrative bloat. Between 1993 and 2007 spending on university bureaucrats at America’s 198 leading universities rose much faster than spending on teaching faculty. Administration costs at elite private universities rose even faster than at public ones. For example, Harvard increased its administrative spending per student by 300%. In some universities, such as Arizona State University, almost half the full-time employees are administrators. Nearly all university presidents conduct themselves like corporate titans, with salaries, perks and entourages to match. At least the Naval Academy is free Given the size and competitiveness of America’s higher-education system, you might expect these problems to be self-correcting. Why don’t some universities compete by hiring teaching superstars? And why don’t others slash prices? The big problem is that high-status institutions such as universities tend to compete with each other on academic reputation (which is enhanced by star professors) and bling (luxurious dormitories and fancy sports stadiums) rather than value for money. This starts at the top: Yale would never dream of competing with Harvard on price. But it also extends to second-division universities: George Washington University has made itself fashionable by charging students more and spending lavishly on its facilities. This luxury model is unlikely to survive what is turning into a prolonged economic downturn. Parents are much less willing to take on debt than they were and much more willing to look abroad for better deals. The internet also poses a growing threat to what Bill Gates calls “place-based colleges”. Online, you can listen to the world’s best lecturers for next to nothing. America’s universities lost their way badly in the era of easy money. If they do not find it again, they may go the way of GM.


The Economist,  2 Sep 2010

Tribal writing stands up to Maoist fear, very creatively

In Naxalism, Poverty Eradication on October 4, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Surendra Nath Mandi why and he doesn’t want to comment. The worst-kept secret here in tribal literature and journalism these days is: take on the Maoists at your own peril.

Many are taking them on. So at least half a dozen Santhali newspapers — fortnightly, monthly, bi-monthly being published from Junglemahal — covering Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia, the centres of violence, have relocated to the outskirts of Kolkata and other semi-urban towns.

Many writers have been forced to leave homes and seek shelter in urban centres but they are not putting their pens down. However, a large number of papers have a “self-imposed censorship” on writings that talk about Maoist or Marxist sponsored violence in Junglemahal.

It wasn’t a surprise that tribal writer Bisakha Majhi, 56, was awarded one of the highest literary honours of the West Bengal government at a ceremony last month. Her award-winning story “Talash” revolved round the theme of violence and bloodshed in Junglemahal. For 30 years, Majhi has been writing stories and essays capturing the tribal experience.

Speaking to The Sunday Express, Majhi, who stays in Adra, said “Talash” is about finding “a way out of the darkness.” The protagonists of her story are Manasaram (the same name as that of a feared Maoist squad leader), a village social worker. One day, the wife of a villager, Mandi Bakhal, falls ill and Manasaram arranges for an ambulance to move her to hospital.

The ambulance returns late in the night with the wife’s body. Reason: the ambulance got stuck because a group of people had dug up the road and blocked it with trees — exactly what the Maoists do. As the body reaches the house of the Bakhals, the entire village is in tears. The story of the tragedy becomes a powerful questioning of Maoist violence.

This is becoming a leitmotif in tribal writing today.

Sahitya Akademi award winner Badal Hembram’s short story Khobor (News) in the latest issue of Tetra, a monthly magazine, is about the son of Ratu, a poor tribal firewood vendor, who is shot dead by a group of people (read Maoists). A poster is found near the body that read: “Informer.” Ratu’s son was suspected to be an informer by the assailants because he sold firewood to everyone — from villagers to government employees to policemen.

Just days later, when another armed group shows up at his hut, Ratu, in a burst of anger, takes out his bow and arrow to challenge the group. The men retreat and Ratu follows them to the edge of the forest where he runs into a “harmads” backed by security forces and becomes “News” — a “terrorist killed in an encounter”.

Not just short stories, limericks and bedtime poems for children and satirical verse are also tackling these themes. Parimal Hembram, a writer associated with AlI India Radio, has released a collection of poems, one of which is on “Sagun Soren Orofe Maobadi” — a story of a tribal father’s anguish over his son being drawn into the Maoist ranks and finally falling a “victim of politics.”

Yet another award-winning tribal writer of the region is Sharada Prasad Kisku Kherwal Basia. His latest piece that has caught the imagination of readers in the tribal belt is “Chawra-Bhawra” — it’s about two “tribal mythological dogs” who accompany youths to the fields and through their songs talk of violence and tragedy.

Then there are those who write in favour of the underground extremists. One such writer is Durbin Soren of Birbhum whose short story “Bir Naha” tells the story of a tribal woman who went away with “outsiders” to become a soldier and finally die as a martyr.

Indian Express, 3 Oct 2010

Cash or work: What do people want?

In Corruption, Livelihood, NREGA, Poverty Eradication on October 4, 2010 at 6:14 am

In analysing the mandate of the 2009 elections, and acknowledging the importance of the “aam aadmi” agenda, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is becoming a common focal point, with even the Left and the BJP attributing the UPA’s electoral success to the NREGA effect. Although, the campaign across the country saw very few instances of direct attacks on the legislation, the electoral promises made by the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh to provide monthly cash transfers did introduce an important ideological debate, offering an alternative approach to fighting poverty.

In AP, both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections coincided. The TDP promised that every family would get free colour television sets and a monthly cash dole. Chandrababu Naidu attributed unqualified success to cash transfer schemes in various Latin American countries, without going into the details of the conditionalities attached to these transfers. A rhetorical choice was placed before the voter: do you want to put in the effort of slogging for a wage, or would you rather just have money coming into your account every month? The issue is part of a larger international debate related to fighting poverty. It has powerful international proponents and is unlikely to fade away. What is this debate? ‘Conditional Cash Transfer’ has been used and propagated in different versions by the World Bank, as a method of providing a social safety net to the poor as well as improving efficiency of social sector services in large parts of South America and South Africa. With the passage of the NREGA in India a new empowerment based (rights based) approach to fighting poverty has emerged, in sharp contrast to the condition-based handout. Different approaches These two paradigms are at the core of a fast-growing debate among economists, activists, academics, policy-makers and politicians in different parts of the world. For us in India, it is crucial that we begin to understand the implications of the cash transfer scheme and analytically compare it to the merits and demerits of the entitlements approach of the NREGA. It is interesting to note that at a recent international meeting on NREGA convened in Delhi, many countries espousing CCT, expressed their preference for NREGA. According to the World Bank, a powerful supporter of CCTs, conditional cash transfers provide money directly to poor families via a “social contract” with the beneficiaries — for example, sending children to school regularly or bringing them to health centres. For extremely poor families, cash provides emergency assistance, while the conditionalities promote longer-term investments in human capital. Conditional cash transfers also exist in countries such as Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua and Zambia. In a panel meeting convened by the World Bank in February 2009, many economists noted mixed results. While CCT programmes did correlate with a reduction in extreme poverty rates, they did not appear to demonstrate higher academic achievement and improved health among children whose families were receiving CCT grants. In fact, in a paper “Conditional cash transfer programmes: Are they really magic bullets?” by Alain de Janvry and Elisabeth Sadoulet from the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California at Berkeley, June 2004, some important and interesting conclusions were drawn by the authors, who analysed the CCT in Mexico. They felt that CCT could only work with conditionalities. The tighter the programme’s budget constraint in selection of beneficiaries, the larger the potential efficiency gains from selection of beneficiaries and calibration of transfers. Given India’s experience with selecting families for the BPL and other “targeted” beneficiary schemes, this is a charter for disaster. Corruption, exploitation The vulnerability of the programme to corruption and the beneficiary to exploitation is also evident. In Mexico, for instance, the CCT called “Progresa” and recently renamed “Oportunidades” was introduced in 1997 to offer cash transfers to poor mothers in marginal rural communities, conditional on their using health facilities regularly, ensuring children’s attendance in schools in primary and secondary grades. Children with more than three days absence from school, or non-visit to a health centre per month will not receive their cash due. A recent interaction with a researcher who works with women in rural Guerrero, Mexico, revealed alarming facts about leakages in the CCT. Rural women who accessed the health services were expected to pay illegal “user fees” for what should be free primary public health services; under threat of removal from the CCT (most primary health care at rural clinics in marginalised communities should be free by law). Women complained that more than 50 per cent of the CCT money received was spent on illegal “user fees” paid to public health systems, and to bribe doctors. In schools, 30 per cent received was paid to teachers to get certificates to ensure that they stay on the transfer list. In stark contrast, the NREGA passed by Parliament in 2005, is a legal entitlement to 100 days of labour-employment for all rural families. Any adult member of a family can demand work from the government any time, with a guarantee of an allowance on failure to provide work. It empowers public monitoring, transparency and access to government records — project details, muster rolls on the details of expenditure related to labour payment, work and payment records — to anyone who asks, within seven days of receipt of application.

Monitoring the system Gram Sabhas are empowered to conduct mandatory social audit periodically in the villages to ensure compliance with transparency and accountability that the Act mandates. Andhra Pradesh has demonstrated dramatic results in NREGA social audits with large-scale recoveries and action against erring officials. The NREGA has taught people to use and monitor the system. The selection of beneficiaries for this scheme would expose our Achilles heel. Introducing a selection criterion will itself be difficult, if seen in the context of the BPL debate and its implementation. The scheme would also fundamentally undermine the act of seeking transparency and accountability by the most vulnerable — something the NREGA has succeeded in fostering — even in areas where implementation has been weak. The offer of monthly cash handouts is a seductive electoral promise. Elections are the wrong time to debate an issue such as CCTs superficially, without fully understanding the details. In the light of the issue of a variant of the Cash Transfer Scheme being raised in States such as Bihar too, the CCT needs to be debated, in the public domain, with the beneficiaries for its possible implications for their participation in development.

Commentators who have been consistently critical of the NREGA have begun to suggest the alternative of CCTs. While the entitlement approach of NREGA will no longer face the frontal assault it has since its inception, it could well be undermined by such alternatives. Do people want the right to work, or a cash dole? There is an ideological basis to this debate, and it merits threadbare analysis that will reach the people themselves. (The authors are members, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan, Rajasthan.

The Hindu, 30 May 2009

Nodal watchdog needed for NREGA to help poor: SC

In Livelihood, NREGA, Poverty Eradication on October 3, 2010 at 10:42 am

NEW DELHI: The on Friday expressed the need for the establishment of a nodal agency to oversee the implementation of government’s flagship programme so that its benefits could percolate down to the intended beneficiaries.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justice Swatanter Kumar said, there was a need for a nodal agency at the Centre to ensure that the guidelines on the implementation of the project should be adhered to.
It will help in bringing transparency in the project as well as accountability for violating the provisions of the scheme, court pointed out.

The bench also expressed the need for the social audit of the scheme as there were allegations that job cards and wages are not given properly.

“We are here to implement social audit. How is the government implementing it”? court remarked.
It posted the matter for further hearing on September 20.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner ngo, informed the court that job cards and wages under the scheme were not reaching to the intended beneficiaries. The employment guaranteed under the scheme was also kept away from the people who need it, said Mr Bhushan.

The ngo, Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS) placed before the court the survey report prepared by it to suggest anomalies in implementation of the scheme. It alleged that the guidelines on the project were not being followed properly. The Centre, however, said it would place the instructions to be followed by the state governments about the scheme on the website of .

Earlier, the apex court had expressed its concern over faulty implementation of NREGA saying the money earmarked for the project was not percolating down to the intended beneficiaries.

“There is no uniform policy. The money is not reaching actual beneficiaries”, it had said. The court had said, several projects under the scheme were failing as the funds allocated either remain unutilised or in many cases money lands up in wrong hands.

“There has been distribution of money. But in many cases, it is going to wrong persons and real beneficiaries do not receive the cash”, court had said.

It had said that the money under NREGA is not an ex-gratia payment as people in villages are assured that money is guaranteed in lieu of the work performed by them. The funds under CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority) is given to the villages for their development, court had remarked.

The PIL filed in 2007 alleged the project, which was implemented in September 2005 with a view to providing 100 days of guaranteed employment to at least one member of each rural household, suffers from large scale corruption and mismanagement.

The NGO contended that various organisations, including CEFS, conducted a field study on the working of the Employment Guarantee Act which reveals that the scheme under the Act is not working as it has been marred by corruption due to non-transparency of the implementation of the scheme and entry of private contractors who are banned under the Act.

The NGO had earlier submitted District Collector/District Magistrate should be made responsible for effective implementation of the project.

The study shows “most of the funds allocated for the implementation of the Act and schemes thereunder do not reach the intended recipients and are instead siphoned off by corrupt officials and contractors denying lakhs of poor people their fundamental right to livelihood.”

The scheme which was started as Act (NREGA) in 2005 was later named Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

The Economic Times, 28 Aug 2010

How right you are, Dr. Singh

In Agriculture, Corruption, Malnutrition, PDS, Poverty Eradication, Red Tape on October 3, 2010 at 10:31 am

Dear Prime Minister,

I was delighted to learn that you said, while also “respectfully” ticking off the Supreme Court, that tackling food, rotting grain etc., — are all policy matters. You are absolutely right and it was time somebody said so. With that, you brought a whiff of honesty so lacking in the United Progressive Alliance’s public blather. It is for your government, not the court, to decide what to do with the grain now rotting in millions of tons. If policy dictates that it go bad rather than let hungry people eat it, that’s no business of the court. The “realm of policy formulation,” as you put it, is yours. It feels good to have the nation’s leader accept — well, sort of, anyway — that growing hunger, falling nutrition, rotting grain, lack of storage space, all these arise from policy. (They were certainly not caused by any Supreme Court rulings I know of.)

A lesser man would have copped out, blaming it all on the opposition, the weather or the mysterious (but ultimately beneficial) workings of the Market. You don’t do that. You clearly locate it in policy. And policies are far more deliberate, far less abstract than markets.

Storage space for foodgrains

It was, after all, a policy decision to spend almost nothing for years on building additional public storage space for foodgrain. Governments have the money to subsidise the building of new cities, malls and multiplexes across the country. By “incentivising” private builders and developers. But none for building storage space for the nation’s foodgrain.

The ‘new’ idea, instead, is to hire privately-owned space. Which does raise the question sir, of why your government decided, by policy, to de-hire a few million metric tons worth of hired space between 2004 and 2006. That was done on the paid-for advice of an expensive multinational consulting firm. Re-hiring space now will surely mean much higher rental costs, bringing cheer and joy to the hungry, starving rentiers. (Maybe even to the MNC which could now be paid for giving you the opposite of the advice it did the last time.)

More so, since your latest policies “incentivise” things further for the rentiers. Pranabda‘s budget speech (Point 49) hiked the guaranteed period of space hire from five to seven years. Actually, it’s been upped to 10 years since then. (A word of caution from a well-wisher: the reports of that expensive MNC consulting firm have been the kiss of death for any government dumb enough to act on them. Ask Mr. Naidu in Andhra Pradesh.) There was always the option of building foodgrain storage space on government-owned land. As Chhattisgarh is now doing. It would cost much less in the long run and curb profiteering from our need to tackle hunger. These being policy matters, that’s just a suggestion, not an order.

As your message makes clear to the Supreme Court, the rotting grain is none of their business. As the nation’s most important Professor of Economics, I’m sure you have well-thought out policies on what to do with the grain, rotting or about-to-rot, in open spaces and bad godowns. I just wish someone of your erudition would explain these policies to an increasingly aggressive rat population which thinks it can do anything it likes with that grain and simply ignores the courts altogether. (Maybe we need to incentivise the rodents to lay off the grain.)

Meanwhile, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson has all but admitted that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had paid the price on this very issue. A wipe-out at the 2004 polls. Amazing what a consensus there is on all these being policy matters. Even the Supreme Court seems to agree.

Nine years ago, Dr. Singh, the apex Court in the very same, ongoing Right to Food case, had this to say (August 20, 2001). “The anxiety of the Court is to see that the poor and the destitute and the weaker sections do not suffer from hunger and starvation. The prevention of the same is one of the prime responsibilities of the Government — whether Central or the State. How this is to be ensured would be a matter of policy which is best left to the government. All that the Court has to be satisfied … is that the foodgrains … should not be wasted … or eaten by rats…What is important is that the food must reach the Hungry.”

The farmers who have been committing suicide in tens of thousands also agree with you totally, Prime Minister. They know it was policies, not the law courts, which drove them to take their lives. That’s why several who left behind suicide notes addressed those to you, to the finance minister, or our own beloved Maharashtra chief minister (busy, even as we speak, Saving the Tiger in a TV studio). Ever read any of these letters, Dr. Singh? Has the government of Maharashtra, led by your own party, ever given you a single one of them? They speak of debt, credit, rising input costs and falling prices. Of governments that do not hear their cries. These are not even addressed to their families, but to you, Dr. Singh, and your colleagues. Yes, they understood the role of policy in their misery — and therefore addressed the authors of those policies in their notes.

Farmer distress

Ramakrishna Lonkar of Wardha put it simply in his suicide note after your historic visit to Vidarbha in 2006. He said: “After the Prime Minister’s visit and announcements of a fresh crop loan, I thought I could live again.” But “I was shown no respect” at the bank, where nothing had changed. Ramachandra Raut of Washim was so keen to be taken seriously by his Prime Minister, that he not only addressed his suicide note to you, the President and your colleagues, he even recorded it on Rs. 100 non-judicial stamped paper. He was, by his lights, trying to make his protest ‘legal.’ Rameshwar Kuchankar’s suicide note in Yavatmal blamed the procurement price of cotton for the farmers’ distress. Even those letters not addressed to you, speak of policies. Like Sahebrao Adhao’s farewell note which paints a Dickensian portrait of usury in the Akola-Amravati belt.

All highlighted policy. And how right they were! Recent revelations (see TheHindu, August 13, 2010), show us that almost half the total “agricultural credit” in the state of Maharashtra in 2008 was disbursed not by rural banks, but by urban and metropolitan bank branches. Over 42 per cent of it in the financial farming-heartland of Mumbai alone. (Sure, the city has large-scale farming, but of a different kind — it cultivates contracts.) A handful of big corporations seem to hog much of this “agricultural credit.” No wonder Lonkar, Raut et al found it so hard to access credit. You can’t have a ‘level playing field’ (to borrow one of your favourite phrases) with billionaires.

While these are outflows of policy, the exclusive realm of your government, I confess to being a little flummoxed. The astounding price rise of several years is surely the well-foreseen outcome of government policies? This year, as you lectured world leaders in Toronto on inclusive growth, your government decontrolled petrol prices fully and diesel partially, while hiking kerosene prices, too.

When policies force hundreds of millions to cut their already meagre diets, can they be discussed? When they trample on people’s rights, and people go to courts seeking redress, what do the latter do, Prime Minister? You are right that the Supreme Court should not make policy. But what do they do when confronted with the consequences of yours? Policies are made, as you know better than I, by people. In your case by many distinguished economists including those who have fought attempts to ban child labour. One who even wrote an article in The New York Times titled “The Poor Need Child Labour” (November 29, 1994). Where he admitted to having had a 13-year-old work in his home. (And who also favoured the decontrolling of fuel prices — to tackle the price rise, no less. And perhaps to help child labour, too?)

What too, does the Supreme Court do when the government’s 2006 promise of a new Below Poverty Line (BPL) Survey to be completed before the start of the Eleventh Plan never materialises? What do they or anyone do when the government sets grain allocations to the states based on poverty estimates of year 2000 based on the 1991 Census. Twenty-year-old data which result in 70 million fewer people getting BPL/Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) grain than should be the case.

I humbly suggest that while the Supreme Court copes with those dilemmas, we reconsider your policies. I would also be most grateful if you could forward a copy of this letter to your Food and Agriculture Minister if you remember who he is and where he is.

Yours sincerely

P. Sainath

The Hindu, 14 Sep 2010