Renu Pokharna

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

UP adopts e-tendering for mining

In Bureaucratic Delays, Corruption, Red Tape on May 31, 2012 at 7:44 am

LUCKNOW: Nearly a month after having approved the e-tendering mechanism for allotting contracts in the mining sector, the UP government, on Wednesday, ordered the immediate implementation of e-tendering for awarding all new mining leases in the state.

Under the fresh system, lease holders will need an environment clearance for mining if the land area is more than five hectares for mining activities on under 5 hectares of land, no environment clearance will be necessary. The government also said that in cases where mining contracts that are still valid, the lease holder or contractors will need to obtain environment clearances by August 2012.

Uttar Pradesh Electronics Corporation Ltd will be the implementing agency for this process, which will include the entire tendering process of registration, submission, opening and evaluation of bids and finally awarding of contract. Corporation is equipped with necessary software and experience as it is already implementing e-tendering in many other state government departments.

Infrastructure and industrial development commissioner (IIDC) Anil Kumar Gupta said e-tendering would make the contract process transparent and error-free. Though provisions for e-tendering already existed, they had not been implemented in the mining department. The changes will also reflect in the state’s new mining policy.

Till now, tendering for the mining licences was being done manually in UP, with mining contracts being awarded on a ‘first-come-first-serve’ basis by district magistrates. There sector was also riddled with complaints of corruption and domination by mining mafia.

Under the new system, the entire bidding process, including registration, coding, bid opening, evaluation and awarding of contract, will be done online.

Hardware support will be provided by Uttar Pradesh Electronics Corporation Limited, while software inputs will be lent by the state technical unit of the National Informatics Centre (NIC). This will leave little scope for allowing fake bids, or last minute entry of bidders based on political or bureaucratic will.

Though the new e-tendering mechanism has been made effective immediately, it will only govern minor minerals — sand, stone chips and Yamuna sand (maurang), among others. Mining licences for major minerals like iron-ore, gold, rare earth elements, zinc and other minerals will continue to be allotted on a first-come-first-serve basis since they are governed by the Mines and Mineral Development Regulation Act of 1957, which is currently under review in the Lok Sabha.

An order to implement the online tendering system was also issued earlier by the Allahabad High Court. In addition, the World Bank had also said it would not grant a development policy loan to UP unless a transparent e-procurement process was put in place.

Following these orders, former chief minister Mayawati had introduced the e-procurement system in January 2008, but the practice was quietly dropped in 2010 without citing any reasons. In 2008, as a pilot project, e-procurement was introduced in seven departments, including PWD, and family welfare, which was plagued by the National Rural Health Mission scam. Later, it was also extended to four more departments in 2009 but dropped hurriedly in January 2010 because it was “too transparent”. This happened even though the same ministers had earlier approved the system after hearing of the project’s successful implementation in Maharashtra and Karnataka. In Andhra Pradesh, Rs 2,000 crore was saved between 2003 and 2006 by taking the e-procurement route.

31 May 2012,  The Times of India

Sam Spade at Starbucks

In Business, Civil Services Reforms, Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 7:43 am

If you attend a certain sort of conference, hang out at a certain sort of coffee shop or visit a certain sort of university, you’ve probably run into some of these wonderful young people who are doing good. Typically, they’ve spent a year studying abroad. They’ve traveled in the poorer regions of the world. Now they have devoted themselves to a purpose larger than self.

Often they are bursting with enthusiasm for some social entrepreneurship project: making a cheap water-purification system, starting a company that will empower Rwandan women by selling their crafts in boutiques around the world.

These people are refreshingly uncynical. Their hip service ethos is setting the moral tone for the age. Idealistic and uplifting, their worldview is spread by enlightened advertising campaigns, from Bennetton years ago to everything Apple has ever done.

It’s hard not to feel inspired by all these idealists, but their service religion does have some shortcomings. In the first place, many of these social entrepreneurs think they can evade politics. They have little faith in the political process and believe that real change happens on the ground beneath it.

That’s a delusion. You can cram all the nongovernmental organizations you want into a country, but if there is no rule of law and if the ruling class is predatory then your achievements won’t add up to much.

Furthermore, important issues always spark disagreement. Unless there is a healthy political process to resolve disputes, the ensuing hatred and conflict will destroy everything the altruists are trying to build.

There’s little social progress without political progress. Unfortunately, many of today’s young activists are really good at thinking locally and globally, but not as good at thinking nationally and regionally.

Second, the prevailing service religion underestimates the problem of disorder. Many of the activists talk as if the world can be healed if we could only insert more care, compassion and resources into it.

History is not kind to this assumption. Most poverty and suffering — whether in a country, a family or a person — flows from disorganization. A stable social order is an artificial accomplishment, the result of an accumulation of habits, hectoring, moral stricture and physical coercion. Once order is dissolved, it takes hard measures to restore it.

Yet one rarely hears social entrepreneurs talk about professional policing, honest courts or strict standards of behavior; it’s more uplifting to talk about microloans and sustainable agriculture.

In short, there’s only so much good you can do unless you are willing to confront corruption, venality and disorder head-on. So if I could, presumptuously, recommend a reading list to help these activists fill in the gaps in the prevailing service ethos, I’d start with the novels of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, or at least the movies based on them.

The noir heroes like Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” served as models for a generation of Americans, and they put the focus squarely on venality, corruption and disorder and how you should behave in the face of it.

A noir hero is a moral realist. He assumes that everybody is dappled with virtue and vice, especially himself. He makes no social-class distinction and only provisional moral distinctions between the private eyes like himself and the criminals he pursues. The assumption in a Hammett book is that the good guy has a spotty past, does spotty things and that the private eye and the criminal are two sides to the same personality.

He (or she — the women in these stories follow the same code) adopts a layered personality. He hardens himself on the outside in order to protect whatever is left of the finer self within.

He is reticent, allergic to self-righteousness and appears unfeeling, but he is motivated by a disillusioned sense of honor. The world often rewards the wrong things, but each job comes with obligations and even if everything is decaying you should still take pride in your work. Under the cynical mask, there is still a basic sense of good order, that crime should be punished and bad behavior shouldn’t go uncorrected. He knows he’s not going to be uplifted by his work; that to tackle the hard jobs he’ll have to risk coarsening himself, but he doggedly plows ahead.

This worldview had a huge influence as a generation confronted crime, corruption, fascism and communism. I’m not sure I can see today’s social entrepreneurs wearing fedoras and trench coats. But noir’s moral realism would be a nice supplement to today’s prevailing ethos. It would fold some hardheadedness in with today’s service mentality. It would focus attention on the core issues: order and rule of law. And it would be necessary. Contemporary Washington, not to mention parts of the developing world, may be less seedy than the cities in the noir stories, but they are equally laced with self-deception and self-dealing.

 

12 Apr 2012,  The New York Times

India’s unlikely romance with Ayn Rand

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 7:13 am

NEW DELHI: Literary tastes in India, as anywhere, change with the times, but one writer has never gone out of vogue: Ayn Rand—the high priestess of free-market capitalism and unfettered individualism.

A marginal, and often derided literary figure in many other countries, Rand is a perennial presence on Indian bestseller lists and regularly name-checked on the “favourite author” list of influential Indians—from company CEOs to Bollywood stars.

Until 2007, Indians conducted more Google searches for the Russian-American novelist than residents of any other country, and in recent years have ceded the top spot only to Americans.

Rand’s rabid anti-statism and promotion of laissez-faire capitalism has long resonated with conservatives in the United States, where former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan numbers among her high-profile devotees.

She is currently championed by the right-wing Tea Party movement, whose members focus on her opposition to state welfare programmes, while selectively ignoring her staunch advocacy of abortion rights.

The historic and enduring popularity in India of Rand’s seminal novels, “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” seems, at first glance, harder to explain.

Decades of quasi-socialist state planning dampened Indians’ entrepreneurial spirit, and the economic liberalisation of the past 20 years has done little to promote the individual freedoms Rand held sacrosanct.

According to entrepreneur Monisha Singh, 43, Rand speaks to a part of the Indian psyche that has traditionally been denied its place or voice in society.

Singh, who picked up “The Fountainhead” when she was just 14, said reading Rand was “a rite of passage” among her contemporaries when she was young.

“The socio-cultural milieu in India was very conformist, and suddenly this voice emerges that challenges the established order, that celebrates individuality. It was very aspirational,” she told AFP.

Three decades later, Singh believes Rand’s work remains relevant.

“Indian society, despite economic growth, despite globalisation remains very conservative. So I think her work still resonates here, it provides a space for people to question the traditional order and be an individual,” she said.

Pirated copies of Rand’s novels are hawked by pavement booksellers in India’s major cities and the country’s leading online bookstore, Flipkart.com sells her books in multiple languages.

Although Flipkart.com would not reveal exact sales figures, Ankit Nagori, vice president for categories told AFP that Rand “consistently ranks amongst our top 20 writers, in terms of sales, across genres.”

In south Delhi’s busy Midland bookstore, 45-year-old Mirza Afsar Baig remembers the days when his father used to run the shop.

“Way back in 1973 I would see my dad working here and university students wandering in to buy her novels for 15 rupees each,” he told AFP.

“Today, when I am running the place, she still sells in big numbers,” he said.

Prominent Indian media commentator and brand management expert Suhel Seth believes Rand’s anti-establishment message strikes a particular chord with modern, middle-class Indians frustrated by social constraints.

“Indians are still fighting for certain freedoms, their fight for individual rights is thwarted all the time, whether it is by the family structure, or by politicians,” Seth told AFP.

“So it makes sense to me that Ayn Rand’s popularity hasn’t changed in all these years.”

In some respects, that popularity taps into a nationwide fascination with inspirational and self-help literature.

In bookshops across India, shelves sag under the weight of tomes offering guidance on everything from making a fortune to holding a conversation.

After India’s former president A P J Abdul Kalam wrote a best-selling autobiography in 2000, he followed up with a series of motivational titles aimed at young readers.

“You Are Born to Blossom,” “You Are Unique” and “Indomitable Spirit” are just some of the books written by the former head of state.

The taste for “inspirational” literature has even extended to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”—popular in business student circles as a management strategy guide.

Novelist Shobhaa De recalled how Rand’s books had acquired “a cult status” on university campuses some 40 years ago.

“As far as young Indians are concerned the cult has never ended. Her books are about idealism, heroism and corruption—issues that are of particular interest to the young of India,” De said.

 

31 May 2012,  Dawn

Washington’s I.T. Guy

In Bureaucratic Delays, Civil Services Reforms, Corruption, Electoral Reform on May 30, 2012 at 7:23 am

Shortly after Barack Obama’s election, as progressive activists and Democratic operatives were jockeying for positions large and small within the new administration, Carl Malamud launched a quixotic campaign for an appointment as the director of the U.S. Government Printing Office. The public printer’s task, historically, has been to compile and distribute to the American people the considerable amount of information produced each day by the federal government.

Malamud, who has made a career of exploring and developing the transformative technology of the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, was eager to convert the job of public printer, which traces its roots to Benjamin Franklin, into an Internet-age publisher. He started a campaign for an appointment under the slogan “Yes We Scan.” Rep. Ed Markey, highly regarded in the tech world, wrote a glowing letter to President Obama that described Malamud as “the best qualified individual” for the post. And members of Congress received full-color books that collected supportive “tweets.”

Although Malamud says he went on three White House interviews for the post, he was unable to win the support of the leaders of the congressional committees who oversee the GPO. But lack of an official title hasn’t stopped Malamud from pursuing his open-government goals. “If called, I will certainly serve. But if not called, I will probably serve anyway,” he told The New York Times last February.

Malamud has taken it upon himself to see that all public information — from court decisions to financial disclosures to Army training tapes — is actually, well, public. Malamud, 51, has worked as a network administrator, run technology startups, and taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and in Japan. He has written for Wired and Computerworld, and on one memorable day in the early 1990s, he hooked up the first White House Internet connection. Since 2007 he has devoted himself — and his bank account — to using technology to open the government to the people. He’s the sole employee of an organization, Public.Resource.org, dedicated to that purpose.

These days Malamud lives just outside of Sebastopol, a small town near San Francisco. When I met him in January, he was in New York City to make a presentation at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy about his latest project, a proposed government-run online platform that would allow anyone to easily access all of the laws in the United States, from towns and cities all the way up to the federal level. Nearly everyone I’d talked to in Washington described Malamud as tireless, and he quickly proved them right. We talked nonstop for two hours.

The work of freeing government information often carries the connotation of exposing secrets about nefarious policies or officials’ bad behavior. Malamud, a technologist through and through, approaches it from a different angle, one that can be more palatable to the political class. His art is in figuring out how to free documents that aren’t restricted by secrecy but by the fact that the government has failed to put them online. The conventional wisdom about making all such information publicly available is that it would be too difficult, too invasive, too expensive. Malamud has made it his monumental task to disprove that. It’s a simple idea: If those materials affect people’s lives, they can and should be easily and freely accessible. Citizens must be empowered to see how the government machine works, and especially in the Internet era, there’s no excuse for keeping them in the dark.

Given Obama’s reputation as a our most tech-savvy president to date, and one whose election was due, in part, to online organizing, Malamud is betting that he can get this administration to see the wisdom in open-source government. His success or failure will speak volumes about whether Washington will reap the benefits of the Internet age — or whether the current celebration of technology culture will simply fade away.

***

Malamud’s battle to get government information online is almost as old as the Internet itself. In the early days of the World Wide Web, he ran the nonprofit Internet Multicasting Service (“the first radio station on the Internet”). From his office in the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., he broadcast everything from House and Senate floor debates to United Nations ceremonies, along with the occasional reading of the works of T.S. Eliot. At the time, Congress was pushing the Securities and Exchange Commission to publish online the financial disclosure forms required from corporations so that everyone had access to the information. The documents weren’t secret; Wall Street had easy access to them through paid services. But the SEC complained that putting the corporate disclosures online would cost $40 million and that too few Americans on the budding Internet would be interested in the data.

In 1994, Malamud received a grant from the National Science Foundation and put the financial information online himself for a fraction of what the SEC claimed it would cost. After 18 months, the online service, known as EDGAR, had skyrocketed in popularity, and Malamud seized the moment. He challenged the SEC to take over the site, putting up a note that read “This Service Will Terminate in 60 Days.” The SEC balked, citing a lack of computers and in-house expertise. So Malamud and allies loaned the commission some basic servers, tape drives, and monitors. “We put the computers in the station wagon and drove down to the SEC,” Malamud says. “We configured their T1 line and got them up and running.” The SEC’s EDGAR database is still online and remains an invaluable resource for everyone from high-rollers and journalists to students and senior-citizen investment clubs.

One top Democratic Hill staffer describes Malamud as having “a lot of ’80s punk in him mixed with DIY.” Indeed, his do-it-yourself style often doesn’t look very D.C. His website features a “Seal of Approval” — as in, a smiling cartoon seal. He likes to have friends and colleagues take their picture with a cardboard version of the seal. A program for recycling court records features an animated trash can. His joint project with the Commerce Department — in which he converts VHS tapes of old government movies to digital and posts a copy on YouTube — is called FedFlix, a reference to the movies-by-mail service NetFlix (“Carl likes to name things,” says one Democratic leadership staffer). Many of the 1,900 films Malamud has freed are, well, deeply weird. One Army training film features a female officer lecturing an underling on what a smart fashion choice miniskirts can be.

Other projects include taking several thousand photographs that the Smithsonian claimed copyright on, determining that they were in the public domain, and posting them on the photo-sharing site Flickr. He wrangled with the heavily subsidized broadcaster C-SPAN to put congressional proceedings online without copyright restrictions. His work is imbued with a spirit of whimsy and a history buff’s appreciation for all things government. But of his reputation as a gadfly, he says, “I hate that label. I take a thousand DVDs and rip them and put them online. That’s not a gadfly thing.”

“People are very confused when they first encounter Carl. They try to figure out what his angle is. They think he’s trying to get funding,” says Andrew McLaughlin, the deputy chief technology officer at the White House and a former Google exec. “Instead, he says, ‘Give me a terabyte of data.'” If you think of politics as transactional, the Malmudian equation doesn’t make a lot of sense. For one thing, freelance liberation of government information isn’t exactly lucrative. When Malamud delivered a keynote speech to several hundred people at the Grand Hyatt in Washington this past September, Public.Resource.org had only $180 left in the bank.

Donations from friends in the tech realm keep his organization afloat. Google has given Malamud what he calls pity money. “They knew I was literally going bankrupt,” he says. “I’d maxed out my credit cards.” In 2007, the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, made a sizable contribution to the cause. Malamud quickly spent $600,000 of it buying court records from the Federal Judiciary and putting them up online for anyone to use. It may seem crazy to execute such a feat for no electoral or financial gain, but it’s the sort of thing people do pretty regularly online — make things and give them away, hoping that other people will do cool things with them. Examples include everything from Lostpedia, the fan-written Wikipedia-style compendium on the ABC show, to Linux, the free, user-created computer operating system. Malamud just happens to think the same philosophy should apply to the federal record.

Malamud’s views on technology and information were shaped by the Internet wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a pitched political battle erupted between governments, international technical bodies, and technologists over whether the development standards behind the nascent Internet would be available, for free, to anyone who wanted to help build the new network — or whether they would only be accessible to a select few experts and at a considerable cost. For a time, it looked like the forces pushing a closed approach were winning. “It just seemed wrong,” Malamud says. For one thing, he couldn’t get his hands on the standards he needed for the technical guides he was writing at the time.

What emerged was a universe of simple, open, universal rules. And you know the rest of the story: an innovation revolution followed. “The open standards won,” he says, “because any kid could download the rules of the game, understand how they work, and make a contribution.” Technologists had fought bureaucracies all over the world — and won. “It taught us,” Malamud says, “that we can make government heel.”

One way Malamud has sought to do that is with his technical expertise. When he pushed C-SPAN to post its government-video archives on the Internet, unburdened by copyright restrictions, his ability to describe concrete solutions to video — conversion and streaming-quality challenges won over C-SPAN Co-President Rob Kennedy. “Our conversations with Carl,” Kennedy says with appreciation, “are often very technical.” But Malamud’s technological orientation can also make bureaucratic obstacles enormously frustrating. “I’ll use the word ‘pure,'” Kennedy says. “He’s kind of a purist about government domain,” referring to the idea that the public should be able to easily see, read, and copy information that has to do with the workings of its government.

“We hold our priests to a higher standard,” Malamud says. A former congressional staffer myself, I suggest to Malamud that, given Congress’ limited resources, progress might be slow going. What are the options in the short term? He replies, “If they can’t afford to put all the hearings online, then they should have less of them.”

***

Malamud was born at the intersection of technology and government. He spent the first five years of his life in Switzerland while his father, noted physicist Ernest Malamud, worked at the famed European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN. (Malamud the younger returned to CERN in the 1990s while writing his travelogue Exploring the Internet. He was taken to see a young engineer working on an exciting project. “Interesting,” Malamud recalls thinking to himself, “but it won’t scale.” The engineer was Tim Berners-Lee, and his invention, the World Wide Web.) In the late 1960s, Malamud’s father moved the family to Illinois for a job at the Department of Energy’s Fermilab. Malamud earned a bachelor’s in business at Indiana University and dropped out of graduate school there with a gentleman’s MBA before finishing his dissertation in order to build IU’s computer lab, or as Malamud puts it, “do computers again.” Three years later, after working as a computer systems analyst at the Federal Reserve Board, he enrolled at Georgetown Law, but left to start his own computer consulting practice.

Years of consulting, writing, and teaching as well as some run-ins with the current and former staff of Democratic administrations followed. While running the Internet Multicasting Service in the mid 1990s, he was called in to wire the White House. In 2005, when former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta founded a new progressive think tank, Malamud came on as chief technology officer. He was not impressed with what he found at the Center for American Progress. “It was an all-Microsoft shop,” he says. “It was crawling with consultants. And it sucked.” Malamud spent two years converting Podesta’s think tank to open-source software built by its community of users, needling the Smithsonian for making exclusive deals with cable broadcasters, and setting up better computers.

In 2007, Malamud filed papers to incorporate Public.Resource.org. His goal was simple: to do whatever possible, from the outside, to make copies of laws, court documents, and other government materials available for free. It’s a ripe field. For example, PACER, the federal court’s online document service, charges 8 cents per page for access to public information. The money goes to a good cause, funding much-needed technology for district and appellate courts. In 2006, PACER generated $58 million in revenue, according to the Federal Judiciary. “I know they need the money,” Malamud says. “I’m sympathetic to that. But that doesn’t give them the right to claim something that’s not theirs.” Malamud has been working diligently to both post PACER documents that people have already paid for and get the courts to do away with the fee. In addition, he has targeted WestLaw and LexisNexis, which charge thousands of dollars for access to annotated legal proceedings.

He’s also focused his attention on the state of Oregon, which has claimed copyright on its statutes, selling copies for hundreds of dollars a pop. The claim of copyright on public law is dubious, especially considering that the constitutional justification for copyright is to spur creativity and innovation. There’s little threat that states are going to stop passing laws just because they can’t sell copies of them. Malamud’s latest victory has been buying and posting copies of building and other safety codes from all 50 states, even though very often they are marked with a copyright from one of the vendors that produces model safety codes. Justifying the gamble is a 2002 decision, Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress Int’l Inc., that found that once something has the effect of law, it can no longer claim copyright.

Malamud is certainly willing to provoke but prefers to be sure the law is on his side. In response to his call to open PACER, a young activist, entrepreneur, and programmer named Aaron Swartz used a bit of code and a trial program at his local library to download nearly 20 million pages of files, which caught the attention of the FBI. Malamud ended up in an interrogation room with two armed agents. “Unlike my good friend Aaron Swartz and others who are willing to stick it to the man,” Malamud says, “I look very carefully at what we’re doing to see if it’s legal or not.”

In 2010 Malamud is shifting his focus somewhat. In the past, he’s often been a lone operator. Now he wants to evolve into a leader of a large-scale movement to change the relationship between people and the law. Malamud hopes that Obama’s election has created an opportunity to go beyond the decision in the Veeck case and firmly establish as an American principle that laws are accessible to anyone. The movement is centered around a simple idea known as Law.gov: an online platform that will allow anyone to easily and freely access federal, state, and local law; judicial rulings and briefs; congressional hearing transcripts; regulations; and other government materials. Malamud estimates that running something like Law.gov would cost $50 million a year, and he plans to spend the next year convening meetings about it at the nation’s top law schools, tapping into the vibrant movement for free access to law, getting judges on board, and figuring out how to build such a system.

“When I started this, I understood that I might crash and burn,” he says. “The whole point is that even if we crash and burn, the dialogue will be useful.” Indeed, the Law.gov concept is already running into the buzz saw of jurisdictions. Roberta Shaffer, head of the Law Library of Congress, surprised many when her holiday letter to her staff announced that the law library had already applied to direct the Law.gov domain. Shaffer wouldn’t speak with me for this article, but the Law Library of Congress’ Facebook page did post a pointed message: “The Law Library of Congress is a government entity, and has no formal or official relationship with Carl Malamud,” it reads. “However, the Law Library is always interested in working with and receiving feedback from concerned citizens and the organizations with which they are affiliated.” It doesn’t stop there. “Therefore, we welcome and consider input from Carl and many, many others on our public-facing initiatives.” It’s at that second “many” that you begin to think that the Law Library might not be all that welcoming to Malamud’s views on public information.

Still, Malamud believes that if he can appeal directly to the president, he can convince him that opening up access to the nation’s law archives is a worthy and achievable goal. Obama is a former constitutional law professor, after all, and a bit of a technocrat. “We really want to take this football, hand it over to the president, and say ‘go for it,'” he says. But Malamud is not convinced that the Obama White House is populated with true believers. Obama “would do his job a lot better if he did improve that infrastructure,” Malamud says. “But I don’t think that’s something that he gets. I don’t think that’s something that Rahm Emanuel gets. If you look at the [chief information officer] and [chief technology officer] of the United States sitting there with a Dell computer and a 15-inch monitor, you think to yourself, ‘Why in the hell does our CIO not have, like, three 30-inch monitors?'”

It’s time for the government to catch up to technology. Creating free and easy access to court records, congressional hearings, and C-SPAN archives isn’t a partisan issue. But open access is a populist politics all its own, a challenge to the pay-to-play mentality that has allowed the financial world to leap so far ahead when it comes to information-sharing technologies. “You see what they did with it,” Malamud says. “They drove our economy down. They stole all our money. This stuff can very much be used for evil, and it has been, often. The opportunity here is that it can now be used for different things.”

 

13  June 2010,  The American Prospect

How to get children out of jobs and into school

In Bureaucratic Delays, Corruption, Poverty Eradication on May 30, 2012 at 7:08 am

THREE generations of the Teixeira family live in three tiny rooms in Eldorado, one of the poorest favelas (slums) of Greater São Paulo, the largest city in the Americas. The matriarch of the family, Maria, has six children; her eldest daughter, Marina, has a toddler and a baby. Like many other households in the favela, the family has been plagued by domestic violence. But a few years ago, helped in part by Bolsa Família (family grant)—which pays mothers a small sum so long as their children stay in education and get medical check-ups—Maria took her children out of child labour and sent them to school.

The programme allows the children to miss about 15% of classes. But if a child gets caught missing more than that, payment is suspended for the whole family. The Teixeiras’ grant has been suspended and restarted several times as boy after boy skipped classes. And now the eldest, João, aged 16, is out earning a bit of money by cleaning cars or distributing leaflets, taking his younger brothers with him. Marina’s pregnancies have added to the pressure. She gets no money for her children because she lives with her mother and the family has reached Bolsa Família’s upper limit. After rallying for a while, the Teixeira family is sliding backwards, struggling more than it did a couple of years ago.

Their experience does not mean Bolsa Família has been a failure. On the contrary. By common consent the conditional cash-transfer programme (CCT) has been a stunning success and is wildly popular. It was expanded in 2003, the year Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva became Brazil’s president, and several times since; 12.4m households are now enrolled. Candidates for the presidency (the election is on October 3rd) are competing to say who will expand it more. The opposition’s José Serra says he will increase coverage to 15m households. The ruling party’s Dilma Rousseff, who was Lula’s chief of staff, says she is the programme’s true guardian. It is, in the words of a former World Bank president, a “model of effective social policy” and has been exported round the world. New York’s Opportunity NYC is partly based on it.

Much of this acclamation is justified. Brazil has made huge strides in poverty reduction and the programme has played a big part. According to the Fundaçao Getulio Vargas (FGV), a university, the number of Brazilians with incomes below 800 reais ($440) a month has fallen more than 8% every year since 2003. The Gini index, a measure of income inequality, fell from 0.58 to 0.54, a large fall by this measure. The main reason for the improvement is the rise in bottom-level wages. But according to FGV, about one-sixth of the poverty reduction can be attributed to Bolsa Família, the same share as attributed to the increase in state pensions—but at far lower cost. Bolsa Família payments are tiny, around 22 reais ($12) per month per child, with a maximum payment of 200 reais. The programme costs just 0.5% of gdp.

But the story of the Teixeiras and others like them should sound a warning to those who see Bolsa Família as a panacea. There is some evidence the programme is not working as well in cities as in rural areas—and the giant conurbations of developing countries are where the problems of poverty will grow in future.

This concern differs from the usual complaints about the programme in Brazil. There, critics think it erodes incentives to work and sometimes goes to the wrong people. On the whole, though, studies have not borne out these complaints. A recent report for the United Nations Development Programme found the programme did not lead to dependence and that its impact on the labour market was slight. According to World Bank researchers, Bolsa Família’s record in reaching its target audience is better than most CCTs.

Worries about the imbalance between rural and urban benefits may be harder to brush away. Bolsa Família does seem to have a rural bias. Rural poverty is great in Brazil but even so, the programme’s incidence in rural areas is high: 41% of rural households were enrolled in 2006, against 17% of urban ones. In the two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, fewer than 10% of households are in the programme. Yet these cities contain some of the worst poverty in the country.

Brazil’s success in cutting poverty seems to have been greater in rural areas than in urban ones. Bolsa Família does not publish figures on urban and rural poverty but the official report on the United Nations’ millennium development goals does. The most recent progress report, published in March, said that rural poverty fell by 15 points in 2003-08, much more than the urban rate (see chart 1).

Impressive though they are, these figures, based on household survey data, may understate the fall. Income and spending figures suggest poverty as a whole is lower (they show almost 8m fewer people in absolute poverty). Rafael Osório of the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) thinks rural poverty rates may well be lower than 12%. If so, Bolsa Família has done an even more splendid job in the countryside than it seems.

Other evidence supports this. Rural malnutrition among children under five in the arid parts of the north-east (one of Brazil’s poorest regions) has fallen from 16% to under 5% since 1996. And since 1992 the proportion of rural children in primary education has caught up with that of city children, while rural enrolment in secondary schools has increased faster than the urban rise (see chart 2).

Because poverty in rural Brazil used to be higher than urban poverty, a larger reduction is both natural and desirable. In the 1990s there were fewer social benefits in rural regions so a nationwide programme was bound to help them more. Moreover, as the ministry of social development, which administers Bolsa Família, points out, the programme was never designed to be run in a uniform way. Local areas use different methods so some variation is inevitable.

Despite all this, the cities remain a problem. In absolute terms there are as many poor people in urban areas of Brazil as there are in rural (because the country in general is largely urban). And there are three reasons for thinking Bolsa Família works less well in the towns.

The first is that, in urban areas, the introduction of the programme has left some people worse off. When Bolsa Família was expanded in 2003, it subsumed an array of other benefits, such as a programme against child malnutrition, subsidies for cooking fuel, stipends for youngsters between 15 and 16, and so on. Though hard to prove (national figures are not available), anecdotal evidence suggests that the family grant can be worth less than the former array of benefits.

Jonathan Hannay, the British secretary-general of the Association for the Support of Children at Risk, a charity in Eldorado, reckons that in his favela households like the Teixeiras used to be able to get the equivalent of two minimum wages (for a family of six) from the old benefit system. The average Bolsa Família grant is a fifth of the minimum wage. One city, Recife, even decided to top up benefits to former welfare recipients when the programme started. More generally, the cost of living in cities is higher than in the countryside, so the family grant (which is the same size across the country) is worth less.

Second, the programme seems to have had little success in reducing child labour in cities. In fact, its record on child labour in general has been rather disappointing, but the urban problem seems more intractable. In rural areas parents take children out of school to help with the harvest. This is, in part, a cultural phenomenon: children learn farming by working the fields. They are often not paid. But their work is temporary and, since children are allowed to miss 15% of school days without penalty, rural kids may be able both to work and stay in the programme.

Child labour in cities is different. Children earn money selling trinkets, working as maids and so on, and their earnings are often greater than the modest benefits from Bolsa Família. So there is an economic incentive to cut school and leave the programme. Of the 13,000 households who lost their grant because of school truancy in July, almost half were in São Paulo alone. The real damage done by child labour happens when the children have no education at all—and that is more likely to happen in cities.

Third, Bolsa Família may affect the structure of households in favelas more than in the countryside. Family benefit goes to the head of a household (almost always the mother). But in densely populated favelas, where—surprising as it may seem—housing is expensive, and where a young woman is likely to stay with her mother after she has her own child, the new benefit still goes to the head of the household, ie, the new child’s grandmother. This is what happened to the Teixeiras. It may, some observers fear, produce a sort of double dependency, on family grant and on family matriarch.

None of this means that Bolsa Família is, on balance, a waste of money in urban areas. As the FGV’s Marcelo Neri points out, the programme shows the state in a new and better light in favelas: as a provider of benefits in places where it has either been absent or present only in the form of brutal police squads.

In addition, the elaborate bureaucracy built up by the programme—every household gets a debit card and the ministry of social protection runs a giant database with every transaction—should make it easier to be more precise in targeting the needy. More important, it should make it possible to use the Bolsa network to do new things, such as helping teenagers of 16 and 17 who are products of the system train and look for work. It should also be possible for cities to top up the family grant. Rio de Janeiro is designing a new programme, called Bolsa Carioca, to do exactly that.

Still, there has been a tendency to treat Bolsa Família as magic bullet—in Brazil and beyond. Once a country has a Bolsa Família-type programme, it thinks it has dealt with the problems of poverty. It has not. Rômulo Paes de Sousa, the executive secretary of Brazil’s social-development ministry, talks about “old” and “new” poverty—old being lack of food and basic services; new being drug addiction, violence, family breakdown and environmental degradation. These “new” problems are more complex. Where they are being overcome, it is taking the combined efforts of the police (to reclaim the streets), new shops and commerce (to make life more bearable), Pentecostal churches (which give people hope)—and Bolsa Família.

Rural Brazil, with its malnutrition and absence of clean water and clinics, is an area of old poverty and Bolsa Família has been wonderfully effective in fighting it. But many of the problems of fast-growing cities, particularly in developing countries, are those of new poverty. And nobody, including the designers of Bolsa Família, has a magic bullet for those.

 

29 July 2010,  Economist

The Poverty Solution: Cash

In Bureaucratic Delays, Corruption, Poverty Eradication on May 30, 2012 at 6:57 am

Who’s responsible for the poor?

Back in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, English lawmakers said it was the government and taxpayers. They introduced the compulsory “poor tax” of 1572 to provide peasants with cash and a “parish loaf.” The world’s first-ever public relief system did more than feed the poor: It helped fuel economic growth because peasants could risk leaving the land to look for work in town.

By the early 19th century, though, a backlash had set in. English spending on the poor was slashed from 2 percent to 1 percent of national income, and indigent families were locked up in parish workhouses. In 1839, the fictional hero of Oliver Twist, a child laborer who became a symbol of the neglect and exploitation of the times, famously raised his bowl of gruel and said, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

Today, child benefits, winter fuel payments, housing support and guaranteed minimum pensions for the elderly are common practice in Britain and other industrialized countries. But it’s only recently that the right to an “adequate” standard of living has begun to be extended to the poor of the developing world.

In an urgent new book, Just Give Money to the Poor: The Development Revolution from the Global South, three British scholars show how the developing countries are reducing poverty by making cash payments to the poor from their national budgets. At least 45 developing nations now provide social pensions or grants to 110 million impoverished families — not in the form of charitable donations or emergency handouts or temporary safety nets but as a kind of social security. Often, there are no strings attached.

It’s a direct challenge to a foreign aid industry that, in the view of the authors, “thrives on complexity and mystification, with highly paid consultants designing ever more complicated projects for ‘the poor’” even as it imposes free-market policies that marginalize the poor.

“A quiet revolution is taking place based on the realization that you cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots,” the book says. “And giving ‘boots’ to people with little money does not make them lazy or reluctant to work; rather, just the opposite happens. A small guaranteed income provides a foundation that enables people to transform their own lives.”

There are plenty of skeptics of the cash transfer approach. For more than half a century, the foreign aid industry has been built on the belief that international agencies, and not the citizens of poor countries or the poor among them, are best equipped to eradicate poverty. Critics concede that foreign aid may have failed, but they say it’s because poor countries are misusing the money. In their view, the best prescription for the developing world is a dose of discipline in the form of strict “good governance” conditions on aid.

Joseph Hanlon, a senior lecturer in development at the Open University in Milton Keynes, and Armando Barrientos and David Hulme, professors of poverty and development studies, respectively, at the University of Manchester, England, and directors of the Brooks World Poverty Institute there, back up their conclusions in Just Give Money with a wealth of studies on cash transfer programs, many of them conducted by the skeptical foreign aid community, including such global micromanagers as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

According to the World Bank, nearly half the world’s population lives below the international poverty line of $2 per day. As the authors of Just Give Money point out, that’s despite decades of top-down, neo-liberal, extreme free-trade policies that were supposed to “lift all boats.” In Africa, South Asia and other regions of the developing “South,” the situation remains dire. Every year, according to the United Nations, more than 9 million children die before they reach the age of 5, and malnutrition is the cause of a third of these early deaths.

Just Give Money argues that cash transfers can solve three problems because they enable families to eat better, send their children to school and put a little money into their farms and small businesses. The programs work best, the authors say, if they are offered broadly to the poor and not exclusively to the most destitute.

“The key is to trust poor people and directly give them cash — not vouchers or projects or temporary welfare, but money they can invest and use and be sure of,” the authors say. “Cash transfers are a key part of the ladder that equips people to climb out of the poverty trap.”

Brazil, a leader of this growing movement, provides pensions and grants to 74 million poor people, or 39 percent of its population. The cost is $31 billion, or about 1.5 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product. Eligibility for the family grant is linked to the minimum wage, and the poorest receive $31 monthly. As a result, Brazil has seen its poverty rate drop from 28 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2008. In northeastern Brazil, the poorest region of the country, child malnutrition was reduced by nearly half, and school registration increased.

South Africa, one of the world’s biggest spenders on the poor, allocates $9 billion, or 3.5 percent of its GDP, to provide a pension to 85 percent of its older people, plus a $27 monthly cash benefit to 55 percent of its children. Studies show that South African children born after the benefits became available are significantly taller, on average, than children who were born before.

“None of this is because an NGO worker came to the village and told people how to eat better or that they should go to a clinic when they were ill,” the book says. “People in the community already knew that, but they never had enough money to buy adequate food or pay the clinic fee.”

In Mexico, an average grant of $38 monthly goes to 22 percent of the population. The cost is $4 billion, or 0.3 percent of Mexico’s GDP. Part of the money is for children who stay in school: The longer they stay, the larger the grant. Studies show that the families receiving these benefits eat more fruit, vegetables and meat, and get sick less often. In rural Mexico, high school enrollment has doubled, and more girls are attending.

India guarantees 100 days of wages to rural households for unskilled labor, paying at least $1.25 per day. If no work is available, applicants are still guaranteed the minimum. This modified “workfare” program helps small farmers survive during the slack season.

Far from being unproductive, the book says, money spent on the poor stimulates the economy “because local people sell more, earn more and buy more from their neighbors, creating the rising spiral.”

Pensioner households in South Africa, many of them covering three generations, have more working people than households without a pension. A grandmother with a pension can take care of a grandchild while the mother looks for work.

Ethiopia pays $1 per day for five days of work on public works projects per month to people in poor districts between January and June, when farm jobs are scarcer. By 2008, the program was reaching more than 7 million people per year, making it the second largest in sub-Saharan Africa, after South Africa. Ethiopian recipients of cash transfers buy more fertilizer and use higher-yielding seeds.

“In other words,” the book says, “without any advice from aid agencies, government, or nongovernmental organizations, poor people already knew how to make profitable investments. They simply did not have the cash and could not borrow the small amounts of money they needed.”

Just Give Money is lucidly written, but it bogs down when it explores the complex ins and outs of designing cash-transfer programs. In effect, the authors are combining a book for general readers with a book for policymakers. But there are helpful summaries for the layman at the end of every chapter, and some of the debates are fascinating.

For example, there’s the question of whether mothers who receive grants should be required to attend health talks and perform community work, as they are in Mexico and Brazil. On one hand, these rules could be viewed as reinforcing the view that mothers must sacrifice themselves for their children. On the other, studies show that many of the women had been confined at home by their husbands and welcomed the chance to get out.

Just Give Money does not put much stock in micro-credit programs that loan money to the poor in developing countries. Many people are too poor to take on the risk of paying back a loan, the authors say. They find fault with the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, too, saying these have “kept governments at arm’s length from the economy.”

A better way for donor countries to help, the authors suggest, is to give aid as “general budget support,” funneling cash for the poor directly into government coffers.

Cash transfers are not a magic bullet. Just Give Money notes that 70 percent of the 12 million South Africans who receive social grants are still living below the poverty line. In Brazil, the grants do not increase vaccinations or prenatal care because the poor don’t have access to health care. A scarcity of jobs in Mexico has forced millions of people to emigrate to the U.S. to find work. Just Give Money emphasizes that to truly lift the poor out of poverty, governments also must tackle discrimination and invest in health, education and infrastructure.

The notion that the poor are to blame for their poverty persists in affluent nations today and has been especially strong in the United States. Studies by the World Values Survey between 1995 and 2000 showed that 61 percent of Americans believed the poor were lazy and lacked willpower. Only 13 percent said an unfair society was to blame.

But what would Americans say now, in the wake of the housing market collapse and the bailout of the banks? The jobs-creating stimulus bill, the expansion of food stamp programs and unemployment benefits — these are all forms of cash transfers to the needy.

 

2 July 2010,  Pacific Standard

Pay full salary to ‘fixed-wage workers’: HC to state govt

In Bureaucratic Delays, Civil Services Reforms, Gujarat on May 29, 2012 at 6:57 am

The Gujarat High Court on Wednesday directed the state government to pay wages to the ‘fixed pay workers’ as per the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission. The order is expected to result in an estimated burden of Rs 3,900 crore on the state exchequer.

An earlier order of the High Court was silent whether fixed pay employees in the government were entitled to a “minimum scale” or a total pay (regular salary). But the High Court has clarified that total pay (as applicable to any other on-roll employee) needed to be paid to the fixed pay employees, which includes basic pay, dearness allowances and other allowances.

While Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) M M Shrivastava said they will workout the figure of the “total burden” only after receiving a detailed order, a senior official said the government would have to shell out Rs 2,500 crore as arrears. This will be in addition to the Rs 1,400 crore per annum payable as salaries for the current fiscal.

“The Chief Minister had recently announced the government would be recruiting 50,000 persons in a year. These recruitment will lead to a further burden of Rs 1,000 crore on the government,” added the official.

 

12 Apr 2012,  Indian Express

Not all abujh: Between Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, two ‘states’ of a forest

In Naxalism, Police Reforms, Poverty Eradication, Tribal Development on May 29, 2012 at 6:54 am

The name may have stuck, but it’s the Chhattisgarh part of the densely forested Naxal hotbed that is really ‘Abujhmaad’. As one drives on to Maharashtra, the first half of that name — abujh or “unknown” — falls by the wayside, thanks to policies pursued by successive governments in this state, from development to how it has handled its tribals. While 5,000 sq km of Abujhmaad lies in Chhattisgarh, roughly 1,000 sq km falls in Maharashtra.

Policing

Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Narainpur in Chhattisgarh are among the most Naxal-affected districts of the country. However, that is where the similarity ends.

Surrounded by formidable hills, Orchha is the last police station in Narainpur district towards Abujhmaad. On the April afternoon that The Indian Express visits, there are few constables around. The ones that are present admit to being scared and warn you against going on into Abujhmaad: “Proceed at your own risk.”

Last year, after a Naxal ambush in Bijapur district (adjoining Abujhmaad) had left 11 jawans dead, nobody had dared go in to retrieve the bodies. The bodies had lain in mud and rain till villagers had gone the next morning and ferried them in a bullock cart.

The policemen complain about how money meant for thanas in Naxal areas never reaches them, about their living conditions — the asbestos roof overhead kept in place with boulders — and the crumbling kitchen.

Contrast this with Lehri, the last police post in Gadchiroli towards Beenagunda, from where the Abujhmaad begins in Maharashtra. Lehri incidentally had been the site of the worst Naxal attack on state police in the district, with 17 cops killed in an ambush in 2009. Their framed photographs now hang in Police Station Officer Vijay Talware’s office.

Cops of the Lehri post can be seen patrolling up to 2 km in

the nearby areas. Nobody stops entry into the Red zone; the cops let visitors go after noting down the particulars.

The support of the administration is with the policemen, asserts Talware. “Even when a jawan is ill, a chopper lands to take him away,” he says.

As the Chhattisgarh top cops gush about their first entry into Abujhmaad, PSO Talware shrugs it off. “The CRPF might have gone inside first time, my jawans routinely patrol maad region,” he says.

Development

Across Gadchiroli, even in the forest-covered Alapalli to Lehri, roads are better than almost all roads connecting various districts in Chhattisgarh, let alone roads inside a district. The usual excuse given out by top Chhattisgarh officials is that the Naxals blow up roads. However, the state of the roads in Gadchiroli belies that claim.

While the public distribution system is almost non-existent in Chhattisgarh’s Orchha, one can buy fresh cold drinks and even Amul Lassi in Lehri. The neighbouring taluka, Bhamragad, has been developed as a tourist spot, with a forest resthouse located where rivers Indravati, Pamul Gurta and Pearl Kota meet. State transport buses come right up to Bhamragad.

In contrast, the beautiful landscapes of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region get few visitors.

The story is the same in availability of power, phone signals etc. “Orchha tribals might not have ever visited Narainpur, but they are familiar with Gadchiroli. For marketing and other needs, instead of their own state, they travel a greater distance to go to Maharashtra,” said a district official.

Except two-three crumbling primary schools at the periphery, there is no administration worth its name inside the Chhattisgarh part. Neither is there a health centre or banks. Admits Narainpur Collector S R Bhramne: “Administration is yet to reach inside.”

The only schools functional here are run by the Ramakrishna Ashram. “If an NGO can operate in maad, what prevents the government?” asks an official.

Narainpur SP Mayank Srivastava acknowledges that the absence of a government allows schools run by the Janatana Sarkar of the Maoists to flourish, and these in turn allow easy brainwashing of tribals.

The forces demolished some of these schools DURING THEIR operation. However, Gudsa Usendi, spokesperson of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI (Maoist), hits the nail on the head when he says: “The attack ( by CRPF) was on the alternative development model built by the people.”

Politics

The Narainpur district is absolutely devoid of political activity. Local MLA Kedar Kashyap, a powerful minister in the Raman Singh Cabinet, holding the crucial portfolio of the SC & ST department, doesn’t dare venture into Abujhmaad. Tribals in this area are unaware of the polling process, leave alone having heard of Kashyap, himself an ST leader. While voting touched nearly 30 per cent in the 2008 Assembly elections, the Congress has repeatedly accused the BJP of poll rigging in the interiors of Bastar.

In contrast, Dipak Atram is a popular and accessible MLA from Aheri/Lehri area. Incidentally, he stood as an Independent and won.

Tribals

Outsiders were prohibited from even entering the Chhattisgarh part of Abujhmaad without informing the collector till the state government lifted the ban in 2010 . District officials say it added to the isolation of tribals, who not only became an easy base for Maoists but were also pushed away from their own state.

Lehri, on the other hand, has a conglomerate of Bengali-, Telugu-, Marathi- and Chhattisgarhi-speaking population, besides local tribals.

However, even as the government still lags behind, Abujhmaad tribals may be now seizing the change. Since the security forces ventured in, Orchha and Narainpur have been seeing the first protests by tribals seeking “what is due to us”. While some of the protests are still about the “intrusion of government through armed forces in our lives”, the tens of them out on street largely want change — and they are not seeking that under the Naxal umbrella.

It’s up to the Chhattisgarh government, that has largely abdicated Abujhmaad while putting the blame on the Naxals, to decide what course this agitation takes.

 

9 Apr 2012,  Indian Express

16,000 solar-powered homes: Gujarat way behind many states

In Climate Change, Energy, Gujarat, Livelihood on May 29, 2012 at 6:50 am

Gujarat, that boasts of becoming the ‘solar energy hub’ of the country, has just 16,000 solar-powered homes, way behind some of the socially and economically backward states like J&K, Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, MP and Odisha, where more households use solar power to light up their homes.

The housing data figures of the Census 2011 show that Gujarat is far behind some of the states like West Bengal (2.38 lakh houses), Bihar (1.09 lakh) and Uttar Pradesh (1.56 lakh), that have the highest number of households using solar energy as primary source to illuminate their homes.

Even the not-so-developed states — some of which have the most backward and strife-torn regions in the country, including Chhattisgarh (49,000 houses), Jharkhand (45,000) Odisha (34,000), Madhya Pradesh (40,000), Rajasthan (78,000) Uttarkhand (24,000) and Jammu & Kashmir (20,000) — have more households that run on solar power than those in a state where renewable energy occupies a significant portion (2000 MW) in the overall power generation capacity (16,000 MW) of the state.

The states of Maharashtra (57,000 houses), Andhra Pradesh (55,000) and Karnataka (25,000) that directly compete with Gujarat on the industrial front also have more solar-powered homes.

These figures presently do not seem to be in sync with claims of the Gujarat government about the state being on track to becoming ‘solar energy hub’ of the country; having the world’s first solar-powered city (Gandhinagar), and being the first to have a ‘Rooftop Solar Policy’.

“The current installed capacity (of solar power) in Gujarat is 600 MW and this is the highest in the country. Gujarat is one of the leading states as far as solar power policies are concerned. They have supported a large programme and this has attracted a lot of investors,” said Santosh Kamath, Partner, Management Consulting, KPMG Advisory Services Pvt Ltd. He, however, did not respond when asked why Gujarat was lagging behind states like Bihar and UP in equipping households with solar power.

Though the state has the record of chalking out its own solar policy in 2009 — well ahead of the Centre’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission — and is on track to come out with a ‘Rooftop Solar policy (that will encourage property owners in the state to offer their rooftop or terrace for installation of Solar Photovoltaic system for solar power generation), the advances in solar power generation is yet to percolate to household levels.

Though the state government plans to introduce roof top solar power generation in urban areas, including Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot and Vadodara, the Census figures show rural parts of the state have scored over its urban counterparts in empowering households to use solar power.

As per the recent Census figures, among the 16,000 households in Gujarat that use solar energy, a majority 13,000 are in the rural areas, including villages in the Gir forest.

Apart from the existing 600 MW solar power capacity, Gujarat will add about 15 solar projects (having a total power generation capacity of 650 MW) when it will dedicate these projects to the nation at Charanka Solar Park in North Gujarat on April 19.

12 Apr 2012,  Indian Express

NREGS: 20 pc dip in beneficiaries

In NREGA on May 29, 2012 at 6:46 am

In what could be the first major signal of waning popularity of the UPA government’s flagship rural job scheme NREGS, data compiled by the Rural Development Ministry show that the number of households seeking employment under the scheme witnessed a drastic decline in 2011-12 fiscal as compared to the previous year.

The data reveal that the number of households that availed jobs under NREGS declined by over 20 per cent during 2011-12 as compared to the previous fiscal.

Consequently, the total number of persondays of jobs created under the scheme also witnessed a drastic decline with the provisional figures indicating 37 per cent dip over the previous year.

The data reveal that a total of about 4.39 crore households came forward to work under the NREGS last fiscal as against 5.49 crore families the previous year.

As for the total number of persondays of jobs generated, the Ministry figures provisionally suggest a total of 160.55 crore of persondays generated in 2011-12 as against 257.2 crore jobs generated the previous year.

This is the lowest number of households participating in the scheme since it was expanded across the country ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls during 2008-09 fiscal.

Even the first year (2008-09) of nationwide implementation of the scheme witnessed more participation — 4.51 crore households — than the outgoing fiscal despite the natural challenge of lack of awareness about the scheme in about half of the over 600 districts across the country.

Sources in the Rural Development Ministry, however, sought to stress that the 2011-12 figures are provisional. They pointed that the ministry had directed the state governments to upload their last fiscal data by April 10. The ministry had now been extended the deadline till April 20, hoping to see improvement in the figures.

“Even if we factor in the trend of data entry since the deadline was issued to the states, the final figures of 2011-12 will still be much below the previous fiscal (2010-11) figures in terms of household participation and the number of jobs provided,” said a source in Krishi Bhavan on Wednesday.

In this context, sources indicated that the total number of jobs created last fiscal may go upward of 195 crore persondays (as against 160.55 crore provisionally) in the final tally after the states complete reporting of the data. But this will still be much lower than the 216.32 crore jobs generated in 2008-09, the first year of nationwide implementation of the scheme. But they also conceed that the number of families that have availed jobs is unlikely to go up substantially and most likely be below five crore households figure as against over five crore family participation reported in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

 

12 Apr 2012, Indian Express