My life, your life

12.04.2020

I presume the lock down in Mumbai/India is because we as a people care for life and would not like to see people dying or incapacitated. Logically speaking, shouldn’t that concern extend to many other areas of the city’s day to day functioning where thousands of lives are lost annually? But is that so?

The lock down perplexes me as someone who has spent a lifetime being involved with numerous environmental, civic and governance issues. At the heart of those efforts have been arguments, which invite concern and need for urgent action towards the life and well being of the citizens of Mumbai. Resolving any of those issues would not require anything as severe as the lock down and many more lives would be saved on an ongoing basis.

What explains this imbalance in approach? I will take one such issue to elaborate on. There could easily be a dozen such case studies, from housing conditions, to quality of air, safety in transport, flooding, tuberculosis and more.

In any given year in the past three decades a minimum of 2000 people have died every year in what is called as the lifeline of Mumbai – the Mumbai Suburban Railway System (MSRS) – that is 2000 people dead every year for 30 years. The total comes to 60,000 people dead. A jaw dropping number by any scale of comparison – a genocide as some would describe. Then there are those who have been grievously injured but not died, and from that subset there must be people who would be better off dead than living.

A significant number die because they just happen to fall off from trains which are packed beyond imagination during peak hour. One moment they are holding on to the grab pole or any other part of the train which they can lay their hand on, next moment they have fallen off from a speeding train resulting in immediate death or grievous injury. In some cases, someone’s head has smashed against the signal poles because they are part of the dangerous bulge out. Others died because in the Mumbai that has grown post-independence the Indian administrators for long did not bother to provide adequate infrastructure for the crossing of railway tracks.

I took up an investigation into those deaths in a detailed manner exactly a decade back as Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. That concluded in co-authoring the report Killer Tracks with Dhaval Desai and Deepa Dinesh.

The lock down happened in a matter of a week or ten days of calculation and the concern arising during that duration. And it is seen as the absolutely right thing to do if we are to avoid thousands of deaths. We have done what has never ever happened before in the history of the city, not during World War II, not during the Spanish flu and not even post the Babri Masjid riots though we are close. We have locked down the city for 21 days and may extend it for a few more weeks, all in the interest of saving lives. A city which is the hub of economic activity, the business hub of the country, overnight seeing its functioning being pulverised.

The Prime Minister and many Chief Ministers and bureaucrats are being lauded as guardians of the health and life of citizens. What explains the differences in concern shown by these guardians? Why such a swift response in case of one danger to life and why no resolution even 30 years into the ‘genocide’ on the railway system and many other such issues of concern?

The same offices of Prime Minister and Chief Ministers and bureaucrats and institutions oversee both the issues and have so for decades. In many cases it is the same individuals who have also held influence and only grown in power – the current Maharashtra Chief Minister being only one such example.

I believe it is the democratic nature of the virus – that the virus goes after the most entitled and the most marginalised equally – which has got India worried and locked up and not a value system which has concern for life at its foundation. The ruling elite in India rarely face the consequences that India suffers as a result of their villainy, ineptitude and selfishness. Invocations and stories about karma and justice populate Indian daily discourse and imagination but none of which sees proof in real life just like the case with most Indian laws.

In a rare occasion the ruling elite are faced with no small threat and have acted swiftly. And again, to their considerable advantage while transferring the disadvantage and hardship to the marginalised or those who may be elite but not ruling. Without the lock down the virus could well be taking a toll of the ruling elite. That elite does not face threat by falling off trains or dying in the corridors of public hospitals for want of ICU beds or from tuberculosis as a result of living in inhuman dwellings or as pedestrians crossing roads or railway tracks. Now they have built a new moat for themselves.

Had the virus been something which would have spared them and left only the vulnerable sections affected and dealing with the overwhelmed public health system chances are we would not have been locked down. There would have been hue and cry and a lot of posturing and politics but no lock down. Life would have continued in the corridors of power and elsewhere while televisions showed heart rendering footage and the usual howling and shouting. It is because we the people can suddenly become transmitters of this virus, which can then hurt them that Covid 19 has become a problem worth attending to.

In case of the MSRS deaths there has been 30 years to plan the cities land use and transportation systems in a way that the train system does not see such dangerous crowding levels; people may be inconvenienced and face crowds but will not die while undertaking a daily commute critical to earn their livelihood. All of the knowledge is available and ready for use. That same elite has given grandiose illusions of making the city into a Singapore first and then a Shanghai.

30 years is a long period of time. It is also a period of time from teenage onwards when I have had my deep engagement with numerous civic and environmental issues of the city of Mumbai, which has been the only city I have stayed in, all my adult life. I have seen the evolution of new institutions and policy instruments, partnerships and budgets and five Chief Ministers of Maharashtra pass by during the duration. I have through various permutations and combinations, been part of numerous advocacy efforts to save those lives.

To be correct the system has seen an order of magnitude of improvements during this decade. It is almost unrecognizable from what it was in the last century. And yet the deaths continue. I will not even touch upon the stress levels and the usual user experience benchmarks.

Rapid economic growth through the 90s and 00s and consequent dynamic and rapid changes in housing along a number of new and existing nodes has meant that as capacity increases it has mostly helped ease legacy pressure but has then faced additional pressure from new commuters being added. The same government framework, which has successfully locked down the city is also the one, which decides on this dynamic nature of the city; where additional housing should develop, how it can be affordable, where offices should develop, transport policy, how much people should commute and whether to show concern and compassion for life in taking these decisions or not.

The ruling elite have in this case chosen to enrich themselves in the past three decades at the cost of the welfare of the citizens whose votes and taxes provide them with the power and heft. Instead of judiciously using the land stock in the city the same has become a playground for the most brazen of desperadoes who have carved out and leveraged that land for unimaginable bounties. The 10th century attacks on Indian temples from Central Asian horse mounted raiders has a very evocative touch and feel relatability to any Indian and I can invoke that as an example. This same political and business class has behaved in no less brutal and violent a manner in looting the citizens of Mumbai from what was rightfully theirs and left death, bloodshed, misery in trail with an added insult of intimidation for any protest or efforts to counter their butchery.

And this is the same ruling elite, which over the same past three decades has supported and liberally funded the Ram Mandir campaign. A ruling elite, which cannot provide the right kind of governance will plunder one city and go build a temple in another city, which is nowhere even close on the aspiration list of the same elite for their leisure and business and partying trips and translocation if need be.

This framework – the ruling elite – has in its power to shape the public health system (in Mumbai or elsewhere) which currently is a metaphor for the word third class. It is the lack of such a public health system, which has been a big deciding factor in the lock down checklist. The ruling elite does not have to suffer the consequences of this broken-down public health system.

Now for the irony. Those killed in the Mumbai Suburban Railway System are all in the prime of their age, the demographic dividend of which we (again “we”? Or is it the Indian elite propaganda machinery?) are proud as a brahmastra in the race for global dominion and economic opportunities. They are earning members of their families, are consumers, paying EMIs or repatriating funds to dependents in their villages. In comparison those most vulnerable to the COVID 2019 virus are the elderly and those with weak immune systems or severe comorbidity – existing patients suffering from diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Not exactly the most productive elements of the society. And while we should show compassion for the elderly and the ailing but then why is our balance of favour so skewed?

I could speak at length about many other issues which I have been involved with where sanctity of life is central to the arguments and where we have only been losing to this kleptocracy and brutal ruling elite. I could flag two issues – the brutal relocation of the poor and marginalized through government rehabilitation schemes in Mankhurd and Mahul. Living hells which have introduced the residents to life threatening exposure to tuberculosis and chemical pollution.

In Mumbai, at the least the lock down should help save the number of lives that are lost to the MSRS annually, at best it would be equal to the decadal number of 20,000. 20,000 lives saved after pulverising other aspects of life. People will argue that if there was no lock down then the casualty would be too large to explain for. Maybe one lakh people dead, maybe two lakhs. We do not have that many hospital beds or ventilators to handle the backlash. I would say please wake up. Please direct that energy towards making your MPs and institutions accountable.

[Co-author of the report Killer Tracks by ORF Mumbai 2015, Member of Committee formed the same year by then Minister of Railways Mr. Suresh Prabhu.
Long association with transport and governance improvements in Mumbai as an activist and campaigner.
Founder and Director of Mumbai Sustainability Center]

I love (not like) Aramco

I hardly read papers now. Whatever little news I follow is through what Google throws on its phone feeds. And then once in a while when I do read papers it is with shock and awe. And then sometimes it can lead to a lot of my time being taken away from urgent tasks to write notes like these. A waste. Nothing changes in this characterless country. The only take away? Never read the papers in the morning. At least not when you have a long to do list.

Two news pieces combined wonderfully in the past 2-3 days. I could see some headlines on the new Aramco investment of $44 billion investment in an Indian (or is it a Republic of Konkan) refinery. I think this was the first article I read.

$44 Billion?! Now where did they get that kind of money from? Somehow the money must have gone in to now come out? Here my vices and addictions have made me a pauper who can only sustain his dream projects on small donations from friends and there they have $44 billions! Now I should also learn to make that kind of money.

The interesting part was about how oil at $ 50 a barrel and oil at $ 80 a barrel makes a difference for Saudi Arabia and helps them support financing for some internal agendas. Every business and cause needs funds to sustain itself. And Indians sustain the Saudi business and cause(s) very well. They wholeheartedly subscribe. They love Aramco.

And then I saw this news item while going for this novelty called a newspaper at breakfast today. I had come from travels after a while and sitting for breakfast at home thought of also glancing through the papers. Saw this particular headline on page two, almost choked, went through a spin of thoughts and folded the paper to keep it aside to have my breakfast peacefully. Enough anguish, enough material to write this note. No need to even read the article.

trim 2

The headline was just regurgitating a similar headline from May 2015. Maybe there had been some new development (no) but the ground situation has been exactly the same, maybe even worse. I had even been invited to write a damn article on the development then in the Mumbai Mirror. Thinking that it will make a difference. It even started on the cover page not a sidey page 2 bottom.

I could speak at length about the joke that the Bombay HC is and bring in a dozen other pronouncements by it as case studies but why waste more time?

Walking for me is just not an activity, it is poetry, it is medicine, it is sustainability as a cause, it can be a topic for fiscal implications and most certainly a topic for how the transport planning of our cities should be carried out.

In 2012 I made an attempt to give shape to Walking Project as an advocacy movement, which will accelerate the development of pedestrian friendly roads in Indian cities. I had just come out of a showdown at my job at World Resources Institute where I got into a bad fight with the people who had taken control of a walkability improvement project I had developed with a lot of passion and fondness and were ruining it. The organisation itself is an elegant waste of money. Elegant is the word to note, not waste. As long as elegance is there waste is fine.

Since May 2015 (when I wrote the article on walkability as a fundamental right) and now when I read the article today, Indians have put billions of dollars into the pockets of Saudis and for Walking Project I have raised just about Rs. 100,000 from 5-6 odd individuals. And so the Saudi’s now are in a position to apportion a part of the money they have collected from Indians themselves and make an investment in a refinery of theirs. And here I sit fretting and fuming and wasting more time after reading a news article.

Much patriotic Indians (Mumbaikaars) have shown no support for a home grown initiative, which could at least endeavour to stop the flow of some of those dollars. I still sit on plans of a model road in each of the 24 wards, Andheri Kurla Road, E Moses Road, Senapati bapat Road and so on. Not to mention that in my mind I have plans all mapped out for important roads and junctions in 10 other cities I have visited since 2012.

There is a facebook group with 700 odd people. No activity takes place on the group now because I have decided not to engage people who cannot show character to contribute even 100 rupees a year. And they on their own do not have what it takes to show initiative and dare.

Two years back a think-highly-of-itself (which doesn’t) Rotary Club invited me to speak, two members got impressed with Walking Project and promised Rs. 25,000 each and that’s about it. No news after that. Another member suggested he could help with big sponsorship support but only for a co-founder tag. Ok sure. Self before Service.

The more character and intellectually challenged folks ofcourse do keep asking how any support for an advocacy movement will bring any immediate difference to their own experience of walking. It is like a quid pro quo. I pay the Saudi’s an xyz amount for every litre of fuel and that allows me to with much pomp and show drive around my luxury sedan. If I give you 10,000 rupees what is it that you have to show for the road outside my office? Nothing? Well you get nothing then. Please do not waste my time. I LIKE the activity you are doing. You can have my LIKE, the money is for the Saudi’s.  

While Indians have been luxuriously funding the Saudi business and cause(s), they – or the few I manage to reach through social media and personal interactions – are truly lousy at supporting any of my businesses and causes. Only a handful show the character and temerity to rise above.

My business does not prey on human weaknesses, it requires a certain character on part of the consumer. And that is where lies its shortfall. Weakness is aplenty in the people of India today, character too little. #sanskari

Yes a lot of this use of fossil fuels and outflow of money is needed to sustain the living paradigm we have adopted but a great deal of it is also waste. While we might question the paradigm and there may be differences of opinion on philosophical grounds there is no disagreement that the paradigm can be made a whole lot more energy efficient.  And it can be made energy efficient by only supporting those who will work on that agenda. Not by chanting Hanuman Chalisa.

Walking and cycling friendly cities, ecological waste management, would be so much more energy efficient and prevent millions of litres of diesel being used in the first place but some of us are left to doing pilots and giving quotes to newspapers while the big boys sign billion dollar contracts.

It is easier for a fossil fuel powered model of the world to be sustained because it can be funded. Dry up the funding and the Arabs would be like me and others in the ilk. Issuing requests for donations to sustain their enterprise and ideas.

Some side thoughts towards the end. The Arabs have learnt a lot from the Americans over the decades. After being fooled and used wholesale by the Americans they now have learnt to use the same tricks successfully to become (more) powerful. Everybody learns from the wonderful Americans. I am a product of American thought and action, though of the kind which does not find popular flavour. And so the Arabs have now started deploying the learning on gullible doormat nations like India who can be fooled and used any amount.

From money taken from the Indians they will not be able to create jobs for the same Indians and create a new loyal bureaucracy of people who have always loved to come out of the woodwork and serve up any new colonial master as long as they can get status and some money for lifestyle.

Buddhiheen tanu jaani ke pawan kumar….

FRA then Operation Greenhunt – Congress double standards on the tribals issue?

Yesterday I attended a meeting organised by The Committee for the Release of Binayak Sen (CRBS) as recorded right below my post. (interestingly the event doesn’t find feature in the papers today even as far more frivolous news covers the pages.)

I was already aware of the atrocities being carried out by the Indian state in the tribal regions but hearing the account first hand was sad enough.

The one question I raised during the Q&A was about the status as regards the Forest Rights Act, discussion around which was raging during 2005-06

http://forestrightsact.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=3&Itemid=300038

The FRA then had polarized those in favour of the tribal rights and the environmental community, which feared the worst for the forests in terms of forests ripping away the resources.

Environmentalists also saw this as the worst form of vote bank politics by the UPA – I government.

Now 3 years down the line we see the UPA – II government declaring the tribals and their supporters as terorists and launches Operation Green Hunt. Whats going on?

Votes from the tribals and notes from the industrialists? What can be any other conclusion? As per the FRA the tribals are entitled to 4 hectares of land. Now they are being forced out of their forest homes and being forced to live in designated camps guarded by the police (concentration camps?, genocide?, state sponsored terrorism?). And if they retaliate then they are hunted down, raped, their houses and food stocks burnt.

Is Chidambaram the Gabbar equivalent?

From the first hand accounts it is very clear that the media is completely suppressing the real events taking place  in the interiors of the country. It will be upto a few right minded citizens in the city to make up their mind about how far will they let the situation deteriorate before it becomes all out war. The tribals are very determined and dont seem to be in a mood to take things lying down.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

The Committee for the Release of Binayak Sen (CRBS)

invites you to a press conference to be addressed by

two prominent personalities from Chhattisgarh

Himanshu Kumar — noted Gandhian who has been running the Vanvasi Chtena Ashram for more than 15 years in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh

Advocate Sudha Bhardwaj — leading member of the Chhattisgarh Mines Mazdoor Sangh that was set up by legendary trade unionist Shankar Guha Niyogi; executive committee member of Chhattisgarh PUCL; and Dr Binayak Sen’s lawyer

Thick in the field of action in the tribal areas of Bastar, Himanshu Kumar and advocate Sudha Bhardwaj have witnessed the effects of the “development” efforts on the adivasis of Bastar by successive governments. They have experienced first-hand the fallout of the government’s anti-Naxalite movement, the Salwa Judum.


In May, Himanshu Kumar’s Vanvasi Chetna Ashram was demolished by the Chhattisgarh government because he was trying to rehabilitate the Adivasis displaced by Salwa Judum. Kumar has tried to file FIRs against every offence committed against the adivasis, but to no avail.

With the Centre all set to launch “Operation Greenhunt” against the Naxalites in the tribal belt that runs across seven states, Himanshu Kumar and advocate Bhardwaj are best placed to enlighten those living far away from Bastar about the actual situation there.

  • Will “Operation Greenhunt” destroy or strengthen the Naxalites’ influence?
  • Who will be the “hunted” – the armed Naxalites or the unarmed tribals?
  • Whose purposes will “Operation Greenhunt” serve – those of the tribals who have lived there for centuries, or the companies eyeing the resources in the region?
  • Can peace ever be brought to this rich region?
  • What is the context of State violence and Naxalite violence in Chhattisgarh?

For answers to these and other questions, please do attend the press conference and talk on

Saturday, Oct 31, 3 pm -5 pm, Mumbai Press Club, CST

Those wanting to stay on to discuss the situation can join us after the press conference at

Saturday, Oct 31, 6 pm, Shramik Hall, Dadar

Its all about jobs silly!

I read the following story at the Guardian, and couldnt help feeling a bit amused

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/27/economy-recession-car-industry-bankers

Till when will this charade go on? Lets accept it that our current developmental models are just not sustainable. Forget sustainability from the environmental perspective. They are just not sustainable from a very fundamental human need point of you itself. People are being given incentive to scrap even perfectly running cars to buy new ones just so that the companies sustain themselves so that employees are not laid of so that the employees have some income which they can then spend in the market and keep some body else in their job.

What is being missed out is that the employee of the car company is already aware that this could be temporary and sooner or later the hammer will hit again and therefore is very cautious in his spending, preferring to save for a time when his job might inevitably go.

And at what costs other than the immediate market stimulus does all this consumption come at?

In our own country iron ore and bauxite mines which provide the ore for steel and aluminum which goes into making these cars is stripped from fertile forest lands. Complete forests are destroyed and tribal communities murdered and raped if they refuse to leave their forests.

And then we talk about encouraging low carbon footprints? Tribals with zero carbon footprints get punished and some stupid Londoner (or Bombay-ite) who spends half his life in a pub drinking beer and engaging in stupid gossip gets rewarded? Forests which are the mother lode of all life, harboring biodiversity which makes possible strong nutritious fruit and cereal species besides originating life giving rivers are stripped apart to be able to give sterile metal which can only give rides to people, most of which might anyways be unnecessary?

Is this the development being talked about and spoken so gloriously by those who chide environmentalists to be anti-development.

While I read this I also remembered an excellent video I saw in June about the Cuban economic crisis and what they did to tide over the same.

http://www.livevideo.com/video/mercofspeech/CD893609A0CB495D9A9CF04AC9E4AEFF/power-of-community-how-cuba-.aspx

Also in a corner of the same Guardian article I saw and article for the films below –

http://www.guardianoffers.co.uk/mall/productpage.cfm/GuardianOffers/_17284/-/Classic-French-cinema%3A-Gloire-de-mon-Pere-%26amp%3B-Chateau-de-Ma-Mere

Maybe its time we moved away from an extremely centralised form of living which seems forever incapable of standing on its own feet without some support or the other. Maybe people need to move closer to the soil, which shows an infinite capacity to sustain everybody without any sops and stimuli.

Maybe those who have lost their jobs should consider it a god send and move to become masters of their destiny without relying on their corporate slave drivers for an identity.

An irrational legacy of Abdul Kalam

Into my new political avatar I got into discussion with a colleague about the river linking idea which was so vociferously supported by the ex-President Abdul Kalam. While discussing the need for having positions on various issues my colleague brought out the need for inter-linking rivers as supported by the ex-President. While I had also got the initial euphoria on Kalam becoming the President and was moved my his patriotic and well intentioned thoughts for the country, I had become increasingly begun to see Kalam as being a close minded senile man, a number of whose ideas were not well researched and indeed much damaging for the country.

I think Kalam made a fit case for the country to be very careful in choosing its Presidents and more importantly to not become blind worshipers of people.

On the river inter-linking issue it was not the first time I had felt my blood boil when I heard people discuss their appreciation for the ‘wonderful’ idea of a ‘great President’. The simplistic arguments of my colleague went as follows:

1) River Linking will eradicated famine as water from surplus rivers will flow into dry areas.

2) Russia had successfully done the same and see the benefits it has derived.

What I had to discuss was as below. These will also be the basis for my involvement in the government should my political involvement ever give me a chance to direct policy in India:

1) It is primarily water management that this country needs to start discussing rather than specific solutions like river-linking. Kalam was a defense scientist, not somebody who was involved with water or understood the issue. A frightfully large majority of people have this fallacy in their thinking, that they ascribe qualities to an accomplished person, which he/she may not have. While a defense scientist who has contributed so much to the country would undoubtedly be intelligent he would by no means be aware of the requirements of each issue. And I think becoming a President went to the head of Kalam or he was intelligently ‘managed’ by vested interests who stood to gain from the project, making Kalam a rubber stamp spokes person for the project.

2) In Bombay, while the city gets a comfortable supply of water, it is not difficult to find areas within a 200 km radius, which face tremendous water stress. All this while a lot of people in Bombay can afford to flush 10 litres of potable water every time they use the toilet. In such a scenario would it not be better to work on a policy which completely enables water recycling of grey water to be used for flushing? The resultant savings could be diverted to hamlets and villages in dire need. Where does one need water linking or heavy engineering for this? Most probably there is not enough money to be made. The Government needs to work more on enabling policies and less on being an agent for ‘some’ businessmen in finding projects or worse still become a businessperson itself.

3) As regards river-linking versus water management my point of contention is that you need to look into the cost benefit ratio of each solution. At what cost will river linking be achieved (keeping cost over runs and delays in mind) and how many cusecs of water will it deliver? As against that at what cost is water management achieved and how much water does it deliver (a large component in terms of savings arising out of efficient water use).

4) The costs for river linking are outrageously high. Does the country have the funds to get into such a costly project? Will we borrow money from donor agencies to execute the project? Which means that we will necessarily be indebting future generations who will then be repaying the loan. I read the following on the Sardar Sarovar Project – Reckless borrowing, unholy redemption.

5) Has anybody even bothered to look into the water quality in rivers in the country? Most have been converted to open sewers with untreated sewage and effluents being released unchecked into them. In such a scenario is it river-linking we are talking of or sewer-linking? Should not there be a fundamental focus on drastic improvement of the water quality in rivers across the country?

6) The country since millenia has developed wonderful water management techniques which aim to best capture and utilise water where it falls. Why then are we so enamoured by heavy engineering solutions from Russia and the rest of the world. Where does that excess pride in India and its glorious culture disappear at such times? Time to move beyond cricket and naach-gana.

7) This country and the people who run it are only interested in solutions which cost a lot of money. Solutions need to have multi-zero budgets. Solutions which cost less but possibly deliver better results (cost-benefit ratio) are not appreciated and much less find their way in policy. There are a large number of people in the country who discuss corruption and the need to eliminate then and they need to understand that many of these heavy engineering solutions are the fountain head of all corruption. Money siphoned from such projects is what finds its way to Swiss Banks.

If you agree with what has been expressed above then it is important that you make known your views to the government.

Till when will the economy hold

I read the two comments below made at the G 20 Summit and covered in Saturdays ET and got thinking:

” The key point is we must agree to a new order of global oversight. A more inclusive system can provide better surveillance and serve as an early warning mechanism.”
P CHIDAMBARAM, FM

Did he go all the way to New York to say this? Its not that early warning systems dont exist. It is just that cheaters rule. People who do the most damage are generally colluding with people like the FM and other politicians to not allow an inclusive system with better surveillance. Greed and cheating rules.

We are still no different from nature in that might rules except in nature when people have a full tummy they stop. Pillage and plunder does not take place. Pack hunting takes place and the weaker are at the mercy of the stronger but then packs also stop when tummies become full and there are natural checks and balances to such packs. I wouldnt be surprised that in the ways of the human world we will see the the people who landed us in this trouble reorganising themselves and getting on with their work. Most humans anyways dont understand the crisis and would care much the less about doing anything about it.

 

” While reforms in the financial sector are essential, the long term solution to todays problems is sustained economic growth. And the surest path to that growth is free markets and free people” – George W Bush

Which free people and which free market is he talking about. Somebody who should be getting skinned for his acts still has the gall to engage public time with inane utterances. It is not Bush alone who still believes that things like free markets are a panacea for all our developmental needs. There are still thousands if not millions of such people who will still not accept the concept of sustainable development and will not consider far less accept the fact that we might just be reaching the limits of growth. That maybe the existing economic system with its overarching focus on making people consume more and more and at a lot of times things which they really do not need is somewhere economically, environmentally and ethically untenable and will eventually collapse.

The farmer loans waiver

Some points which come to my mind:

Point 1) Almost every where I hear that the waiver will bring disposable income into the rural sector. This extra income will then according to people like Rahul Bajaj encourage people to spend on goods like two wheelers thus boosting the economy. Others say people will spend on FMCG and food. But where is the money? The fact that a loan has to be waived of means that the farmer took a loan to buy seeds, fertiliser, pesticide and other assortments to carry out farming. Say Farmer A took one lac rupees as a loan from and SBI branch in rural India. He tilled his farm and expected that within a period of a few months he will have a bumper crop, which he will then sell at a good price. He will then pay of the loan from the income and keep the rest of the money for himself. Since there is no tax to be paid he has all the balance money to himself.

Now as opposed to this what has happened is that either the crop failed or the markets didn’t offer a good enough rate. As a result the farmer has no money to buy food far less pay back the loan. Well he makes some attempts, pays an installment or two and then starts defaulting. So the SBI branch is then saddled with recovering a one lac rupees loan.

Point 2) Now the Finance Minister has waived of the loan. What does that mean? Is he giving one lac rupee to Farmer A to the farmer to go and buy a two wheeler and splurge or is he foregoing him from the burden of paying back any money.

Point 3) Now there could possibly a situation where Farmer A took the one lac and didn’t spend a rupee to buy the stuff listed in point 1) for his farm. He was an un ethical farmer. He decided to go ahead and splurge on liquor and those other things. When the time to repay came he expressed his inability citing the world economy and all those things. Now when the Finance Minister announced the waiver what happened? Why should the unethical Farmer A be happy. He hasn’t got one more lac to blow? All that has happened is that he need not worry about suffering for his profligacy. But then he isn’t exactly having any more money for more liquor and all those other things or is he? For a moment if I consider than no he is actually getting money also then too how long does that much money last?

Point 4) So the bottom line in my limited understanding is that the 60,000 crores being waived out is money which has already been consumed in the economy in terms of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides or liquor and other things. It is not new money being introduced into the economy. So where is the expenditure push to the economy?

Point 5) In fact, 60000 crores having to be waived of means that funds are being used for unproductive and inefficient uses in the economy. That same money could have been used for the ladies running the Anganwadi scheme or for teachers or for health.

Point 6) And finally a journalist friend from the Amravati district of Maharashtra which has been in the news for its farmer suicides tells me that the whole thing is a hoax. No body is verifying who the people committing suicide are? Is it for farm productivity related issues or even over a loan that they have taken? Or is a random suicide arising out of errant social behaviours. And are these being clubbed together under an agricultural crisis and thus being utilised to get waivers and handouts. And then the famed politician-burecrat nexus of the country (the famed one which ensures that out of every development rupee only 15 paisa reaches the actual benificiary) mops up all the funds?

Point 7) The real changes which are required in the agricultural sector dont seem to be addressed at all.