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Archive for April 2010

Spring fiction by the Bank-Fund troll

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Vendor at Mapusa market, Goa

"Bank? Fund? Do they have a clue about livelihood?"

Pay no attention to the announcements coming from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund during what the troublesome twins call their ‘spring meetings’ of 2010 (an annual, very expensive, exercise in financial fiction, but an exercise which has disastrous consequences for many in developing countries). The global big media were inertly supportive, as usual, and had this to say:

Business Week: “The World Bank, created after World War II to eradicate poverty, received shareholder backing for two separate capital increases that will provide a combined $5.1 billion. The 186 member countries agreed to pay $3.5 billion for the bank’s unit that lends to governments, the first general increase in 22 years, the International Monetary Fund’s development committee said in a statement today.”

The New York Times provided a clue about the machinations behind the scenes to maintain US control over the World Bank: “Under the changes, China will become the bank’s third-largest shareholder, ahead of Germany, after the United States and Japan. Countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia and Vietnam will also have greater representation. Mr. Zoellick carefully devised the capital increase and voting changes to be adopted together. The $5.1 billion in so-called paid-in capital, which the bank can use for day-to-day operations, will bring the bank’s cash on hand to about $40 billion. Of the $5.1 billion, developing countries will contribute $1.6 billion in connection with a shift in representation that will give them 47.19 percent of voting power, up from 44.06 percent. The actions fulfill a pledge the bank’s members made in Istanbul in October.”

The Financial Times: “A package put to ministers at the World Bank’s meetings in Washington yesterday increased the bank’s $11bn (€8.2bn, £7.1bn) paid-in capital by $5.1bn in return for reforms to voting rights, which would mainly see a transfer of votes from smaller European countries to emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil. Robert Zoellick, the bank’s president, last year began campaigning to increase its capital in response to the global financial crisis. The bank increased lending by $100bn to combat the effects of the crisis on poor countries, helping to overcome the scepticism of countries such as France and the US. “This is a once-in-a-generation request to address the impact of a once-in-a-generation crisis,” Mr Zoellick said.”

Bahrain's Finance Minister and Chairman of the Development Committe Ahmed Al Khalifa (L) gives his opening remarks to the Development Committee at the World Bank April 25, 2010 in Washington, DC. Finance Ministers and Bank Governors around the world are attending the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings this weekend in Washington, DC. IMF Staff Photo/Stephen Jaffe

Rhubarb, rhubarb

As predicted just before the ‘spring meetings’ by the Bretton Woods Project, the capital increase and voting rights hogged most of the headlines. “The G20 group of the world’s biggest economies promised a 3 per cent shift in voting share towards ‘developing and transition countries’,” the Project had commented. “The Bank will proclaim success in achieving this, despite the fact that it fudged the definition of what is a ‘developing country’ so that the category included many countries that have achieved high-income status. With further reform being delayed until 2015, rich countries seem to have stemmed the surge of demands from the large emerging markets for deeper reform.”

The World Bank has asked its members to put up more money, as it had stretched itself to its limits to lend more during the financial and economic crisis in 2009. After a big debate over the size of the capital increase, the Bank has secured a US$60 billion nominal boost to its capital, which means it will receive about US$5 billion in actual cash (the rest is ‘callable capital’ that members would provide if ever asked by the Bank). Said the Bretton Woods Project: “This is a relatively small boost that will only allow the Bank to return to lending the same amount it did before the crisis. It also means that rich countries again rebuffed the large emerging markets who wanted a much larger capital boost and offered to pay for it entirely out of their own coffers.”

The point is that all these reforms and discussions have been kept completely out of the public eye until now. There have been no consultations with stakeholders and little discussion with most of the Bank’s members. That the rich countries won’t budge on governance issues was highlighted in a March report by a US Senate committee. The US is the largest shareholder, with an effective veto over any changes to the Bank’s governance. The committee called on the Obama administration to maintain “United States voting shares and veto rights at the international financial institutions” and questioned existing reforms to the selection of the World Bank president by demanding preservation of “United States leadership of the World Bank and senior level positions at the other IFIs.”

25 paise/kg more every month

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That’s what food inflation has meant in most of rural India from December 2007 to December 2009/January 2010. The price per kilo of two staples – wheat and rice – has risen steadily for the last three years, together with the prices of pulses, other cereals, fuel and light. Over these two years, the per month increase in the price of wheat is around Rs 0.25/kg.

The confirmation comes from the new National Sample Survey Organisation’s new report on Household Consumer Expenditure in India 2007-08 (released in March 2010) based on the NSS 64th Round (July 2007 to June 2008).

I’ve done some quick comparisons between what NSS 64 has reported and the retail prices monitoring cell of the Department of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, which has the machinery to monitor food and non-food goods for around 70 cities and towns in India.

Here are some results for wheat:

NSS 64 records the Maharashtra rural average price of wheat per kg at Rs 10.69 with a per person average consumption of 3.7 kg per month. A month’s wheat for a person in rural Maharashtra in Jan 2007 cost Rs 32 whereas now it costs Rs 50.70 (that’s 58% up). The average retail price in Nashik and Aurangabad (Maharashtra) in Jan 2010 was Rs 16.90/kg.

NSS 64 records the Rajasthan rural average price of wheat per kg at Rs 10.07 with a per person average consumption of 8.2 kg per month. A month’s wheat for a person in rural Rajasthan in Jan 2007 cost Rs 82.50 whereas now it costs Rs 127.10 (that’s 54% up). The average retail price in Dausa, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Sawai Madhopur and Udaipur in Dec 2009 was Rs 15.50/kg.

NSS 64 records the Gujarat rural average price of wheat per kg at Rs 10.39 with a per person average consumption of 4 kg per month. A month’s wheat for a person in rural Gujarat in Jan 2007 cost Rs 41.55 whereas now it costs Rs 78 (that’s 87% up). The average retail price in Gandhinagar, Surat and Vadodara in Jan 2010 was Rs 19.50/kg.

NSS 64 records the Bihar rural average of wheat per kg at Rs 11.58 with a per person average consumption of 5.3 kg per month. A month’s wheat for a person in rural Bihar in Jan 2007 cost Rs 61.35 whereas now it costs Rs 87.45 (that’s 42% up). The average retail price in Gaya, Hajipur and Muzaffarpur in Jan 2010 was Rs 16.50/kg.

NSS 64 records the Haryana rural average of wheat per kg at Rs 9.02 with a per person average consumption of 9 kg per month. A month’s wheat for a person in rural Haryana in Jan 2007 cost Rs 81.20 whereas now it costs Rs 132.30 (that’s 63% up). The average retail price in Hissar and Karnal in Jan 2010 was Rs 14.70/kg.

Green Hunt, red money and a forest war

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If this is a war in India, then the 76 Central Reserve Police Force personnel who were killed on Tuesday, 6 April 2010, were misled by their final commanding superiors, the senior officials and planners in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Union Government of India. The terrible attack, which took place in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, is being considered the worst loss in recent times in the long and bloody history of the Indian state versus leftist guerrillas. Why is India at war with itself? And what prompts the government, less than a day after the deadly ambush, to intensify its bellicose proclamations of “we will take the offensive to the Maoists” and indications that it will call in the army and even air force?

A part of the answer lies within a published comment by a political prisoner in New Delhi’s Tihar jail. “The trouble with India’s budget and economic planning is that the funds allocated to social welfare are basically geared to the vote bank needs of the ruling parties. Instead of long-term capital development towards increasing the welfare of the people, sops are handed out on a yearly basis to garner votes. Thus, while the expenditure on infrastructure is geared primarily to meet the long-term development needs of the business community, the social welfare expenditure is not oriented towards the ultimate extrication of the masses from poverty and misery. The social welfare allocations are more in the form of a dole for immediate political gains. Besides, even by the official count, only 10% of such allocations really reach the needy while the rest are swallowed up by intermediaries – officials and politicians.”

That direct telling of the facts as they are come from Kobad Gandhy, a well-known Maoist intellectual and now prisoner. Gandhy’s short comment is only one amongst many – from academics, activists and even conscientious bureaucrats – who have understood the reasons that give rise to armed Maoism or Naxalism in India, and in particular in those states which have high poverty and are also host to natural resources (forests and minerals, particularly). The bald truth, unpalatable to the Union Government of India but a truth which is lived out every day by tens of millions in the country, is that the possible benefits of economic growth have passed them by. Denied rights, ignored by development work, marginalised by a combination of bureaucratic neglect and rank opportunism of the politician-business combine, Indian citizens in states like Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand live miserable lives in heart-rending conditions.

[Gandhy’s article can be found in the (Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 45, No. 14, April 03-April 09, 2010]

These are also the states in which the Maoist and Naxalite groups are active. Why can the central government not make the connection when most others do? Even India’s Planning Commission, its foremost development policymaking body, has considered the special needs of “disturbed areas” with a specific economic and social development programme aimed at remving the root causes of militancy. But that has not been the approach of the state. Instead, it has piled one counter-insurgency operation upon another in a spiral that is ever more expensive in terms of lives and money. The operations mounted by the central government in these areas have led to unprecedented bloodshed, massacres of civilian populations and rampant violations of constitutional rights in the area. Unmindful of many independent commissions of inquiry over the last two decades, the central government with fanfare announced its latest campaign, named Operation Green Hunt. In this – as in many other campaigns before it – the central government insists on treating the affected areas as a “war zone”, and has shown little inclination towards tackling the huge backlog of tribal oppression that has created fertile ground for such violence.

Writing in the 10 March 2010 issue of the journal ‘Liberation‘ (published by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation), Arindam Sen warned: “The UPA government is clearly preparing the ground for a full-scale intensification of Operation Green Hunt. To begin with, the government has embarked on a massive propagation of its new found doctrine of security which singles out Maoism as the biggest threat to national security. The government is also busy cobbling a grand political consensus around this doctrine and it has already achieved a good deal of success in this regard. If Narendra Modi (Gujarat chief minister) is effusive in praising Chidambaram’s clarity and firmness, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (West Bengal chief minister) too clearly speaks the same language as Chidambaram.”

The CPI-ML also warns that whoever is not ready to join this ‘coalition of the willing’ (a menacing throwback to former US president G W Bush’s terminology) or dares question the wisdom of this approach is being branded a Maoist sympathiser. Time and again Chidambaram has blamed intellectuals and the civil society, bracketing them all with Maoists. It is not just a case of branding; many are already being harassed, hounded out and persecuted. Himanshu Kumar, a practising Gandhian, of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram of Bastar saw his ashram in Chhattisgarh ransacked and razed to the ground; fact-finding teams trying to make an independent assessment of the actual situation have all been debarred from visiting ‘conflict zones’ whether in Chhattisgarh or West Bengal. Meanwhile, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is being invoked on a daily basis to arrest people across the country, states Liberation.

In his analysis, ‘1000 rebels & none saw? Blood spills a home truth‘, in The Telegraph (Kolkata), Sankarshan Thakur wrote: “A senior Chhattisgarh police officer admitted as much to The Telegraph today, affirming that the site of the massacre is not remote enough for nearby tribal settlements to have been unaware. “We get very little information from tribals, and that is a fact and a huge disadvantage,” the officer said, “and what little we get is often stale or even tainted information, but those are the odds we work against. We have not been able to build networks, we are still deeply mistrusted by people, whereas Maoists have access either because of fear or genuine support.” Palpably rattled, he pleaded that today’s was an avoidable tragedy, but having said so, he added a chilling note: “Let me tell you it is neither the first nor the last, such disasters are built into the framework of Operation Green Hunt.”

While the Indian government has the tax payer as the source of its funds for such counter-insurgency operations, how do the Maoists find the money to take on armed units of the state? Ajit Kumar Singh and Sachin Bansidhar Diwan of the Institute for Conflict Management have provided some answers in their explanation of the Indian Maoists’ funds flow, entitled ‘Red Money‘. The evidence has come several seizures of documents and electronic evidence made since 2007 in the Maoist-affected states.

The Maoists target road contractors, contractors for forest products like ‘tendu’ leaves, bamboo and wood. They have reportedly made deals with poachers, smugglers and liquor and timber runners in the forests. In the areas under their control, including district towns, Maoists levy a ‘tax’ on small enterprises such as spinning mills, tobacco units, rice and flour mills, grocery, medical, cigarette and liquor shops, and private doctors. All ‘illegal’ operators, including private schools operating in villages and district towns, are also coerced to pay. The Maoists also secure large revenues from iron and coal mining companies. Apart from abductions, extortion and looting, Maoists also set up unofficial administrations to collect ‘taxes’ in rural areas, where the official government apparatus appears largely to be absent.

How much money can they and have they collected? In November 2009, Chhattisgarh Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan claimed that the Maoists annually extort up to 20 billion Indian rupees all over India (Rs 2,000 crore, about US$ 447 million). In the states of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh their collections ranged from 2 to 3 billion rupees a year, and this was in 2007. Other states that are important for the Maoists monetarily are Maharashtra (where they have been active since the 1960s in the eastern part of the state), Chhattisgarh itself, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka (the northern part of which contains iron ore mines).

A major source of funding for the Maoists, say Singh and Diwan in the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal, is poppy or opium cultivation. Portions of Jharkhand and Bihar are reported to be the principal pockets of poppy cultivation exploited by the Maoists. Opium fields are screened and hidden behind peripheral maize cultivation. The Union Finance Ministry in its annual report for 2009-10, released in March 2010, said that the Central Bureau of Narcotics destroyed at least 1,443 hectares in 2009 alone. How much do the Maoists make from such cultivation? The illicit crops destroyed two districts alone in the state of West Bengal were estimated to have a value of over 12 billion rupees, if diverted to drug cartels for the manufacture of heroin. In India, opium is cultivated under strict licensing in select pockets of three states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The entire opium crop is bought by the government and processed in public sector factories for their further use in pharmaceutical industries.

That is but a small aspect of the Maoist organisation in India. What happens now, after the 6 April massacre? The reactions of the Ministry of Home Affairs, judging by the statements of its minister, P Chidambaram, are not encouraging. Chidambaram rejected one opportunity to depart from the spiral of violence in February, when the Maoists made an offer to begin talks on the condition that the central and state governments suspend their anti-naxalite operations for 72 days. At the time he said: “It was a somewhat bizarre offer. Many weeks ago, I had offered to facilitate talks with the CPI (Maoist) provided they abjured violence. There was no meaningful response to that offer. Nevertheless, on February 23, 2010 I responded that if the CPI (Maoist) made a short, simple and unconditional statement that they would abjure violence, Government would be prepared to hold talks with them. I have received no response to my statement.”

This has been seen as a mistake by several who have been following contemporary Maoism and Naxalism in India. “We welcome the announcement by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) to observe a ceasefire and enter into talks with the Government of India,” said a joint letter to the Government of India written by a number of prominent citizens including Justice Rajindar Sachar, Randhir Singh, B D Sharma, Arundhati Roy, Amit Bhaduri, Manoranjan Mohanty, Prashant Bhushan, Sumit Chakravartty and S A R Geelani. “Given the government’s expressed willingness to engage in talks, we hope that this offer will be reciprocated. This necessarily requires an immediate halt to all paramilitary armed offensive operations (commonly known as Operation Green Hunt). It is also imperative that there should be complete cessation of all hostilities by both sides during the currency of the talks.”

There was no halt and there was no reciprocation. For many, the reasons are not far to seek. Any meaningful dialogue and solution will require that compulsory acquisition of tribal lands and habitats be stopped; that tribals should not be displaced by infrastructure and industrial projects (as is happening on a large scale in the affected states). This is because the central government is bound under law to comply with the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution which safeguards manifold rights of the tribals, including their ownership over land and resources.

“There is a common pattern to the emergence of Maoist violence in many areas,” stated a joint letter written by academics and activists Aditya Nigam, Dilip Simeon, Jairus Banaji, Nivedita Menon, Rohini Hensman, Satya Sivaraman, Sumit Sarkar, and Tanika Sarkar. “First a non-violent mass organisation like the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) in West Bengal or Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) in Orissa arises in response to marginalisation, displacement or violence against tribals by the police and paramilitaries. Then the Maoists step in, attempting to take over the movement and giving it a violent turn. The state responds with even more violence, which is directed not only against the Maoists but also against unaffi liated adivasis. At this point, some adivasis join the Maoists in self-defence, their leaders like Chhatradhar Mahato, Lalmohan Tudu, Singanna are either arrested or gunned down in fake encounters and large numbers of unaffi liated adivasis are branded Maoists or Maoist sympathisers and arrested, killed or terrorised by the state.”

This is the crux of the matter, which cannot be solved by Operation Green Hunt and its tragic failures.

[My comment in the Khaleej Times is an abridged version of this posting]

What they spend their rupee on

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Volunteers at a rally, Mumbai, India

Volunteers at a rally, Mumbai, India

The data have just been released of the National Sample Survey Organisation’s 64th Round, on Household Consumer Expenditure in India, 2007-08 (survey period July 2007 – June 2008). The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, has put out the findings in its report No 530. A sample of 31,673 rural households and 18,624 urban households spread over the entire country was surveyed in the Consumer Expenditure Survey of the 64th round. The highlights:

Level of consumption in 2007-08

1. Average Monthly Per Capita Consumer Expenditure (MPCE) in 2007-08 was Rs.772 in rural India and Rs.1472 in urban India at 2007-08 prices. About 65% of the rural population had MPCE lower than the national rural average. For urban India the corresponding proportion was 66%.

2. The survey estimated that in 2007-08, around one-half of the Indian rural population belonged to households with MPCE less than Rs.649 at 2007-08 prices. In 2006-07, the corresponding level of MPCE for the rural population had been estimated as Rs.580.

Rytu (farmer) of north Karnataka

Rytu (farmer) of north Karnataka

3. In urban India, one-half of the population belonged to households with monthly per capita consumer expenditure less than Rs.1130. In 2006-07, the corresponding level of MPCE for the urban population had been estimated as Rs.990.

4. About 10% of the rural population had MPCE under Rs.400. The corresponding figure for the urban population was Rs.567, that is, 42% higher. At the other extreme, about 10% of the rural population had MPCE above Rs.1229. The corresponding figure for the urban population was Rs.2654, that is, 116% higher.

5. Real MPCE (base 1987-88) was estimated to have grown by about 21% from 1993-94 to 2007-08 (that is, over a 14-year period) in rural India and by about 36% in urban India. The annual real terms increase from 2006-07 to 2007-08 in average rural MPCE was 2.2% and in average urban MPCE was 5.4%.

Pattern of consumption in 2007-08 and share of food

1. Out of every rupee of the value of the average rural Indian’s household consumption during 2007-08, the value of food consumed accounted for about 52 paise. Of this, cereals and cereal substitutes made up 16 paise, while milk and milk products accounted for 8 paise.

Crowds at a religious gathering in Mumbai, India

Crowds at a religious gathering in Mumbai, India

2. Out of every rupee of the value of the average urban Indian’s household consumption during 2007-08, the value of food consumed accounted for about 40 paise. Of this, cereals and cereal substitutes made up 9 paise, while milk and milk products accounted for 7 paise.

3. While the share of most of the food item groups in total consumption expenditure was higher in rural India than in urban India, fruits and processed food were exceptions. For non-food item groups, the share was usually higher in urban India. The noticeable differences were in case of rent (urban share: 6%, rural share: 0.4%), education (urban: 7%, rural: 3.7%), consumer services other than conveyance (urban: 7.8%, rural: 4.5%), and conveyance (urban: 6.4%, rural: 4%).

4. The share of milk and milk products in total consumption expenditure was found to rise steadily in rural India with MPCE level from under 3% in the bottom decile class to nearly 10% in the ninth decile class. The share of fuel and light was about 12% for the poorest decile class of the rural as well as of the urban population and fell steadily with rise in MPCE to 7% for the top decile class in rural India and to 6% in urban India.

5. The share of food in total consumption expenditure of rural households varied among the major states from 41% for Kerala and 44% for Punjab to 58-60% for Orissa, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam and Bihar. In the urban sector the share of food expenditure varied between 36% (Kerala and Chhattisgarh) and 47% (Assam and Bihar).

6. Tobacco was consumed in as many as 61% households in rural India compared to 36% households in urban India. About 62% of rural households and 59% of urban households were estimated to have consumed egg, fish or meat during the last 30 days. In non-food items, consumption on account of entertainment was reported by 28% of rural households and 63% of urban households. Consumer expenditure for rent was reported by only 7% of rural households and 38% of urban households.

One frozen moment in 1911

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It was nearing an hour before noon as I approached the Bombay Gymkhana, having cadged a lift from a driver of a provisions carriage who was proceeding towards the Arsenal castle via Crawford Market. Although frowned upon by our editors – starchy old blokes – this was common for us reporters, impatient in our hurry to criss-cross the great city.

From Census of India 1911 report

From Census of India 1911 report

Today I had to hurry so as not to keep Mr Edward A Gait waiting. The Census Commissioner of India – his credentials were most impressive; C.S.I., C.I.E., I.C.S., Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society – had commanded the entire country to wait on the night of 10th March 1911 so that they should be counted. And that was the tale my editor wished to print in the pages of our thriving weekly newspaper. Punctual even for a lowly reporter, the great man was there already, and as I hurriedly made my way to his table, I saw that he had in his company three others, making the party two British and two Indian.

“Nimbu-pani is best for Indian summers, young man,” said Mr Gait with a ready smile as a signalled to a bearer, “It is part of our prescription to our field staff – that, quinine and hygiene. Now then, you want to know what happened on the night of the 10th of March, 1911, or so your editor tells me. Pay attention for an hour, for thereafter we must take our train.”

“An Indian census is beset with special difficulties owing to the long lines of railway,” said Mr Gait, “the big rivers on which boats travel, sometimes for days without coming to the bank, the forests to which wood-cutters resort, often for weeks at a time, and the numerous sacred places which, on occasion, attract many thousands of pilgrims. It would be tedious to describe the arrangements which were made in these cases, but they were all carefully provided for. Take the case of railways, for instance, all persons travelling by rail who took tickets after 7 pm on the night of the census were enumerated, on the platform if there was time, and if not, in their train.”

“What? Do you mean sir that you had enumerators even on our trains on that night?” I broke in, astounded by the degree of planning and detail this required.

“Certainly,” replied the Census head, “Those alighting at any station during the night were enumerated right there, unless they could produce a pass showing that they had already been counted. All trains were stopped, and every carriage visited, about 6 am on the following morning, in order to include any travellers who up till then had escaped notice. At one large junction alone, 60 special enumerators were engaged for the census of travellers by rail.”

So it was true then, the reports that had come to us from civic officials, who had told us in great excitement how extraordinary it was that every single passenger train on every railway line had been counted, every major crossroads watched and traffic to and from every coach station in our cities had been halted. We had at first taken this as fanciful. How on earth could a country be stopped in order to count its people?

Here, sitting at the same table, were the men who had done it.

From Census of India 1911 report

From Census of India 1911 report

“On the morning of 11th March the Enumerators of all the blocks in a circle met the Supervisor at a place previously arranged,” continued Mr Gait, “and filled in a form showing the number of occupied houses and of persons (males and females) in each block. The Supervisor, after testing these figures, prepared from them a summary for his circle, which he transmitted to his Superintendent. The summaries were added up at the district headquarters, and the result was telegraphed to the local Provincial Superintendent and to me, the Census Commissioner for India.”

“But how could you know, so quickly and so accurately, if your figures were correct?” I asked.

“Perhaps you’d like to explain, Mr Mallik,” said Mr Gait. “Young man, this able gentleman is Babu Anukul Chandra Mallik, Head Clerk of the Census Commission.”

“The organisation was so thorough that the results for the whole of India were received complete on the 19th March, within nine days of the Census,” Mr Mallik replied. “They were issued in print next day with an explanatory note and details of the variations since 1901, not only for Provinces and Agencies, but also for the individual districts and States and the principal towns.”

Babu Anukul took a sip of nimbu-pani. “Within four days of the census, the figures had already been reported for a population of 131 million, while on the sixth day they had been ascertained for 238 million, or nearly four-fifths of the total population. The record was broken by the States of Rampur and Sarangarh where, by dint of working all night, the local officers were able, with the aid of mounted messengers and other means of conveyance, to get the figures for all parts of the State to headquarters in time for the telegram reporting the result to reach me in Calcutta by 8 am on the following morning. The extreme celerity and accuracy with which this work was accomplished” – here he glanced at Mr Gait and Mr Meikle, who both nodded – “is not approached even in the smallest European States.”

“Remarkable,” I said, quite taken aback. Not even the most celebrated military campaign could have boasted such detailed organisation. “How many toiled for this work, and at what cost?”

“Let us start with the smallest. Superintendents prepared their local instructions, and we provided for the division of the whole country into blocks, each of which contained from 30 to 50 houses and was in charge of an Enumerator. The total strength of the census staff was about two millions. The actual cost of the census operations to the Government was 2,03,000 rupees – or rather less than in 1901. This is not unsatisfactory for there has been a marked rise in prices and wages during the decade, and that the population dealt with has increased by over 20 millions.”

With that, the four gentlemen rose – Mr Gait, Mr Meikle (Superintendent of Government Printing, India), Mr Mallik and Rai Manmohan Roy Bahadur (Special Assistant to the Census Commissioner). They climbed into a waiting victoria which smartly set off towards the station. This was the quiet team that had planned and carried out a great count that had reached almost 300 million Indians. How different might it be, I wondered, a hundred years hence.

(This account is of course fictional. I have no way of finding out whether these four gentlemen ever got together, and if so then where. I set this imaginary encounter in Bombay 1911. What is entirely true are the events and work described by Mr Gait, for these details are taken direct from the report in volume one of the 1911 Census of India. Forgotten today, but incredible. The Khaleej Times has published this little cameo.)