Archive for January 2013
What happens when rural folk in a district steadily move into a town or city? What happens to that district’s cultivators and agricultural labour? When might we be able to tell that the district is approaching (or perhaps has crossed) a point of demographic change that affects its self-sufficiency in food crops?
This is a small indicator from a study in progress, the India District Development and Food Security Index, with which I am involved. The two districts in this example are in Maharashtra, Buldana and Raigarh (also spelt Raigad).
In the 2011 Census Buldana’s population was 2,588,039 people (rural 2,038,650 and urban 549,389) while Raigarh’s was 2,635,394 (rural 1,662,585 and urban 972,809).
Taking the districts’ crop production data from the Directorate of Economics and Statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture (these are up to 2009-10), I have averaged their annual production of cereals and pulses.
Buldana has usually grown about 402,000 tons of food crops (280,000 of cereals and 122,000 tons of pulses). Raigarh has usually grown about 305,000 tons of food crops (300,000 tons of cereals and 5,000 tons of pulses).
You can see the distribution of cereals and pulses in the pie charts for each – Buldana’s food crops are much more balanced than Raigarh’s. While in Buldana jowar has the largest share followed by maize and wheat, in Raigarh it is rice, rice and more rice.
Can these districts feed their populations with what they grow? I have used the National Institute of Nutrition’s recommended daily intake guidelines to calculate what the minimum annual quantities are to supply the populations of Buldana and Raigarh with cereal and pulses.
Both districts do not have enough cereals, Buldana is short by 87,000 tons and Raigarh is short by 75,000 tons. In pulses, Buldana has a hefty surplus of 43,000 tons but Raigarh is severely deficient – 74,000 tons short.
Now the question is: what is the demographic change that endangers Raigarh’s food self-sufficiency and what makes Buldana more food secure? To help understand both these districts better, their use of land points to how important agriculture is for their populations. In Buldana, the ‘sown area’ – which is what the ministry calls fields in which crops grow – is 69% of the total area of the district. In Raigarh, this ratio is 27%.
Next, in Buldana, 81% of the working population work full time or part time in agriculture (I have taken Census 2001 data as these figures for 2011 have not been released yet). In Raigarh the ratio is 49%.
So, where lies the danger for the people of Raigarh? This is seen in the partial map of Maharahstra (taken from Census 2011) which depicts the change in rural populations – look for the districts inside the blue rectangles. Notice that the rural population growth rate in Raigarh is ‘negative’!
In contrast, rural and urban population growth over ten years (2001 to 2011) in Buldana has been almost even, 15.9% for rural and 16% for urban. In Raigarh, the urban population growth rate is almost 82%.
Over the next ten years, should these trends continue, there will be fewer cultivators and smaller numbers of agricultural labour to grow food crops (and commercial crops). Raigarh’s crop patterns are already very imbalanced compared to what its residents need as a food basket, and over the next decade, they will have to ‘import’ into Raigarh far more food than today.
The 27 cities shown on this map are no different from many others like them in India today, and the selection of these 27 is based solely on a single numerical milestone which I am fairly sure few of each city’s citizens (or administrations for that matter) will have marked.
On some day during the months since March 2011, the population of each of these 27 cities has crossed 150,000 – this is the criterion. March 2011 is the month to which the Census 2011 has fixed its population count, for the country, for a state, a district, a town.
And so these 27 cities share one criterion – which they be quite unaware of – which is that when their inhabitants were enumerated for the 2011 census, their populations were under 150,000 whereas in the four years since that mark has been crossed.
[You will find more on the theme of population, the Census of India 2011 and urban and rural population growth here: ‘So very many of us’, ‘To localise and humanise India’s urban project’, ‘The slowing motion of India’s quick mobility’, ‘The urbanised middle class symphony’. Thematic and state-wise links to direct data files can be found at: ‘India’s 2011 census, a population turning point’ and ‘India’s 2011 census, the states and their prime numbers’.]
When the provisional results of the Census of India 2011 were released, through the year 2011, the number of cities with populations of a million and over was 53.
That was the tally almost two years ago. Between the 2011 census and the 2001 census the growth rate of the urban population was 31.8% which, turned into a simple annual rate for those ten years, is just under 3.2% per year.
At this rate, in mid-2013, six more cities will have joined the list of those with a population of over a million.
These six cities are: Mysore (in Karnataka, estimated population of 1,046,469), Bareilly (in Uttar Pradesh, 1,042,257), Guwahati (in Assam, 1,030,149), Tiruppur (in Tamil Nadu, 1,024,228), Sholapur (in Maharashtra, 1,011,609) and Hubli-Dharwad (in Karnataka, 1,003,886).
Within the next few months, India will have 59 cities with populations of over a million.
By mid-2015 (the final year of the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs), there will be another four cities with populations of over a million: Salem (in Tamil Nadu, estimated population of 1,036,066), Aligarh (in Uttar Pradesh, 1,025,255), Gurgaon (in Haryana, 1,016,698) and Moradabad (in Uttar Pradesh, 1,002,994).
That year, Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh), Thrissur (Kerala) and Vadodara (Gujarat) will have populations of over two million; the populations of Kanpur and Lucknow (both Uttar Pradesh) will cross three million and that of Surat (Gujarat) will cross five million. India will have 63 (ten more than in 2011) cities with populations of at least a million.
These are projections that have not taken into account the state-wise variations of rural and urban growth rates. Also not accounted for is migration, as the migration data from Census 2011 has yet to be released.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) together with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has begun a campaign to encourage simple actions by consumers and food retailers to cut the 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost or wasted every year.
“In industrialised regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tonnes annually, occurs because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption,” the Director-General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva, said. “This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world.”
Indeed this is the point. The industrialised agriculture and the attendant food retail and sales system is responsible – directly – for encouraging such consumer behaviour. If the FAO and UNEP are determined to follow the logic of their campaign, they must stop encouraging less industrialised countries to adopt the same systems of food production and sale.
They must also stop encouraging the genetically-modified crop industry from claiming that it is only GM seed that can feed growing populations. The answers to current hunger lie not in the ver greater use of technology and industry but in being far more responsible with growing food organically, eating it locally, using the small wastes in local nutrient cycles such as composting, and educating food consumers about how to do their bit.
The FAO head, da Silva, had added that the campaign can “help food producers to reduce losses through better harvesting, processing, storage, transport and marketing methods…” which is rather retrograde. It is the ‘betterness’ of harvesting, processing, storage, transport and marketing that has contributed greatly to this situation that the FAO and UNEP find intolerable.
The Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Government of India, has in an interview starkly emphasised the priorities for the current government, priorities which accord no importance whatsoever to the principles governing the work of the Planning Commission itself, principles that were clearly enunciated 63 years ago.
In the interview, titled ‘We can’t get on a 9% growth path if we underprice energy’, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, has been asked a series of questions by reporters of one of India’s English-language business and financial dailies.
Q 1. Of late, there have been moves to correct the under-pricing of energy. Is the government moving the way the 12th five-year Plan document wanted it to? [In this question the reporters provide as a given the idea of ‘under pricing’ of energy in India.]
A 1. If prices do not reflect the real cost of energy, why will anyone invest in energy-saving equipment? Also, if prices don’t reflect the marginal cost of supply, which is imports, why will people invest to produce energy? Our problem is that energy is generally under-priced. Diesel, cooking gas and kerosene are under-priced.
We need a complete rethink on energy prices and align close to world prices. We cannot close the gap at one go but phased adjustment is necessary. Nobody likes to pay a higher price but we must recognise that we cannot expect to get on a nine per cent growth path if we don’t align its energy prices with global prices.
Ahluwalia wants nine per cent annual growth of the Indian economy at all costs. That these costs are social, ecological and ruinous are of no concern to him. He is only interested in the ‘marginal cost of supply’ of energy, of investment to produce more energy. He has ignored the data from the Government of India (in fact the Central Electricity Authority) which shows that the transmission and distribution losses between power generation and consumption are still 24% averaged for the last five years. Ahluwalia is either ignorant of or unmindful of the steep rise in the ‘fuel and light’ sub-index of the All-India Consumer Price Index. Over a single month, from November to December 2012, the fuel and light index for agricultural labourers rose from 760 to 769 and for rural labourers it rose from 758 to 766. What will this index reach for these two groups if Ahluwalia (and his supporters) has his way? What fearful cost will be exacted from India’s agricultural and rural labourers when our prices are ‘aligned’ with global prices? For whose benefit is this alignment being promoted by Ahluwalia?
Q 2. What should be the direction in coal?
A 2. We need some difficult decisions there. In the Plan, we have clearly said the nationalisation of coal needs to be reconsidered. There is no economic logic in keeping the private sector out of coal if it is allowed in petroleum and natural gas. Why do we allow the private sector in these areas? Because we want to bring in as much investment as possible into energy production and we want new technology.
Ahluwalia is (a) contemptuous about the Planning Commission’s own ‘Low Carbon Strategies for Inclusive Growth’ direction paper, in which the adoption of renewable energy sources and the steady reduction of coal and oil as primary fuels is advocated, and (b) conceals the truth that in India there are 455 new coal-powered generation plants under construction or have been approved (who needs clearances from the castrated Ministry of Environment and Forests? who needs environment impact assessments, pesky things that hinder our gallop towards GDP growth rates? who needs public consultation when the Prime Minister’s Office itself rams through projects?) or being planned. These 455 coal burners are to generate some 519,396 megawatts. For whom? For those agricultural and rural labourers struggling to buy kerosene for a stove on which to cook their evening meals? No, for the urban middle classes who are being gathered together by India’s unspoken social engineering project that herds the income-privileged into towns and cities.
Many of these new coal burners are private sector already. I mention coal burning power plants currently under construction in three states only to overturn Ahluwalia’s economy with the truth. In Andhra Pradesh who are VSF Projects, Thermal Powertech Corporation, Indu Projects Limited and Dr. RKP Power? In Bihar who are AES India, Mirach Power Pvt. Ltd, Triton Energy Ltd and Buxar Bijlee Company? In Maharashtra who are Indiabulls Power, Ideal Energy Projects, Mantri Power and Lenexis Energy? Who are they if not private?
The World Resources Institute’s Global Coal Risk Assessment explained: “International public financial institutions are important and long-time contributors to the coal industry. Since 1994, multilateral development banks (MDBs) and industrialised countries’ export credit agencies (ECAs) have helped finance 88 new and expanded coal plants in developing countries, as well as projects in Europe. Together, MDBs and ECAs have provided more than US$37 billion in direct and indirect financial support for new coal-fired power plants worldwide. The World Bank has actually increased lending for fossil fuel projects and coal plants in recent years. An analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund concludes that the lending strategies of MDBs and ECAs in the energy sector do not sufficiently consider the environmental harm wrought by fossil fuel projects.”
Q 3. There is a talk of a food security law and there is a five-year map for the fiscal deficit. Can both go hand in hand?
A 3. Yes. If food security is a critical programme, we can give it top priority and cut something else. We have talked about reducing subsidies from 2.4 per cent of GDP to 1.5 per cent. We have not said there should be no subsidy. There is enough room in the limit indicated to accommodate a sensible food security bill but it does mean other subsidies will have to be cut more.
Why is Ahluwalia using an ‘if’ to misqualify the need for the Republic of India to provide affordable food to its citizens? What is meant by “cut something else”? Who is to decide what essential programmes need support if not the citizens of India through their representatives and through public participation and consultation? Ahluwalia’s are the statements of a ruling regime that has abandoned every last shadow of democratic practice.
To turn to the Planning Commission itself. In its description of its functions the Planning Commission has provided this information:
“The 1950 resolution setting up the Planning Commission outlined its functions as to: (a) Make an assessment of the material, capital and human resources of the country, including technical personnel, and investigate the possibilities of augmenting such of these resources as are found to be deficient in relation to the nation’s requirement; (b) Formulate a Plan for the most effective and balanced utilisation of country’s resources; (c) On a determination of priorities, define the stages in which the Plan should be carried out and propose the allocation of resources for the due completion of each stage;” [There are four other functions mentioned.]
Worryingly, what has been omitted is far more significant. What do these functions relate to? The answer can be found in the introduction to the First Five Year Plan:
“The Planning Commission was set up in March, 1950 by a Resolution of the Government of India which defined the scope of its work in the following terms:
‘The Constitution of India has guaranteed certain Fundamental Rights to the citizens of India and enunciated certain Directive Principles of State Policy, in particular, that the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life, and shall direct its policy towards securing, among other things—
that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood;
that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good; and
that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment.’ “
Citizens, welfare, people, social and economic and political justice, control by the people of the material resources of India, the common good, no concentration of wealth, no means of production to the common detriment. These have now been hidden by the Planning Commission of today, shamefully. And it is from that base act of concealment that Montek Singh Ahluwalia speaks.
There are inter-related concerns about local needs for food and nutrition. What these cost and for which kinds of consumers, just as much as the ability of households to find and buy affordable food staples, are important matters for us.
They are also matters that continue to be neglected because the coordination this demands is not yet recognised as an outcome, let alone a target, for administrators (and for the private sector whose role in governing, through public-private partnerships and similar arrangements grows ever larger). Although in the name of consultation and planning, the Government of India routinely discusses the need for ‘convergence’ between programmes run by ministries, there is scarcely any.
You will find recently different explorations of this theme in ‘A quickening count, the movement from rural Bharat to urban India’, ‘The 0.05 kilowatt farming human and other strange equations from India’, ‘India Census 2011 – what they use in 330 million homes for light, cooking, drainage and phones’ and in ‘How food took 57% of the rural Indian’s budget’.
The Ministries of Agriculture, Rural Development, Women and Child Development and Health do not come together to examine districts and blocks and tehsils, rather than each through their own lens, to agree on measures that benefit the households who bear the multiple burdens of high food prices, poor access to food, high burdens of communicable diseases and suffer from low health and human development indices.
In its note on ‘Issues for the Approach to the Twelfth Plan’ (2011 April), the Planning Commission said as much: “There is a perception that government programmes, especially centrally sponsored schemes, are not sensitive enough to local needs. Also, government works in silos with little effort to achieve convergence and co-ordination across ministries and between centre and states, even though most problems require inter-governmental and inter-ministerial co-ordination.” Typically, the Planning Commission swallows none of its own advice, so you will find no remedies in the three-volume draft Twelfth Five Tear Plan document.
From a reading of the early results of the 66th Round of the National Sample Survey, ‘Key Indicators of Household Consumer Expenditure in India, 2009-10’, for the urban population, in all income deciles including those that comprise the urban poor, the situation is already grim. Bhiwani in Haryana (population 197,662), Bhind in Madhya Pradesh (197,332), Amroha in Uttar Pradesh (197,135) and Hardoi also in Uttar Pradesh (197,046) are four urban centres whose populations are at the median of those towns in India whose inhabitants number over 100,000.
The average number of children in each (in the 0-6 year age group) is 23,890. Based on the recommended daily dietary allowance calculated for an Indian vegetarian diet by the National Institute of Nutrition, India, the minimum annual demand of each of these four urban centres is: cereals and millets, 43,124 tons; pulses, 9,122 tons; milk and milk products (kilolitres), 33,172; roots and tubers, 22,115 tons; green leafy vegetables, 11,057 tons; other vegetables, 22,115 tons; and fruits, 11,057 tons36. Whether through the lens of municipal services provisioning or as a consumer project, urban administrations rarely plan for the food required by their citizens – its sources, costs and alternatives that can help establish a nutrient cycle between urban consumption and rural producers.
Detailed income distribution estimates for India were described in in the study ‘Human Development in India’ (2010) and revealed quite high income inequality, with a Gini coefficient of 0.54 – or around the same as Brazil (we may both be BRICS countries but Brazil’s Amazon- and minerals-fuelled income inequalities are to be shunned, not emulated). Estimates based on village surveys derive even higher Gini coefficients: on average 0.645 across households and 0.595 across persons even within villages (as recorded in ‘Is India Really a Country of Low Income-Inequality? Observations from Eight Villages”, Review of Agrarian Studies 2011).
This is reinforced now by the latest release of consumption data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the provisional results of household consumer expenditure survey of the NSS 68th round (July 2011 to June 2012). Some salient findings of the survey are: the average household monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) in 2011-12 was estimated at Rs 1,281.45 in rural India and Rs 2,401.68 in urban India. Thus the per capita expenditure level of the urban population was on the average about 87.4% higher than that of the rural population.
The top 10% of the rural population, ranked by MPCE, had an average MPCE of Rs 3,459.77, about 6.9 times that of the bottom 10%. The top 10% of the urban population had an average MPCE of Rs 7,651.68, about 10.9 times that of the bottom 10%. And finally, in urban India, half of the population was living with an MPCE of below Rs 1,759, about 70% of population had an MPCE of above Rs 1,295.
For a month the government of India, aided by its media and propaganda units (urban-centric English language dailies and magazines, and a dangerously partisan group of television channels) has bombarded the Indian public with its view of Pakistan.
This is a view that is full of threat and anger. There is in no communication of the government of India (not from the office of the prime minister of India, not from the cabinet, not from Parliament, not from its major ministries which share concerns, such as water and food, and not from its paid servants, a wastrel gaggle of self-important think-tanks) that says, in effect, yes we understand the troubles your peoples have, for we have the same, and let us find ways to aid one another.
There is plenty of reason to do so.
Let us look first at floods and natural disasters, which India has a great deal of experience in dealing with, both through those government agencies that possess an iota of integrity and through voluntary groups and NGOs. Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by September monsoon flooding in Pakistan have not yet moved back into their homes, according to aid groups. Three of Pakistan’s four provinces were hit, affecting over 4.8 million people and damaging over 630,000 houses, according to the latest situation report by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Three months after the floods, 97 percent of those displaced have returned to their towns and villages. Nearly all of them, however, continue to live in makeshift shelters next to damaged homes. Aid groups and government officials say they still need critical assistance to help them through the winter. In the absence of adequate shelter and provisions, aid workers say, the cold weather in flood-hit areas is likely to put the affected population under more stress. [You can download a full-sized version of the Humanitarian Snapshot map above, from here (png, 1.8MB).]
Next is the matter of population, economic support for a growing population and sustainable alternatives to the ‘growth is best’ nonsense that South Asian ruling cliques foster with the help of their industrialist compradors. Internal pressures in the country with the world’s sixth largest population are likely to get worse before they get better: At 2.03 percent Pakistan has the highest population growth rate in South Asia, and its total fertility rate, or the number of children born per woman, is also the highest in the region, at 3.5 percent. By 2030, the government projects that Pakistan’s population will exceed 242 million.
“The failure to adequately manage demographic growth puts further pressure on the current population, who already lack widespread basic services and social development,” said the IRIN analysis. Pakistan’s health and education infrastructures are poorly funded, and experts have questioned the quality of what is being provided with existing budgets. With a weak economy and low growth, food insecurity and unemployment present further challenges. “The problem is that if you have a population that is illiterate and does not have proper training, a large segment cannot participate meaningfully in the economy,” IRIN quoted economist Shahid Kardar, a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, as having said.
And then there is the very worrisome aspect of violence, against the poor and vulnerable as much as against women. I find it a macabre coincidence that during the weeks when polio workers in Pakistan were being shot at and killed, women in various parts of India were being gang-raped and murdered.
Over the past few weeks there has been an upsurge in attacks on aid workers in Pakistan, many of them linked to a national polio eradication campaign in one of the world’s last three countries where the disease remains endemic. In December 2012 the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) suspended their anti-polio vaccination campaign after nine workers were killed in attacks in Karachi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Polio workers, including those working for the UN, were also targeted earlier in 2012. Beyond the polio campaign, aid workers in general are starting to feel more hostility to their work. In an attack on 5 January, two aid workers with Al-Khidmat Foundation, an NGO working in education, were shot dead in the northwestern city of Charsadda. There was similarly no warning when gunmen killed seven aid workers with local NGO Support With Working Solution (SWWS) in the Swabi District of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province on 1 January.
And still the same old tiresome drums continued to beat, as they still do, Look at the reactions from India (and the jingoistic treatment given them by a rabid media):
India Today – “Military encounter on the LoC last week is threatening to erode the hard-fought gains in relaxing trade and visa regimes by India and Pakistan in recent times. The rhetoric is shrill in India, which claims it has been grievously wronged.”
Economic Times – “India has ruled out high-level talks with Pakistan to de-escalate hostilities and normalise bilateral relations, people familiar with the situation said. The position is in line with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement…”
Times of India – “India will maintain a tough outlook on Pakistan even as the LoC quietened after a fortnight of bruising skirmishes. At a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Thursday, it was agreed that India would not respond immediately…”
BBC – “India’s foreign minister says he will “not rush” into talks with his Pakistani counterpart to defuse military tensions in Kashmir. Salman Khurshid’s remarks came after Hina Rabbani Khar’s call for a dialogue between the two ministers.”
DNA – “India’s army chief threatened to retaliate against Pakistan for the killing of two soldiers in fighting near the border of the disputed region of Kashmir, saying he had asked his commanders there to be aggressive in the face of provocation.”
Lost altogether in this teeth-gnashing mêlée of trouble-making are the efforts made by Pakistani and Indian people, such as the India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative (IPSI) for peace when they met at the Pakistan Red Crescent Society offices in Pakistan. Peace between the peoples of Pakistan and India that has nothing to do with the red-eyed posturing over the Line of Control and over Jammu and Kashmir will be our own responsibility.
A new draft report by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, which advises the government of the USA, has concluded that the evidence for a changing climate has strengthened considerably since the last such report written in 2009.
It noted that many more impacts of human-caused climate change have now been observed. “Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience,” said an introductory ‘letter to the people’ and added, “So, too, have coastal planners from Florida to Maine, water managers in the arid Southwest and parts of the Southeast, and Native Americans on tribal lands across the nation.”
Major media organisations have begun reporting on the enormous study, which will be kept open for public scrutiny and comment for 90 days beginning next week. [The many chapters of the draft report can be found here.]
Reuters headlined its report ‘Impact of climate change hitting home, U.S. report finds’ and said: “”The consequences of climate change are now hitting the United States on several fronts, including health, infrastructure, water supply, agriculture and especially more frequent severe weather, a congressionally mandated study has concluded.”
NBC News titled its report ‘ Massive draft report warns warming is changing life in US’ and said: “Global warming is already changing America from sea to rising sea and is affecting how Americans live, a massive new federally commissioned report says.”
In its report, ‘Climate change set to make America hotter, drier and more disaster-prone’, The Guardian said: “The report, which is not due for adoption until 2014, was produced to guide federal, state and city governments in America in making long-term plans. By the end of the 21st century, climate change is expected to result in increased risk of asthma and other public health emergencies, widespread power blackouts, and mass transit shutdowns, and possibly shortages of food.”
The National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee report placed the problem before its readers in a jargon-free introductory section that will appeal as much for its simplicity as for the effort made to encourage public participation.
“Americans are noticing changes all around them,” this section has said. “Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the year, last later into the fall, threaten more homes, cause more evacuations, and burn more acreage. In Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and fall storms now cause more erosion and damage that is severe enough that some communities are already facing relocation.”
If the kilowatt hour a day is the ‘lifeline’ unit of energy that a person in India is entitled to, then the purchase of an average, nationally, of 65 units of electricity a month could mean that in this 66th year after Independence, the Republic of India is able to provide sufficient energy equitably to its citizens.
Not so. The average is utterly misleading and here is why. In the city of Bengaluru (or Bangalore) the average per capita units per month purchased is 89.5, in Kolkata (the Calcutta of yore) it is 92.5, in Mumbai (the Bombay of ditto) it is 93.4, in Hyderabad it is 108.6, in Chennai (Madras, once upon a time) it is 113.8 and in New Delhi (the source of sub-continental malpractice on an imperial scale) it is 169.7. That is the tale of the table above, the data excellently provided by the Prayas Energy Group of Pune (yes also once more familiarly called Poona) and released in a working paper entitled ‘Electricity in Megacities’.
But of course there is aggressive electricity consumption in those cities of India which are sans (for now) the ‘mega’ prefix. Their inhabitants make every effort to, first, move into the category of household which has four or more rooms (not bedrooms, rooms), and in which is installed an air-conditioner, a water heater (geyser, we would call those hot water boilers, in an earlier era), a washing machine (for those cities that hadn’t a ‘dhobi ghat’ or two), a refrigerator (remember when ‘frost free’ first came along?), a television set naturally, all the better to dull ones wits with, four or five tube-lights, an equal number of ceiling or pedestal fans, a few compact fluorescent bulbs, and a computer (with a multi-megabit connection at the very least).
And where will we find these over-watted households? There is, as Census 2011 has informed us, Ahmedabad with 6.5 million inhabitants, Pune with 5.0 million, Surat 4.5 million, Jaipur 3.0 million, Kanpur 2.9 million, Lucknow 2.9 million, Nagpur 2.4 million, Ghaziabad 2.3 million, Indore 2.1 million, Coimbatore 2.1 million, Kochi 2.1 million, Patna 2.0 million and Kozhikode 2.0 million. Not ‘mega’ but in no way minor.
How many units a month of electricity are the households in these cities consuming? The monthly average of the five ‘mega’ cities (New Delhi excluded because of its off-the-charts greed for watts) is around 100 units per capita per month. Outside the ‘mega’ cities ranks and excepting a few others, electricity is not a round-the-clock service. Hence my estimate is, on the conservative side, that the 100 units per head per month can be scaled down to 80 (which is still a good fraction above the so-called national average of 65). We then have for the next 13 cities whose populations are above 2 million (Census 2011) a combined household purchase of 3.22 billion units a month! That is more than the Indian Railways consumed on its electrified railway lines in the entire year of 1985-86!
How much have urban populations in the districts changed by? If we consider the additions to the urban populations of individual districts, then between the 2001 and 2011 censuses, there were 204 districts whose urban populations rose by at least 100,000 persons. This is the equivalent of the addition of 204 Class I towns to the country’s urban population, 109 of these have added more than 200,000 persons, 37 of these have added more than half a million persons to their urban populations.
Eleven districts have added more than a million persons to their urban populations – South 24 Parganas (West Bengal), Kancheepuram (Tamil Nadu), Thrissur (Kerala), Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh), Malappuram (Kerala), Pune (Maharashtra), Rangareddy (Andhra Pradesh), Surat (Gujarat), Thane (Maharashtra) and Bengaluru (Karnataka). The decadal urban population growth rate for these top eleven is 100%, whereas it is 71% for the top 37 districts (with over 500,000 persons added to their urban populations). [See Macroscan for the full article.]
What of those districts with traditionally large rural populations? When considered with their cultivation patterns and their importance to the provision of cereals, coarse cereals, pulses, vegetables and horticulture, here are the districts that ought to serve as examples to counter the galloping urbanisation. The districts with the largest rural populations are to be found in eastern India (a trend that has remained for the most part unchanged since the 1901 and the 1911 censuses) – 17 of the top 20 districts with the most rural residents are in West Bengal, Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. [See this spreadsheet (xlsx) for the list of 30 districts with the largest rural populations.]
Six of the top ten are in West Bengal with the top three all in that state – South 24 Parganas (6.06 million), Murshidabad (5.69 million) and Paschim Medinipur (5.22 million). These are followed in the top 20 by Bardhaman, Purba Medinipur, North 24 Parganas and Nadia (all West Bengal), Purba Champaran, Madhubani, Muzzafarpur, Samastipur and Gaya (all Bihar), Allahabad, Azamgarh, Jaunpur, Sitapur and Gorakhpur (all Uttar Pradesh), East Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, and by Pune and Ahmadnagar in Maharashtra. The rural populations of these districts, in the fourth to twentieth positions are between 4.68 million and 3.6 million.