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Posts Tagged ‘economy

It’s time to rid India of the GDP disease

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A woman in the Aravalli hills of Rajasthan carries home a headload of field straw. India’s National Accounts Statistics is completely ignorant of the biophysical economy.

On 5 January 2017 the Central Statistics Office of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, issued a note titled “First advance estimates of national income, 2017-18”. The contents of this note immediately caused great consternation among the ranks of those in business and industry, trading, banking anf finance, and government who hold that the growth of India’s gross domestic product is supremely important as it is this growth which describes what India is and should be.

In its usual bland way, the Central Statistics Office said that this was “the First Advance estimates of national income at constant (2011-12) and current prices, for the financial year 2017-18” and then proeeded, after a short boilerplate explanation about the compilation of estimates, delivered the bombshell to the GDP standard-bearers: “The growth in GDP during 2017-18 is estimated at 6.5% as compared to the growth rate of 7.1% in 2016-17.” [pdf file here]

To me, this is good news of a kind not heard in the last several years.

But India’s business and financial press were thrown into a caterwauling discord which within minutes was all over the internet.

An example of one out of the many messages in a daily barrage delivered by the Government of India’s ‘GDP First’ corps. This is from what is called the Make in India ‘initiative’ of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce. “Make in India is much more than an inspiring slogan,” the DIPP says. “It represents a comprehensive and unprecedented overhaul of out-dated processes and policies.” For this childish GDP rah-rah club, environmental protection, natural reserves, watershed conservation, handloom and handicrafts are all outdated practices and ideas.

‘GDP growth seen at four-year low of 6.5% in 2017-18: CSO’ said the Economic Times: “Most private economists have pared the growth forecast to 6.2 to 6.5 percent for this fiscal year, citing the teething troubles faced by businesses during the roll out of a goods and services tax (GST).”

‘7 reasons why FY18 GDP growth forecast should be viewed with caution’ advised Business Standard: “The fact that growth will be 6.5% is significant as it is even lower than the Economic Survey assumption of 6.75-7.5% for the year. Hence, it is not expected to be higher than the base mark which means that it would be lowest in the past three years. The effects of demonetisation and GST have played some role here.”

‘CSO pegs FY18 growth at 6.5%; why forecast is an eye-opener for Narendra Modi govt’ said Firstpost: “The healthy uptick in volumes displayed by many sectors in November 2017, is expected to strengthen in the remainder of FY2018, benefiting from a favourable base effect and a ‘catch up’ following the subdued first half. Accordingly, manufacturing is likely to display healthy expansion in volumes in H2 FY2018, which should result in a substantial improvement in capacity utilisation on a YoY basis.”

‘GST disruptions eat FY18 economic growth; GDP seen growing at 6.5%, lowest under Modi government’ huffed the Financial Express: “For a broad-based recovery the rural economy needs to recover and we can expect the upcoming budget to focus on alleviating some of the stress in the rural economy and concentrating on measures to augment the flow of credit in the economy. Overall growth is likely to improve in the coming year and possibly move up beyond the 7% mark in FY19.”

‘India’s GDP growth seen decelerating to 6.5% in 2017-18 from 7.1% in 2016-17’ said the Mint: “The nominal GDP, or gross domestic product at market prices, is expected to grow at 9.5% against 11.75% assumed in the 2017-18 budget presented last year. This may make it difficult for the government to achieve the fiscal deficit target of 3.2% of GDP in a fiscally tight year.”

‘India Sees FY18 GDP Growth At 6.5%’ observed Bloomberg Quint: “Growth in gross value added terms, which strips out the impact of indirect taxes and subsidies, is pegged at 6.1 this year, versus a revised 6.6 percent last fiscal. Both GDP and GVA growth were marginally below expectations. A Bloomberg poll had pegged GDP growth at 6.7 percent. The RBI had forecast GVA growth at 6.7 percent at the time of its last policy review in December.”

‘India’s FY18 GDP growth estimated at 6.5%, says CSO data’ said Zee Business: “Real GVA, i.e, GVA at basic constant prices (2011-12) is anticipated to increase from Rs 111.85 lakh crore in 2016-17 to Rs 118.71 lakh crore in 2017-18. Anticipated growth of real GVA at basic prices in 2017-18 is 6.1 percent as against 6.6 percent in 2016-17.”

So great is the power of the School of GDP and of its regents, who are as priests of the Sect of GDP Growth, that the meaninglessness of GDP is a subject practically invisible in India today. Just as it has no meaning at all to the woman in my photograph above, so too GDP has no meaning for all, including the 2.7% (or thereabouts) who pay income tax.

This tweet shows us the scale of the problem. An article by Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum (a club of powerful globalists) is posted on the website of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ! The head of the ruling BJP’s information unit broadcasts it.

India’s National Accounts Statistics presents every quarter and annually, estimates of the size of the country’s GDP, of the rate of GDP growth, of the size of ‘gross value added’, to which GDP is bound in ways as complicated as they are misleading. There are wages, interests, salaries, profits, factor costs, net indirect taxes, product taxes, product subsidies, market prices, industry-wise estimates and producer prices to juggle.

For the most part, these are prices and costs alone, upon which various kinds of taxes are levied and whose materials and processes may qualify for subsidies. All these are added and deducted, or deducted and added, and finally totalled show a GVA which then leads to a GDP. The prices are arbitrary and speculative, as all prices are, the arbitrariness and speculative nature being attributed to something called market demand, itself a creation of policy and advertising – policy to choke choices and advertising to spur greed. On this putrid basis does the School of GDP stand.

The GDP and GDP-growth frenzy in India spares not a minute for a questioning of its fundamental ideas, which in certain quarters had begun to shown as hollow and destructive in the early 1970s, when the effects of the material and consumption boom in Europe, North American (USA and Canada) and some of the OECD countries after the end of the Second World War became visible as environmental degradation.

Over 30 years later, sections of those societies inhabit and practice what are called ‘steady state’ economics, ‘transition’ economics (that is, transition to low energy, low consumption, recycling and sharing based ways of collective living) and ‘de-growth’, which is a scaling down of economic production and consumption done equitably and to ensure that a society (or groups of settlement and their industries) strictly observe the bio-physical limits of their environment (pollution and pollutants, land, water, biodiversity, etc).

But the Central Statistics Office of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, is ignorant of such critical thinking. It is just as ignorant of the many efforts at swadeshi living, production, cultivation (agro-ecological) and education (informal learning environments instead of reformatted syllabi lifted wholsesale from countries whose exploitative economies installed globalisation as the default economics mode) that are visible all over India today. The CSO and MoSPI are not entirely to blame for this abysmal blindness, because the Ministry of Finance (like every other major line ministry of the Government of India, and like every state government) has decided to be even more blind.

To read the insensate paragraphs disgorged every quarter from the CSO (and Ministry of Finance, likewise the Niti Aayog, the chambers of commerce and industry, the many economy and trade think-tanks) is to find evidence to pile upon earlier evidence that here is an administration of a very large, extremely populous country which cares not the slightest about the indubitably strong correlations between ‘GDP growth’ and more forms of environmental damage than have been reckoned.

The GDP-GVA-growth fantasy cares not the slightest about energy over-use and CO2 emissions, about the effects of widespread atmospheric and chemical pollution on the health of the 185 million rural households and 88 million urban households (my estimates for 2018) of India, and about the terrible stresses that the urban households in more than 4,000 towns, district headquarters and metros are subject to as a result of their lives – through mobile phone apps, banks, the food industry, the automobile industry and the building industry – being micro-regulated so that an additional thousandth of a per cent of GDP growth can be squeezed out of them.

The GDP asura has brought ruin to India’s environment, cities, farms, households, forests, rivers, coasts and hills. Let 2018 be the year we burn the monster once and for all.


Of money good or black, digital or paper

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500 and 1000 Indian rupee banknotes are kept in front of an image of the Hindu deities at a cash counter inside a bank in Jammu, November 10, 2016 REUTERS/ Mukesh Gupta

500 and 1000 Indian rupee banknotes are kept in front of an image of the Hindu deities at a cash counter inside a bank in Jammu, November 10, 2016 REUTERS/ Mukesh Gupta

The decision by the BJP government on 8 November to demonetise the 500 and 1,000 rupee currency notes has been presented as “strength in the fight against corruption, black money, money laundering, terrorism and financing of terrorists as well as counterfeit notes”.

The release added: “Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi made these important announcements during a televised address to the nation on the evening of Tuesday 8th November 2016. He said that these decisions will fully protect the interests of honest and hard-working citizens of India and that those five hundred and one thousand rupee notes hoarded by anti-national and anti-social elements will become worthless pieces of paper.”

Rs 14 lakh crore – 86% of the value of Indian currency currently in circulation – became useless from midnight of November 8, 2016. The Rs 500 notes amount to Rs 7.85 lakh crore and Rs 1,000 notes amount to Rs 6.33 lakh crore, according to Reserve Bank of India data. The immediate result was panic, in hundreds of towns and cities, as citizens ran for ATMs. Confusion prevailed as on the next day, 9 November, all banks were to shut to the public and ATMs too.

There was chaos outside hospitals, railway stations and petrol pumps which were allowed to accept Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes till Friday (but interpreted the directions as they pleased). Smaller denomination notes such as Rs 100 and Rs 50 were in short supply due to the heavy demand. Small traders, rickshaw pullers, taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers, daily wage labour, and unorganised sector workers said they have been hit hard.

This public inconvenience was necessary, said the government, to have the time to restock bank branches and ATMs with new currency notes and to prepare the bank branches for the exchange services they would have to begin on 10 November.

The government explained that:

1. A law was passed in 2015 on disclosure of foreign bank accounts. In August 2016 strict rules were put in place to curtail benami transactions. During the same period a scheme to declare black money was introduced. These efforts have over the past two and a half years, brought more than Rs. 1.25 lakh crore of black money into the open.

2. These efforts have led to India emerging as “a bright spot in the global economy”, a preferred destination for investment and an easier place to do business in. “Leading financial agencies have shared their optimism about India’s growth as well.”

3. Indian enterprise and innovation has received a fillip due to the ‘Make in India’, ‘Start up India’ and ‘Stand up India’ programmes for enterprise, innovation and research in India.

There is no doubt that India’s economy has been plagued by the creation of wealth in some quarters that is obscenely disproportionate to the stated sources of individual and family income (see the press release from the Department of Economic Affairs, pdf). This has for long signalled corruption, and the means by which the corrupt (both giver and taker) become so is cash (but not only). The demonetisation has affected the political class and bureaucracy which accounted for the bulk of the corrupt money. The other difficulty the government and enforcement agencies have grappled with especially over the last decade is counterfeit currency notes, which have been used to maintain anti-national, secessionist and terrorist networks.

With about 86% (by rupee value) of currency in circulation being in the notes that have been demonetised. There are 16.5 billion Rs 500 notes and 6.7 billion Rs 1,000 notes in circulation now, and replacing them with lower denomination notes, and also the new series of Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes, will take several weeks.

Old high denomination bank notes are seen kept in buckets at a counter as people stand in a queue to deposit their money inside a bank in the northern city of Kanpur, India, November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Old high denomination bank notes are seen kept in buckets at a counter as people stand in a queue to deposit their money inside a bank in the northern city of Kanpur, India, November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

I have several concerns about the demonetisation of the 500 and 1,000 currency notes, and the accompanying directions that the banking and financial services sector in India is now pushing the public.

Question 1 – Estimates are that currency in public circulation in 2006 was around Rs 4 lakh crore. In 2016 it was about Rs 16 lakh crore. If this estimate is of what RBI printed, why did it for ten years print physical currency at a rate higher than top annual GDP growth estimates?

This article explains the extraordinary rise of cash economy through high denomination notes, powered by generation of black money in real estate, stocking of gold, bribery and corruption. But it does not help answer my question above. “While the high denomination notes made illegal businesses, including hawala transactions to transfer money out of India easy to execute, it has facilitated huge tax evasion even in the otherwise lawful businesses. High denomination notes have made it easy for the bribe taker to handle huge bribes with ease.”

Question 2 – As the 500 and 1000 notes are ‘high value’ and so used for hoarding ‘black’ cash, why is the higher of the two (1000) being replaced by a note twice its value, that is, Rs 2000?

Since yesterday, there have been explanations offered about the effect of demonetisation on consumption and on slowing down an economy whose GDP growth is rated as the best amongst the large economies. “Consumer spending will likely fall in the immediate weeks as households adjust to the new system. India’s economy grew 7.1 percent during April to June, the slowest in 15 months, but the government and experts have been pointing out that a pick-up was likely in the next few months riding on good rains, a pay bonanza for government employees and festive-season buying.”

According to the national income data for the first quarter (April-June) of 2016-17, private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) – which measures household spending – at current prices is estimated at Rs 21.19 lakh crore, or about 55% of the gross domestic product (GDP). These are the numbers that a new class of ‘growth’ advocates in India are betting on. There is a connection to inflation – in the price of services, cost of manufactured articles and the prices of food – which however has not been answered as yet. Raising the denomination of the highest value currency note from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 is in my view such a signal.

A person stands with his documents in a queue outside a branch of the State Bank of india as people wait to exchange old high denomination bank notes in Old Delhi, India, November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

A person stands with his documents in a queue outside a branch of the State Bank of india as people wait to exchange old high denomination bank notes in Old Delhi, India, November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

A number of petitions challenging the notification by the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Government of India (which is the order for demonetisation) have been lodged at various High Courts and with the Supreme Court. Some protest the order as “illegal and arbitrary” and others for the order not granting reasonable time for ordinary citizens (presumably with legitimate cash in hand) to comply without jeopardising livelihood (by having to spend time in bank branches, for which leave is to be taken or a day’s income has to be foregone). While the Supreme Court may hear a petition next week, the response of the Madras High Court – that it cannot interfere in the policies of the government related to monetary system – should help prise open to greater public scrutiny one of the most opaque areas of policy making: the public monetary and fiscal system.

Question 3 – Is the net monetary gain by Government of India – more physical money from the ‘black economy’ brought onto the national accounts books – a way to ensure that India will next financial year also record the ‘fastest GDP growth’ (without the manufacturing, service and agriculture sectors doing so)?

For this question I can see only a few partial answers. These have to do with the enlargement of the digital rupee and digital payments, and this is the most serious concern. A government-appointed panel was set up in August to suggest ways such as tax rebates and ‘cash back’ to incentivise card and digital transactions. The government is also examining the feasibility to create a history for all card and digital payments, how to use the Aadhar database for authenticating card/digital transactions, providing low-cost micro-credit based on credit history.

Another partial answer comes from the Ministry of Finance, which said that “weak global demand” is among the “strongest challenges” in the near term for Indian economy. “Weak global demand is one among the strongest challenges in the near term. Exports and imports together constitute 42 per cent of the GDP (gross domestic product), even at the reduced levels in 2015-16.” The ministry said that reviving the savings and investment cycle in economy is challenging. The savings rate that stood at 34.6% in 2011-12, declined to 33% in 2014-15. Investment rate declined from 39% of GDP in 2011-12 to 34.2% in 2014-15. So these are the conventional macro-economic arguments, but the demonetisation will as I see it push any revival in savings and investment in quite a different direction from what the rural and agricultural base of the population require.

That direction is the ‘cashless’ one, with cash being blamed for fuelling the black economy. This is a danger-filled direction, one which we have already had a troubled history to look back at recently – the micro-credit bubble of the 2000-10 decade – to serve as a guide of what not to do. The banking and financial services industry has been expanding over the last two years, in tandem with the mobile telecom industry, with mobile payments and ‘wallets’.

“You cannot have 12% of India’s GDP in shape of currency,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said. “Ideally developed countries have only about 4% and therefore you have to squeeze the amount of currency available and you need to get people into the habit of using digital, cheques, plastic currency and so on.” This – apart from the short-term gain by herding cash hoards into banks to be taxed – is what the direction is: the rupee as a bit, the rupee’s already tenuous basis in a physical standard now becoming more virtual, and this in a monetary and fiscal environment about which the public has scant understanding and in which the public has no participation.

Such a direction only widens the already troublesome gap between an acceptable physical basis for a value that the rupee represents (we have no gold standard, or any other acceptable equivalent) and the assigning of a notional value to a digital rupee whose issue, transfer and control will be entirely electronic. When viewed against the increasing “liberalisation” (or increasing “reforms”) of the banking, insurance, non-banking finance, financial services, small credit industries that has taken place in the last two years, and especially the opening up of these new services to foreign direct investment (FDI), the picture of the cashless economy so strenuously advocated by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

Consider this gleeful reaction from what is called the fintech sector (we had IT, BT and there’s FT): “We might grow 10x when it comes to digital payments. Today, three to five percent of the transactions happen digitally, but we will see a 10x growth to almost 15–20% when it comes to digital transactions in the country. This is huge and this rise in digital transactions will lead to a digital exhaust where better credit risk scoring will happen, catapulting into exponential growth.”

This is the very troubling new landscape that the demonetisation decision – taken with the good reason of weeding out a black economy – has brought the rupee into.

Written by makanaka

November 10, 2016 at 09:26

Food, climate, culture, crops and government

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The weekly standardised precipitation index of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) which is a running four-week average. This series shows the advancing dryness of districts in south India.

The weekly standardised precipitation index of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) which is a running four-week average. This series shows the advancing dryness of districts in south India.

In November 2015, the Departmentally Related Standing Committee on Agriculture of the Lok Sabha, Parliament of India, invited suggestions and submissions on the subject “Comprehensive Agriculture Research based on Geographical Condition and Impact of Climatic Changes to ensure Food Security in the Country”.

The Committee called for inputs on issues such as the need to evolve new varieties of crops which can withstand climatic fluctuation; requirement to evolve improved methods of irrigation; the need to popularise consumption of crops/fruits which can provide better nutrition; the need to develop indigenous varieties of cattle that can withstand extreme climatic stress; the need to develop a system for precision horticulture and protected cultivation; diversification of species of fish to enhance production from the fisheries sector; the need to strengthen the agriculture extension system; and means to focus on agriculture education.

I prepared a submission as my outline response, titled “Aspects of cultivation, provision of food, and use of land in Bharat today and a generation hence”. The outline I provided includes several issues of current urgency and connects them to scenarios that are very likely to emerge within a generation. My intention is to signal the kinds of pathways to preparation that government (central and state) may consider. It is also meant to flag important cultural and social considerations that lie before us, and to emphasise that economic and quantitative measurements alone are not equipped to provide us holistic guidance.

The outline comprises three sections.
(A) The economic framework of the agriculture and food sector and its imperatives.
(B) The social, ecological, and resource nature of crop cultivation, considering factors that influence it.
(C) Methods, pathways and alternatives possible to adopt with a view to being inter-generationally responsible.

In view of the current climatic conditions – heat waves in the central and eastern regions of the country, stored water in our major reservoirs which are at or near ten-year lows – I reproduce here the section on the economic framework of the agriculture and food sector and its imperatives. The full submission can be found here [pdf, 125kb].

This framework considers the agriculture and food sector, including primary agricultural production recorded, the inputs and products of industry based on agricultural raw material (primary crop whether foodgrain, horticulture, spices, plantation, ruminants and marine, oilseeds, fibres), agribusiness (processing in all its forms), supply chains connecting farmers and farmer producer organisations to primary crop aggregators, buyers, merchants, stockists, traders, consumers, as well as associated service providers. This approach is based on the connection between agricultural production and demand from buyers, processers and consumers along what is called the supply chain.


Water storage quantities in the 91 major reservoirs in the first week of April 2016. Blue bars are each reservoir's full storage capacity (in billion cubic metres, bcm) and orange bars are the current storage at the time. Data from the Central Water Commission, Government of India.

Water storage quantities in the 91 major reservoirs in the first week of April 2016. Blue bars are each reservoir’s full storage capacity (in billion cubic metres, bcm) and orange bars are the current storage at the time. Data from the Central Water Commission, Government of India.

If this framework is considered as existing in Bharat to a significant degree which influences crop cultivation choices, the income of cultivating household, the employment generation potential of associated service providers, then several sets of questions require answers:

* Concerning economic well-being and poverty reduction: what role does agricultural development need to play in promoting economic stability in rural (and peri-urban) regions thereby contributing to poverty reduction and how can the agrifood sector best contribute to jobs and higher incomes for the rural poor?

* Concerning food security: what role can agricultural and agro-industry development play in ensuring rural and urban communities have reliable access to sufficient, culturally appropriate and safe food?

* Concerning the sustainability of food producing systems: how should agriculture and agro-industry be regulated in a participatory manner so as to ensure that methods of production do not overshoot or endanger in any way (ecological or social) conservative carrying capacity thresholds especially in the contexts of climate change and resource scarcity?

When viewed according to the administrative and policy view that has prevailed in Bharat over the last two generations, there is a correlation between agricultural productivity growth and poverty reduction and this is the relationship the macro- economic and policy calculations have been based upon. Our central annual agricultural (and allied services) annual and five-year plan budget and state annual and five-year plan budgets have employed such calculations since the 1950s, when central planning began.

However the choices that remain open to us are considerably fewer now than was the case two generations (and more) ago when the conventional economic framework of the agriculture and food sector took shape.

The slowing motion of India’s quick mobility

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This is a chart whose lines drift downwards as time goes by, quite the opposite of all the usual depictions of India’s rising GDP, rising income, rising purchasing power, and so on. But in the two dropping lines is the proof that India’s households are tying themselves up in stifling vehicular knots.

This chart shows what we call two-wheelers (scooters and motor-cycles) and cars (four-wheeled passenger vehicles, formally). It also shows number of households and a span of 20 years. The two lines show the number of households to a car (the orange line) and the number of households to a two-wheeler (the blue line). As there are many more two-wheelers than there are cars, they are on different scales, so the left axis is for the two-wheelers and the right for cars.

vehicles_2012I have taken the data from two sources. One is the Census of India, for the census years 2011, 2001 and 1991. The other is the Road Transport Yearbook (2011-12) issued by the Transport Research Wing, Ministry Of Road Transport and Highways, Government Of India. The yearbook includes a table with the total number of registered vehicles (in different categories of vehicle – two-wheelers, cars, buses, goods vehicles, others) for every year. The number of households is from the census years, with simple decadal growth applied annually between census years. I have not yet found the detailed data that will let me refine this finding between urban and rural populations.

This is what the chart says: in 1992, there were 10 households to a two-wheeler and 48.7 households to a car. Ten years later in 2002 there were 4.8 households to a two-wheeler and 26.2 households to a car. Another ten years later in 2012 there were 2.2 households to a two-wheeler and 11.8 households to a car.

vehicles_2005The implications are several and almost all of them are an alarm signal. Especially for urban areas – where most of the buying of vehicles for households has taken place – the physical space available for the movement of people and goods has increased only marginally, but the number of motorised contrivances (cars, motor-cycles, scooters and more recently stupidly large SUVs and stupidly large and expensive luxury cars) has increased quickly. Naturally this ‘growth’ of wheeled metal has choked our city wards.

But there are other implications. One is the very idea of individual mobility in and through a town or city. The connection – foolishly maintained by one government after another, and foolishly defended by macro-economists and industrial planners – between the automobile industry and gross domestic product (GDP) has crippled common sense.

vehicles_1995More motorised conveyance per household also means more fuel demanded per household, and more fuel (and money) wasted because households are taught (by the auto industry with the encouragement of the foolish cohorts I mentioned earlier) that they are entitled to wasteful personal mobility. Over 20 years, the number of cars per household has increased 4.1 times but the number of buses per household has increased only 2.8 times. That is embarrassing proof of our un-ecological and climate unfriendly new habits.

In 2012, there were 1.67 million buses (of all kinds and configurations), there were 7.65 million goods vehicles (to move all those appliances demanded by households, food crops, fertiliser, retail food, etc), 13.16 million other vehicles (which as the ministry says “include tractors trailers, three-wheelers (passenger vehicles)/LMV and other miscellaneous vehicles which are not classified separately”), 21.56 million cars (including jeeps and taxis), and 115.41 million two-wheelers. There are far too many of some kinds and not enough of others. More than 20 years after ‘liberalisation’ began, India’s household mobility is crawling along in first gear for having made too many wrong choices.

Bharat and its billionaires

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RG_new_India_inequality_panelSeveral times a year, one money-minded organisation or another publishes a ‘rich list’. On this list are the names of the extraordinarily wealthy, the billionaires. Such a list is compiled by Forbes magazine. In this year’s list of billionaires, there are 90 Indians.

Perhaps it is the largest contingent of Indians on this list ever, perhaps their wealth is greater, singly and together, than ever before, perhaps the space below them (the almost-billionaires) is more crowded than ever. What must be of concern to us is the inequality that such a list represents. In the first two, perhaps three, Five Year Plans, cautions were expressed that the income (or wealth) multiple between the farmer and the labourer on the one hand and the entrepreneur or skilled manager on the other should not exceed 1 to 10.

In practice it was quite different, but the differences of the early 1990s – which is when economic liberalisation took hold in India – are microscopic compared to those of today. What’s more, the astronomically large differences in income/wealth of 2015 are actually celebrated as being evidence of India’s economic superpowerdom.

The current per capita national income is 88,533 rupees and it will take, as my disturbing panel of comparisons shows, the combined incomes of 677,713 such earners to equal the wealth of the 90th on the Forbes list of Indian billionaires. Likewise, there are six on the list of 90 with median incomes, and a median income is Rs 11.616 crore, which is equal to the entire Central Government budget outlay for agriculture (and allied activities) for 2015-16.

Written by makanaka

March 5, 2015 at 22:03

In the land of air-conditioned cup noodle eaters

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Ever more varieties of snacks from fewer crop staples. The conversion of primary crops into processed food, and the retail chain that drops it into the consumer's basket, all this requires energy. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

Ever more varieties of snacks from fewer crop staples. The conversion of primary crops into processed food, and the retail chain that drops it into the consumer’s basket, all this requires energy. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

We are being misinformed and poorly entertained. There is a great big complex apparatus that tells us, as it has done for most of the last 20 years, that climate change is about science and observation, about technology and finance. This is the international apparatus. Then there is the national bedlam, comprising government, NGOs, think-tanks, research institutes and academia, industry and business, capital markets and finance. The national bedlam on climate change contains many views, some of which are directly related to the international apparatus. Our government, usually in the form of utterances by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, attempts to connect economics to everything else it thinks is important, and present the resulting mess as our climate change policy, which only provokes more bedlam.

Such is the state of affairs in India concerning climate change. Industry and finance, whatever their motivations (profit, market, subsidies, friendly politicians, and so on), are fairly consistent in what they say they want. NGOs and think-tanks – most of which function as localised versions of the international apparatus – are responsible for an outsized share of the bedlam, for they must not only protect the interests of their principals (usually in the West) but at the same time be seen to be informed, authoritative and influential at home. Ordinarily, this renders them schizophrenic, but the hullabaloo surrounding climate change in India is so loud, no-one notices the schizophrenia of the NGOs and think-tanks. Media – that is to say, vapid but noisy television and dull but verbose print commentators – sides with one group or another depending on who’s paying for the junkets.

Property, assembly-line homes and the trope of quick ownership to attract young earners. One more energy sink. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

Property, assembly-line homes and the trope of quick ownership to attract young earners. One more energy sink. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

The punctuations in this long-running and episodic climate change opera that we witness in India are the annual international gatherings, and the erratic policy pronouncements by the central government. For most people, struggling with food price inflation, with urban living environments choked by particulate matter, hounded by creditors and surrounded by useless gadgetry, climate change is a non-subject. And so the middle class stays out of the bedlam, for it is too busy negotiating the storied ‘growth’ of India or breathlessly seeking to profit from it in as many ways as there are flavours of potato chips. Who is left from the 1.275 billion Bharat-vaasis who can cast an appraising eye on the bit players and techno-buskers, and who can judge for themselves the consequences of their actions? We don’t know. And it is such not knowing that balances, with a taut silence, the bedlam of the posturing think-tanks, the technology fetishists, the grasping NGOs, the carbon merchants and their political cronies.

It has helped us not at all to be served, every other week or so, the bland intellectual regurgitations of India’s talking climate heads. It has helped us not at all to be preached at (faithfully reported, accompanied by appropriate editorial cant) by the United Nations whose agency, the UNFCCC, has fostered 20 years of expensive gatherings designed to deceive thinking folk. It has helped us not at all to have to correct, time and again, a government that does nothing about capitalism’s operatives who consistently attack and dismantle efforts to protect our people from environmentally destructive activities. It has helped us not at all to have dealt out to us, from one ruling coalition to the next, from a fattened ’empowered group of ministers’ to a PM’s Council that prefers fiat, missions and programmes that speak ‘renewable’ but which refuse stubbornly to talk consumption.

The balance between settlement and land. Absent entirely in our cities and towns, threatened in our villages. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

The balance between settlement and land. Absent entirely in our cities and towns, threatened in our villages. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

Climate change and Bharat is about none of this and it is about all of this in relation to our behaviour. Ours is the land of air-conditioned youth devouring cup noodles while gesturing with greasy fingers across smartphone screens. It is not the land where their grand-parents tilled fields, tended orchards, walked on pilgrimages and lit lanterns in simple dwellings. But this is now, and here, in urban Coimbatore and Cuttack as much as in rural Darbhanga and Dharwad, the reckoning of the effect of our 1.275 on climate has to do with the buying of cars (bigger and two per family) and the widening of roads.

It has to do with the building of housing ‘complexes’ (modern amenities and 24×7 power, but naturally), the contrived convenience factor of retail food markets whose demands deepen the monoculturing of our land mosaics, once so very diverse with coarse cereals, the myth-making of jobs and employment by cramming vast buildings with directionless migrant youth, and attaching to them (costs calculated by the second) the electronic machinery that makes online retail possible, the imagery of the flick of the switch or click of a button delivering goods and services as though from the horn of plenty, the vacuous promises of imminent superpowerdom and a techno-utopia set to the beat of Bollywood lyrics. We have indeed been misinformed.

A 68th Independence Day in our Bharat

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On 15 August 2014 it is the 24,473rd day that Bharat and India has been an independent country. During that time we have had 15 Lok Sabha and the 16th now sits in Parliament, having been placed there by 814,500,000 electors who cast their votes in 543 Parliamentary constituencies in a general election that has long been the largest and most complex in the world. We’re good at elections. We’re also good at reading newspapers – we have 10,908 daily newspapers – and 26,552 monthly magazines (far too many about films, far too few about farmers). Many of these get delivered thanks to the efforts of the dedicated staff of 154,822 post offices who deliver some 6,371,800,000 pieces of mail (including money orders and greeting cards). Schoolchildren like seeing postmen on their rounds and we have some 243,360,000 who learn from our heroic teachers in 1,314,633 schools.

Many of those schools (some under mango trees) are in our villages, of which there are 640,930 and these are run (quite well, on the whole) by 232,855 panchayats which noisily elect 2,645,880 panchayat members (a good number of them women, who care about how many children go to school). Our panchayats have lots on their weekly agenda, and between them manage 100,293,000 hectares of land that are planted with cereals that help feed Bharat (rotis and kheer, idlis and bicuits). All our villages keep a great number of animals – for ‘kisan’ households they are extended family – and our fields and festivals are attended by 199,075,000 cattle (whose horns are gaily painted) and 105,343,000 buffaloes (who enjoy a good scrubbing). When they’re at work, our cows and buffaloes are tramping around 138,348,461 farm holdings spread over 159,591,854 hectares – of which 117,605,129 are small and marginal holdings on 71,152,325 hectares, but cows and buffaloes aren’t choosy about farm size.

Our rice and wheat (and pulses) is moved carefully around Bharat by rail and by road. When it is moved by rail, this valuable foodgrain enters a system that is 65,436 kilometres long, rail tracks over which 9,956 locomotives (electric, diesel and still a few steam) smoothly pull 48,037 passenger bogies and 244,731 goods wagons past 7,172 stations (and their ‘chai’ stall), for which our farmers (and postmen) thank 1,307,000 railway employees (who are also some of our best sports persons). From Kaniyakumari to Leh, and from Bhuj to Kohima, our 1,325,000 jawans and 1,155,000 reservists rely on our trains (most are humbler than the well-appointed Shatabdis) to take them home to family. Usually outnumbering the jawans in railway bogies are managers and salesmen, accountants and technicians who work in our 738,331 companies and 211,660 factories.

They keep the wheels of industry and commerce turning  (they are usually small and nimble, 23,447,361 in cities and towns and 35,022,735 in rural districts). Their enterprise gives the jawan his sturdy trunk and the schoolgirl her satchel, stationery for the teacher and toolkits for the panchayat plumber. Somewhere between Ratlam junction and Nagpur, the engineer may proudly mention the 12,694,853 people (most of them workers) employed in our factories, at which the accountant will murmur that Rs 501,560 crore is the paid-up capital of Bharat’s many companies. Jawan or kisan, factory worker or manager, all must deposit their wages and salaries in a bank, and we have 109,811 bank branches (39,439 are rural and 41,681 are in cities and towns) in which savings are happily collected (Rs 56,380 per head) and against which credit is dispensed (as happily, we hope, at Rs 44,028 per head). Our bank branches are also the staging posts for the 11,756 billion currency notes in circulation (no more staples and the new series will come printed with braille) but with 933 million quick-fingered mobile phone subscribers (549 million in cities and towns) we may see fewer real notes and more ‘mobile’ payments.

Village and factory, trains and cattle, and 1,250,000,000 of us. This is our Bharat on our 68th day of Independence.

Written by makanaka

August 14, 2014 at 21:09

Time to halt the anti-labour pro-FDI momentum

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The new NDA government has within six weeks of its formation made its direction clear. It will seek the steady weakening of laws that have protected labour and will encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) into as many sectors of the economy as possible.

RG_socialist_fist_201406Such unilateral dismantling of workers’ rights and of self-reliance cannot be tolerated. Prime minister Narendra Modi, finance minister (and defence) Arun Jaitley, commerce minister Nirmala Seetharaman, home minister Rajnath Singh, rural development (and transport) minister Nitin Gadkari, urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu, agriculture minister Radhamohan Singh, labour minister Narendra Singh Tomar and their cabinet and ministerial colleagues are not in office as representatives of Indian companies and industry associations, nor are they in office as representatives of multi-national corporations and the finance industry.

But judging from their statements in so short a time, they need a strong reminder that it is the people – worker and kisan, householder and elderly – whom they serve. Where will that strong reminder come from?

The first such reminder has already been issued, forcefully, during a meeting between the central trade unions and labour minister Tomar on 2014 June 24. The minister of state for labour Vishnudeo Sai, the labour secretary, chief labour commissioner, Central Provident Fund Commissioner, finance commissioner, ESIC and other labour department officials also heard the demands and points of view of the central trade unions.

What has been asked for is what the central unions call “a directional change in approach and policy so that the legitimate interests of working people who produce wealth for the nation, resources for the exchequer and also profit for the employers are protected and taken care of and also the interests of the national economy and the national assets and resources are harnessed for the benefit of the majority of the populace”. This has become all the more urgent and necessary as the central govt (which is urging state governments to follow suit) is attempting to hurry major amendments to a number of principal labour statutes including the Factories Act, the Minimum Wages Act and the Child Labour Act.

RG_socialist_fist_201406_HThat it is necessary for such a change to be demanded (yet again, these have been central to successive sessions of the last few Indian Labour Conferences, the 42nd, 43rd, 44th and 45th) demonstrates how strong a hold Indian industry and their foreign collaborators have on the political class, regardless of the public persuasion of the members of that political class.

The trade unions had systematically arrayed before these government worthies the reasons for their opposition to the policy of opening up all sectors to FDI, to the reckless deregulation of strategic sectors and natural resources of the economy including the financial sector, to the aggressive disinvestment of public sector units and the privatisation of crucial public utility services. There were representatives from Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Indian National Trade Union Congress, All India Trade Union Congress, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Centre for Indian Trade Unions, All India United Trade Union Centre, Trade Union Coordination Committee, All India Central Council of Trade Unions, United Trade Union Congress, Labour Progressive Federation and Self-Employed Women’s Association (BMS, INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, AICCTU, UTUC, LPF, SEWA).

RG_socialist_fist_201406_VThe trade union representatives presented the incontrovertible evidence – a presentation of great import but largely ignored by the urban-centric broadcast and television media – of the anti-labour and anti-people policies that have been the hallmark of UPA1 and UPA2, and which given their current orientation, will continue to be a primary characteristic of the new NDA government. These are:
* patronisation of deliberate default in tax payment by companies
* the violation of all basic labour laws on (1) minimum wages (2) social security (3) trade union rights (4) safety in workplaces (5) contractual work
* reckless opening of strategic and sensitive sectors of the national economies including public utilities for exploitation by foreign companies and speculators
The same destructive set of policies has been followed by the previous Congress-led government in the name of promoting employment, generating investment from the private sector (both domestic and foreign), all of which has combined to condemn the working class, rural and urban labour, farmers and the informal sector alike to impoverishment as India is wracked by an ever-deepening economic crisis.

The hunger that Bharat inherited from two lean decades

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What did the ‘liberalisation’ of the Indian economy bring? What has 20 years of the ‘India growth story’, which is sold around the world, brought its labour and workers? How have households rural and urban fared at balancing their budgets and meeting their needs? Poorly, for it has been a struggle that continues.

RG_nutrition_3An analysis in the journal of the National Sample Survey Office, Sarvekshana, has compiled estimates of average calorie intake for the country and the major states from six quinquennial (every five years) surveys of consumer expenditure. These surveys show a decline in average calorie intake between 1972-73 and 2009-10. The overall decline is substantially greater for rural than for urban India, and appears to have been sharper in the period since 1993-94 (as measured by the 50th round of NSSO surveys), especially in the urban sector.

The analysis on ‘Trends in Nutritional Intake in India’ has shown that the proportion of households with calorie intake below the level of 2700 kcal per consumer unit per day (this is a measure different from per capita) has grown steadily since 1993-94: from under 52% in rural India to nearly 62%, and from 57% in urban India to about 63%.

This is no surprise to the large proportion of our population who have borne the merciless brunt of food inflation for close to a generation. Between 2004 and 2013, food prices in general rose by 157%. Cereals, the staple diet of the poorest, were high on the scale, with rice at 137% and wheat at 117%. Pulses – the sole source of protein for most – had risen by 123%. Potato was even higher at 185%. As for vegetables, they have long priced themselves out of the diet of the poor, by rising up to 350%. This crippling rise continued while the government (UPA-I and UPA-II) loudly claimed every few months it would bring prices down.

RG_nutrition_1That is why the share of cereals in total calorie intake has declined since 1993-94 by nearly 7 percentage points for rural India and by about 3.5 percentage points for urban India: the share of oils and fats has on the other hand risen by 3 percentage points for both. The share of milk and milk products has grown by about 1.4 percentage points in urban India but by only 0.6 percentage points in rural India.

Moreover, at the all-India level protein intake has fallen from 60.2 grams to 55 grams per person per day in rural India and from 57.2 grams to 53.5 grams in urban India over the period 1993-94 to 2009-10. The decline has taken place in most major states but has been sharpest in rural areas of Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab – where intake has fallen by 9-12 grams.

As the major trade unions have been raising an alarm about at least every quarter, the price of rice for BPL (below poverty line) card holders increased from Rs 350 per quintal in 1997-98 to Rs 415 per quintal in 2007-08. In the same period the APL (above poverty line) price was increased from Rs 550 per quintal to Rs 755. For wheat, the price for BPL card holders was increased from Rs 250 per quintal to Rs 415 and for APL card holders from Rs 450 to Rs 610 in a period of 10 years.

RG_nutrition_2In such a situation, fats ought not to be a contributor to calories more than it was 30 years ago. But the analysis tells us otherwise – for India has become the favoured importer of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. Every major state shows an increase in its population’s fat intake. At the all-India level the increase has been from 31.4 grams per person per day in 1993-94 for the rural population to 38.3 grams in 2009-10 – a rise of 7 grams per day over the 16-year period, and from 42 grams to 47.9 grams per day for the urban population, a rise of 6 grams per day over the same period. Between 1993-94 and 2009-10, the contribution of cereals to protein intake has fallen by about 4.5 percentage points in rural India and by 3 percentage points in urban India, while the contribution of pulses has fallen slightly in both rural and urban India.

This analysis from the NSSO must be viewed against the growing trend in India of the corporatisation of agriculture and the industrialisation of the food system. New market monopolies whose reach is far greater than could be conceived in 1993-94 are now at work, aided by speculative financial predators. There is in response a need for strengthening social ownership of the cultivation of food staples, of the organic agriculture movement, of shortening the distances that food travels, of localisation of the Bharatiya food web.

‘Thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality

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"Those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the 'exploited' but the outcast, the 'leftovers'." - Pope Francis. Image: L'Osservatore Romano

“Those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers’.” – Pope Francis. Image: L’Osservatore Romano

Pope Francis has issued, a month before Christmas, a blunt and plain message to the political and financial masters of our societies. That message is: the economics of exclusion and inequality must stop.

The message comes early in his ‘exhortation’ (called ‘Evangelii Gaudium’) and which has just been released by the Vatican. You will find it in Chapter 2 which is titled ‘Amid the crisis of communal commitment’. The main body of the exhortation has a lot of the usual evangelical language that such messages from the Vatican typically contain, but this chapter rings stark and true.

Francis has begun this section with: “It is not the task of the Pope to offer a detailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality, but I do exhort all the communities to an ‘ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times’. This is in fact a grave responsibility, since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanisation which would then be hard to reverse.”

Vatican_Francis_evangelii_gaudiumHe gives a nod to the proponents of technological remedies to many of our contemporary problems: “We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications.” And then gets to the root of the issue with “at the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident”.

“It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.” This is a complaint as plain as any we have seen from those suffering from the effects of climate change, from the forced economics of austerity, from the land grabs and the perversions of democracy. It is possible that in the last sentence, Francis has also warned against the global spying (by the USA and its feckless allies) which included the Vatican too.

In the sub-section titled ‘No to an economy of exclusion’ Francis has made plain his opposition [get the English pdf here] to the current systems of power and control:
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

Vatican_Francis_main“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers’.”

And in one angry paragraph, Francis effectively sends packing the army of macro-economists and financial manipulators who continue to claim that constant growth (GDP, economy, consuming, and so on) brings people out of poverty thanks to the ‘free market’.

“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”
“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalisation of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

This is indeed revolutionary material from the Vatican. Now let’s see what effect it has on the suits in the G20, the banking parasites, the stock marketeers, the land grabbers, the ecological criminals in all our countries.