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Posts Tagged ‘Five Year Plan

The big climate shift busy India missed

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Climatic classification at district level (1971–2005). Map: Current Science

Climatic classification at district level (1971–2005). Map: Current Science

Quietly, a group of researchers from an institute that guides new thinking in rainfed farming, has published a finding that ought to make India sit up and take notice. They set out to ask whether a twenty-year-old classification of districts according to the climatic patterns observed in them still held true. It doesn’t, and this group from the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) has a remedy. But the startling finding is that there is a recorded climatic shift in about 27% of the geographical area of India.

Not that Current Science, the widely-read and well-respected fortnightly journal published by the Current Science Association (with the Indian Academy of Sciences) put it that dramatically. An eighty-one-year-old journal prefers drama in theatre and not as a by-product of scientific inquiry. Nonetheless, the finding is there and it is published, in Volume 105, Number 4, the issued dated 2013 August 25.

The problem has to do with how district-level planning can best be done – I am moulding this problem a bit to fit my own well-advertised bias against the state as the unit of planning and in favour of the district as the unit. The authors of the innocuously-named paper, ‘Revisiting climatic classification in India: a district-level analysis’, have pointed out that the Planning Commission of India had emphasised the need for district-level plans and the district as the focal unit for development schemes in the Twelfth Five Year Plan.

Only partly correct, for the Commission has been advocating a district-level contribution to planning in possibly every Five Year Plan from the 1980s onwards, although in the Eleventh and Twelfth that earlier conviction has been replaced by a condescension for planning whose origin is not New Delhi, but that really is another complaint altogether.

Earlier studies had indeed brought climatic classifications to the district level, but in those cases climatic data sets used were old (not later than 1970). And that is partly why the climatic classification used by the Ministry of Rural Development when it assesses (or says it does) the eligibility of districts to qualify for the Drought Prone Area Programme and the Desert Development Programme dates back to 1994 (the DPAP and DDP that veteran block development officers are familiar with).

Estimated district-level annual rainfall in millimetres (based on grid data for 1971–2005). Map: Current Science

Estimated district-level annual rainfall in millimetres (based on grid data for 1971–2005). Map: Current Science

No wonder then that this group of researchers, steeped in studying dryish and rainfed districts, chafed at the vintage of the classification. The most important difference observed between the old studies and the CRIDA group’s study was the shift of climate from moist sub-humid/humid to dry sub-humid in Odisha (12 districts), Chhattisgarh (7 districts), Jharkhand (4 districts) and Madhya Pradesh (5 districts) “to a great extent”, as they have said.

There is also a substantial increase of arid region in Gujarat and a decrease of the same type of region in Haryana. Other salient observations include the increase in the semi-arid regions of Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh due to a shift of climate from dry sub-humid to semi-arid. Likewise, the moist sub-humid pockets in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have turned dry sub-humid to a larger extent.

Among various shifts observed by the group, the shift from moist sub-humid to dry sub-humid was the largest (7.23% of the country’s geographical area). About half of the moist sub-humid districts in eastern India (other than West Bengal) became dry sub-humid. A number of humid districts of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh turned moist sub-humid. In Mizoram and Tripura, the shift was towards per-humid from the earlier humid climate.

India-district_moisture_index

The classification methodology.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of this finding. In a post titled ‘Rain, districts and agriculture in India, a first calculus’ there is a map. This shows rainfed areas in India occupying some 200 million hectares (that is, over two-fifths of India’s total geographical area) and agriculture that depends on the south-west monsoon (and winter rains) is to be found in about 56% of the total cropped area. The National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) of India has estimated that 77% of pulses, 66% of oilseeds and 45% of cereals are grown under rainfed conditions. And the pioneering work I referred to in that posting also included CRIDA.

There is no doubt that this updated district climatic classification will be vital for all those working at the district level, whether for agricultural planning, for assessment of water demand, preparing measures during times of drought, or determining whether the DPAP and DDP of yesteryear and the RKVY and NFSM of today need recalibrating.

Once again led by first class work at CRIDA, the district as the default administrative unit for development, assessment, planning and enumerating becomes the norm we still fail to adopt. To the 11 of the CRIDA group who really must take a bow for this work, I can only say: well done, for the revolution is at hand.

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Rain, districts and agriculture in India, a first calculus

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Major rainfed districts of India and their main crops (Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are mainly horticulture-based). Map: NRAA

Major rainfed districts of India and their main crops (Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are mainly horticulture-based). Map: NRAA

Big dams and canals, ‘command areas’ and the high-yield crops they fostered have occupied the well-fortified middle ground of agriculture in India throughout the history of the five year plans. In the shadow of this view lies rainfed farming – no dams, canals, brobdingnagian irrigation schemes, suspicious water authorities and over-zealous agri-commodity boards to be seen here.

Look at the map. Rainfed areas occupy some 200 million hectares (that is, over two-fifths of India’s total geographical area) and agriculture that depends on the south-west monsoon (and winter rains) is to be found in about 56% of the total cropped area. The National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) of India has estimated that 77% of pulses, 66% of oilseeds and 45% of cereals are grown under rainfed conditions.

In which ways can these districts be better understood? The Ministry of Agriculture is (and has been) remarkably unconcerned about relating agriculture to socio-cultural factors in India’s districts, whether they are rainfed or happily commanded by a big dam. The national agricultural research system, staffed from top to bottom by careerists more interested in a foreign research fellowship (however pointless, but preferably at an American agricultural university), has ignored every consideration other than crop science. The factors that affect the inhabitants – and therefore the cultivators – of a rainfed district have scarcely been examined.

Now, a beginning has been made by the NRAA and two partners, and it is a good one, even if I say so myself. The state (and union territories, let’s not forget those usually post-colonial pockets, their renown coming from some anachronistic curiousity) has been and remains the default administrative unit for measuring progress or deprivation, when such measurement is done by the central government. That Andhra Pradesh with 23 districts and a population of 84 million should be considered a state in the same manner as Manipur, with nine districts and a population 2.7 million is a typological mismatch that has rarely bothered our planners, else they would have long ago abandoned the ‘state’ as the object to be measured.

What the districts look like in the RAPI list

What the districts look like in the RAPI list

It needn’t have been so rickety, this basis for understanding lesser administrative units. For a spell of some six or seven years, until about 2004-05, the Planning Commission had calculated district domestic products. It was an extremely limited data set and the methods used are not clear, but despite its faults, the series provided a glimpse of economic activity at the level of the district, and was therefore more readily understandable by those working in talukas or tehsils – the administrative remove was no more than a level. In around 2007-08, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) released a district-denominated index to aid planning for rural credit. There was a pilot data set provided for Maharashtra, and I always wondered why Nabard, with all its experience and reach and numerous partners, had not followed that experiment with a country-wide district index.

What we have now has enough potential to serve as India’s first district-denominated agriculture and rural development index. Even if the Ministries of Agriculture and of Rural Development ignore it (for the usual absurd reasons that have to do with the gaseous egos of ministers and their puffed-up underlings, IAS cadres not excepted) the index set is sound enough to begin being adopted by institutions and research groups (as also NGOs and CBOs) and thereby expanded and developed in wiki-like manner.

The impetus comes from the National Rainfed Area Authority which has worked with the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA, in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh) and the Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI, in New Delhi). I am pleasantly surprised by the uncharacteristic cooperation between these institutions, not because India’s NARS doesn’t have within it people with skill and who care, but because the indefatigably short-sighted lot running the Indian Council of Agricultural Research have traditionally scotched all such socially relevant collaboration. So, encomiums are due to CRIDA and IASRI for being true to their potential.

A farmer in the district of Mysore, Karnataka state, prepares her rice field.

A farmer in the district of Mysore, Karnataka state, prepares her rice field.

And that is how we have the ‘Rainfed Areas Prioritisation Index’ (naturally collapsible into RAPI) which combines a natural resource index and an integrated livelihood index. Thus, each one of 499 districts (urban and urbanised districts are excluded, as are districts in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala, as cultivation in the districts of these three states is considered to be predominantly horticulture). The natural resource index has seven variables: rainfall, drought, available water content of soil, area under degraded and waste lands, rainfed area, status of ground water, and irrigation intensity. The integrated livelihood index has three variables: socio-economic index, health and sanitation index and infrastructure index.

These two indices have been combined by assigning a weight of two-thirds to the natural resource priority index of a district, and weight of one-third to the livelihood priority index of a district, and so to derive the district’s Rainfed Areas Prioritisation Index (RAPI). Based on their RAPI scores, the three index developers have identified 167 districts, the top one-third of the full list, as needing attention with programmes designed to strengthen and support rainfed farming.

[You can find an Excel file with the 167 districts here. There are, in order of frequency per state, 32 in Rajasthan, 30 in Madhya Pradesh, 16 in Karnataka, 16 in Maharashtra, 13 in Gujarat, 13 in Jharkhand, 11 in Uttar Pradesh, 9 in Andhra Pradesh, 8 in Orissa, 6 in Tamil Nadu, 5 in Chhattisgarh, 4 in Bihar, 2 in Assam and 2 in West Bengal.]

The RAPI has come at an important moment. The Twelfth Five Year plan is now a year old and the budgetary support given to India’s two ‘flagship’ (how did this term become so popular? The Bharat Nirman seems to be all flag and never mind the ship) agriculture programmes – the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and the National Food Security Mission – continues to increase. How to measure whether the RKVY and the NFSM are money well spent, or ill spent. The RAPI should help there, but far more important, it is the first genuinely local framework for gauging a district’s endowment of agricultural, human, natural and econmic resources. Wish it well.

The common good of India and the Planning Commission of today

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Montek_Singh_questionThe 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.

Those fêted food sinks, the many new towns of India

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rg-blogpost-201301-urban2There 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.

At the edge of the Dharavi township in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), a woman runs a tiny provisions shop.

At the edge of the Dharavi township in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), a woman runs a tiny provisions shop.

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).

Changes in ten years between the numbers of villages, blocks, districts and towns.

Changes in ten years between the numbers of villages, blocks, districts and towns.

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.

Charting the journey of India’s agri commodity indices to 250% in four years

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From 2008 January agri-commodity indexes of the NCDEX and the MCX have gained in points as described by Chart 1. From 2011 April their rise has been especially rapid, the MCX index gaining 55% and the NCDEX index gaining 86% until 2012 February. Chart: Rahul Goswami using MCX and NCDEX data re-based to 2008 January

During the course of the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12) in India, the salient features of the sweeping change being quietly implemented in India’s agriculture and food structure became easier to distinguish. Many of these changes have been prefaced by the central government and its agencies pointing grimly to a farm sector that is under-performing in terms of its growth rate and which they emphasised is wanting for private sector investment.

Although elsewhere in Asia, Africa and South America the relation between food commodity trading and speculation, and continued high local food prices has been a contentious subject, India from one Plan period to the next has decided to pursue a talismanic 4% per year growth rate, attaching to this objective the idea of ‘inclusion’. The relationships between how capital is employed in the food and agriculture sector, what in fact happens to agricultural produce during its journey to urban shops, and the reasons for the steady rise of agri-commodity futures indices in India are still only irregularly researched.

Profiting from speculation in food staples – and protecting the household from the effects of hoarding – is behaviour that is the subject of legislation from 1955 when the Essential Commodities Act came into force, and also from 1980 with the Prevention of Black Marketing & Maintenance of Supply of Essential Commodities Act. The recent changes in agriculture and food however, employ many simultaneous mechanisms and methods, which legislation from an earlier era can only partly forestall.

[From ‘Food and Agriculture: Trends Into the Early Twelfth Plan’, a forthcoming paper.]

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 6

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In north-east Mumbai (Bombay), open land under high-tension cables becomes a place for many cricket games on a Sunday afternoon.

Census 2011 also informs both the incumbent ‘sirkar’ and us that there are 22 districts in which literacy rates for the rural female population are above 74% (all 14 of Kerala’s districts are included). However, it is in the next 10% range of literacy rates – 74% to 64% – that gains since the 2001 census must be protected and this set includes 82 districts. It is a widely dispersed set, comprising districts from 21 states and union territories.

There are 11 from Maharashtra (including Sangli, Bhandara and Gondiya), 9 from Punjab (including Kapurthala, Gurdaspur and Sahibzada), 7 from Orissa (including Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara and Bhadrak), 7 also from Himachal Pradesh (including Una, Kangra and Solan), 6 from Tamil Nadu (including Thoothukkudi and Nagapattinam) and 5 from Gujarat (including Navsari and Mahesana).

In the background, some of the most expensive office space in the world, Mumbai's Nariman Point business district. In the foreground, temporary shanties on the beach.

The Office of the Registrar General of India, which administers the Census, has cautioned that all the data releases so far are still provisional figures. However, the implications are now plain to see, and give rise to a set of socio-economic questions which demographic and field research over the 12th Plan Period (2012-17) will enlarge and expand upon. Is there for example a correlation between districts whose rural populations have unfavourable female to male gender ratios and districts in which female literacy ratios are low? Comparing the bottom 100 districts under both conditions shows that there are only 12 districts in which both conditions are present (5 in Uttar Pradesh, 2 in Rajasthan, and 2 in Jammu & Kashmir).

A valley in the western hills of Maharashtra state in summer, exhibiting denuded hillsides and scant grazing for shepherds. From villages such as this one, youth and families make their way to the cities.

Most encouraging is that there are 40 districts in which the ratio of the number of literate females to literate males (this is a different ratio from literacy rate), is 0.90 or better, ie there are 900 or more literate females to 1,000 literate males. In this set are all Kerala’s 14 districts but also 13 districts from the Northeast (from Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland).

The remainder are from island Union Territories, from the southern states (3 from Karnataka, 2 from Andhra Pradesh and one each from Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry), from hill states (2 from Uttarakhand, 2 from Himachal Pradesh) and one from Maharashtra. It is these districts that provide abundant reason for the allocation of a minimum 6% of GDP allocation for education – a long-standing commitment – which must begin to be fulfilled in the 2012-17 Plan period.

Thane district, north of the Mumbai metropolitan region, has experienced one of the fastest growths in population in India over the last decade.

How will the Government of India consider these early indicators from Census 2011? How will India’s civil society and the great breadth of organisations – voluntary groups, people’s movements, rural foundations and the like – which have been delivering development ‘outcomes’, year after year, without the benefit of budgetary support but motivated by the plain fact that inequity still exists, how will this group see these indicators?

The Government of India revels in presenting contradiction as a substitute for careful, evidence-based and inter-generational planning. When downward trends – such as those seen in female illiteracy and in the gender ratios of the 0-6 age-group – have been slow over the last 25 years, there is a need to set long-term objectives that are not tied to the end of the next available Plan period, but which use a Plan direction to help achieve them. In this, the Approach Paper to the 12th Five-Year Plan has failed quite signally, because its authors have not drawn the only possible conclusions from the Census 2011 data presented till date. Yet others have done so, notably India’s civil society and its more responsive group of academics. Hence the abundance of contradictions in all major documents – the Approach Paper being the most important, annual Economic Surveys being another type – which seek to reassure one section while in fact underwriting the ambitions of another.

Rural labour pitches camp. Mobile populations such as this one move from more disadvantaged districts to less, as even intermittent agricultural wages and harsh living conditions are better than debt.

So we see that a state which must ensure provision of Right to Education to every child up to the age of 14 years, because it is constitutionally bound to do so, complains in the planning phase itself that scarce resources constrain it from carrying out its duties and therefore advises its citizens that measures like public-private partnership (PPP) should be resorted to. How will such cunning better the lives and present culturally relevant opportunities for the rural populations in the remaining 591 districts which are under the 0.90 ratio for literate females to literate males? What will the emphasis on vocational training (for the urban job pools) instead of people’s empowerment mean for the rural populations in 403 districts where this ratio is less than 0.75 – which means the number of literate rural females is under three-fourths the number of literate males – and in 69 of these districts it is even under 0.60 (25 in Rajasthan, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, 9 in Madhya Pradesh, 6 in Jammu and Kashmir)?

[This is the sixth of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here; see the second in the series here; see the third in the series here; see the fourth in the series here; see the fifth in the series here.]

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 5

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Teenager on a bicycle in rural Maharashtra, western India. At the current rate of migration from rural districts to urban centres, this youth may not stay in the farm labour pool for much longer.

What effect has this imbalanced ratio, so common in the rural populations of districts, on literacy and education? Census 2011 has told us so far that there are 55 districts in which the rural literacy rate is 74% or higher — this is the national effective literacy rate (for the population that is seven years old and above) which is a figure derived from rural and urban, male and female literacy rates. The literacy rates in these 55 districts are for all persons, female and male together. They range from 74% to 89%. All 14 of Kerala’s districts are among the 55, there are 7 districts from Maharashtra, 5 from Tamil Nadu, and 4 each from Mizoram, Orissa and Himachal Pradesh.

A lorry driver poses with his cargo, new tractors. The depletion of agricultural labour has turned agricultural machinery a fast-growing industrial sector. Worryingly for India, government planners see capital used for machinery and industrial agriculture as evidence of 'growth'. But food security remains uncertain for many rural communities.

The top 10 districts in this set are all from Kerala save one, East Delhi. But these 55 districts have returned literacy rates that will form the basis of study and analysis in the years to come, they are outnumbered, by a factor of more than 11 to 1, by districts whose rural populations lie under the 74% national mark, and this too will serve as an early indicator, continually updated, of the commitment of the Indian state to its implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009, and of the results of the first 10 years of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

Since its inception in 2001-02 the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has been treated by the Government of India and the states as the main vehicle for providing elementary education to all children in the 6-14 age-group. Its outcome — this is how the annual and Plan period results of India’s ‘flagship’ national programmes are now described — is the universalisation of elementary education. The Right to Education Act (RTE) of 2009 gives all children the fundamental right to demand eight years of quality elementary education. For the planners in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the effective enforcement of this right requires what they like to call ‘alignment’ with the vision, strategies and norms of the SSA. In so doing, they immediately run into a thicket of problems for, to begin with, there are half-a-million vacancies of teachers in the country, another half-million teachers are required to meet the RTE norms on pupil-teacher ratios, and moreover 0.6 million teachers in the public school system are untrained.

This is the creaking administrative set-up against which the total literacy rates of the 585 districts whose rural populations are under the 74% mark must be viewed. Of these, 209 districts have literacy rates for their rural populations which are between 50% and 60%. This set of districts includes 33 from Uttar Pradesh, 30 from Madhya Pradesh, 20 from Bihar, 18 from Jharkhand, 17 from Rajasthan, 13 each from Assam and Andhra Pradesh, and 9 from Karnataka. And finally, there are 95 districts whose literacy rates of the rural population are under 50%.

Low-cost housing in north Mumbai (Bombay). Colonies such as this are typical: unclean surroundings caused by an absence of civic services, minimal water and sanitation for residents, no route to remedy because of political and social barriers.

This set of districts at the bottom of the table includes 17 from Bihar, 14 from Rajasthan, 9 each from Uttar Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, 7 from Madhya Pradesh and 6 each from Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh. The districts of Yadgir (Karnataka), Purnia (Bihar), Shrawasti (Uttar Pradesh), Pakur (Jharkhand), Malkangiri, Rayagada, Nabarangapur, Koraput (all Orissa), Tirap (Arunchal Pradesh), Barwani, Jhabua, Alirajpur (all Madhya Pradesh), and Narayanpur, Bijapur and Dakshin Bastar Dantewada (all Chhattisgarh) are the 15 districts at the very base of the table with literacy rates of the rural population at under 40%.

Over 11 Plan periods there have been some cumulative gains in a few sectors. Today, in rural areas, seven major flagship programmes are being administered, with less overall coordination between them than is looked for – a contrast against the ease with which the central government’s major ministries collaborate on advancing the cause of the urban elite — but which nonetheless have given us evidence that their combined impact has improved the conditions of some.

A man transports an LPG cylinder, to be used as cooking fuel, to his home in a shanty colony in north Mumbai (Bombay). Already burdened by the high cost of petroleum products, slum-dwellers are forced to pay a premium for cooking fuels and water.

The seven programmes are: the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) and Total Sanitation Campaign (TSP), the Integrated Watershed Development Programme (IWDP), Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), and rural electrification which includes separation of agricultural feeders and includes also the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY).

For the local administrator these present a bewildering array of reporting obligations. A hundred years ago, such an administrator’s lot was aptly described by J Chartres Molony, Superintendent of Census 1911 in (the then) Madras: “The Village Officer, source of all Indian information, is the recorder of his village, and it well may be that amid the toils of keeping accounts and collecting ‘mamuls’, he pays scant heed to what he and his friends consider the idle curiosity of an eccentric sirkar.”

[This is the fifth of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here; see the second in the series here; see the third in the series here; see the fourth in the series here.]

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 4

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Dense colonies of low-rise apartment blocks in north-eastern Mumbai (Bombay). These date from the 1980s and despite their disrepair are out of reach for some 60% of the giant city's population which live in 'upgraded' slums.

Dr C Chandramouli, Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, presaged the insights that would be provided by new census data in his introduction to the first provisional paper on the 2011 Census: “It provides valuable information for planning and formulation of policies by the government and is also used widely by national and international agencies, scholars, business persons, industrialists, and many more. In addition, the Census provides a basic frame for conduct of other surveys in the country. Any informed decisionmaking that is based on empirical data is dependent on the Census.”

When taken together with the 355 districts whose rural populations are all a million and above, the implications of such a concentration of the 0-6-year-old population in talukas and tehsils (more than those in town wards) become manifold. An immediate rendering of this concentration will take place in the health sector for it is there that imbalances in public expenditure and budget have been most severe.

The change in literacy rates for India's states from 2001 to 2011, with the 0-6 year olds excluded. The colours are: red (75% and below), ochre (75-80%), yellow (80-85%), lime green (85-90%) and green (90% and above). Maps: Census of India 2011

The Government of India has time and again claimed that the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12) has sought to raise the share of public expenditure on health (both central and in the states) from less than 1% of GDP in 2006-07 to 2% and then 3%. For this, the National Rural Health Mission (launched in 2005) was intended to strengthen healthcare infrastructure in rural areas, provide more sub-centres, better staff and equip primary health and community health centres.

Census 2011 will, over the months to come, indicate the degree to which these lofty aims — often held up as evidence of the government’s commitment to social equity — have been met. To do this, the ratios will be layered between study outputs that bring out the insights of correlating large demographic data sets — district health services, the national family health survey, planned rounds of the National Sample Survey and, despite the defensible criticism levelled against it, the 2011 BPL survey. Within this dauntingly complex data framework will need to be placed the Plan targets relating to infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, total fertility rate, under-nutrition among children, anaemia among women and girls, provision of clean drinking water for all, and raising child gender ratio for the age-group of 0-6.

Where do the 640 districts and their rural populations lie on a simple child gender ratio scale? Ranked by female to male ratio within the 0-6 years category of population, the top 10% of all districts (that is, 64 districts) register a gender ratio of at least 0.97 and up to 1.01. The districts with the 20 most favourable female to male ratios for the 0-6 population are Dakshin Bastar Dantewada, Bastar, Bijapur, Koriya, Rajnandgaon, Narayanpur and Korba (all Chhattisgarh); Tawang, Papum Pare and East Siang (all Arunachal Pradesh); Nabarangapur and Malkangiri (Orissa); Lahaul and Spiti (Himachal Pradesh), Nawada (Bihar), Chandauli (Uttar Pradesh), Mamit (Mizoram), Pashchimi Singhbhum (Jharkhand), Tinsukia (Assam), South Andaman, and West Garo Hills (Meghalaya).

Vegetables being farmed on agricultural land between two city wards of Panaji (Goa). As the populations of smaller towns in India has risen, their footprint on cultivable land has grown.

Among the top 10% of districts with gender ratios for the 0-6 age group that are favourable to females, Chhattisgarh has 14 while Orissa, Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have 6 each. These are considered, by their states and by the central government’s ministries and departments, to be ‘backward’ districts, tribal in character, lacking in infrastructure and below par in economic development (discounting for this index the proclivity of the state to steal natural resources in the commons, the better to convert it to GDP with). Yet the residents of these districts have proven, as the 2011 data so emphatically shows, that they practice an equality that is far closer to that enunciated in our Constitution than is to be found in the ranks of the million-plus cities.

Even so, the picture at the other end of the scale is a worrisome one. Within the 0-6 years category of the rural population of districts, there are 154 districts whose female to male ratio is less than 0.90, ie 9 girls or less for every 10 boys. In this large set of districts with unfavourable gender ratios amongst the rural population category of 0-6 years, the range of this ratio drops to 0.70 (the average gender ratio for this group of districts being 850 girls to 1,000 boys). There are 24 districts in UP in this set (out of the state’s 71 districts), 20 districts each in Punjab and Haryana (out of their totals of 20 and 21 respectively), 18 each in Rajasthan and Maharashtra (out of 33 and 35 respectively) and 14 in Jammu & Kashmir (out of 22).

[This is the fourth of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here; see the second in the series here; see the third in the series here.]

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 3

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A roadside stall on the outskirts of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, selling chewing tobacco

Having dealt with one basis for comparison, the 1911 report then provided a sociological overview of the transformation of the time: “It is true that a new type of town is springing up in the neighbourhood of important railway stations with stores and provision shops and a considerable coolie population, and that these in many cases have not yet reached the prescribed standard of population. But the total number of such places is still small, and their exclusion has had no material effect on the statistics.”

Then too, the 1911 Census thought fit to remind the administration of the variety of administrative divisions in what was British India, which included Baluchistan, Burma and the subcontinent that spanned these two provinces. “There are great local variations in density. In nearly two-thirds of the districts and states the number of persons to the square mile is less than 200, and in about a quarter it ranges from 200 to 500. The units with less than 100 persons to the square mile cover two-fifths of the total area but contain only one-eleventh of the population, while those with more than 500, though their area is only one-eleventh of the whole, contain one-third of the population.”

Skyscrapers under construction in central Mumbai (Bombay). These will contain luxury apartments, in contrast to the old humble labour accommodation provided for mill workers. These enormous towers have been erected on lands once occupied by the textile mills.

One hundred years ago, an aspect of the changing demographies of British India which exercised the census officials of the time was the ratio between females and males in cities and towns. It remains a concern, a century later, although more widespread now and not confined to urban settlements, as is explained briefly anon. “As usual in Indian towns females are in marked defect,” the 1911 report remarked on Bengal. “Their proportion is highest in the minor towns which are often merely overgrown villages; it is much smaller in the main centres of trade and industry, and smallest of all in Calcutta, where only one person in three is a female.”

Nor did Bombay prove different, for the 1911 report observed: “As in the other large cities of India females are in a great minority, there being only 530 to every thousand males. This proportion is the smallest yet recorded. In 1881 it was 661; it fell to 586 at the next census owing to the immigration of males to meet the rapidly growing demand for labour, and again rose to 617 in 1901, when plague had driven out more of the temporary settlers than of the permanent residents.”

While not as severe as the ratios of that era, the gender ratios for the rural populations of districts in 2011 will, as more data is released by the Census authorities and as the verification cycles for the smaller administration units are completed, help explain the movement of labour, the patterns of migration (with which they will be read) and no doubt support the studies on the feminisation of agriculture we are witness to in India. The 2011 data show that in 122 districts, the female to male ratio of the rural population is 1 or more (the range is 1.00 to 1.18).

Children line up in an 'anganwadi', a child care centre, in a slum in northern Mumbai. Their parents scour the nearby city refuse dumps for recyclable material, and make their living selling their finds to scrap merchants.

Of the 30 districts which have the highest female to male ratios of the rural population, there are 11 in Kerala, 7 in Uttarakhand, 4 in Orissa, 2 in Maharashtra and one each in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Thereafter, in 112 districts the female to male ratios of the rural population are less than 0.90 (the range is 0.90 to 0.67). The district with the lowest ratio is Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh), followed by Chandigarh, South Delhi, North District (Sikkim), Dibang Valley and West Kameng (both Arunachal Pradesh RP), Kargil (Jammu and Kashmir), Daman, Nicobars and Anjaw (Arunachal Pradesh).

A crowded main lane in Dharavi, the slum in central Mumbai renowned for years as being Asia's largest. A hive of small business and scrap recycling, Dharavi is a magnet for migrants to the giant city.

Carrying with it the potential to cause a demographic imbalance whose full import, a generation from today, we can only surmise is the gender ratio of the population between 0-6 years, that is, the children of these districts. There are 34 districts in which, amongst the rural population, the numbers of children between 0 and 6 years are 500,000 and above. That all these districts are in either Bihar (15) or in Uttar Pradesh (14) or West Bengal (5) is another outcome, over the decades since the early-20th century, of the population patterns observed in the final 50 years of colonial India. The 2011 data has shown that whether in the 34 districts with 0-6 year populations of 0.5 million, or in the top 10% of all districts (640), the rural population that is between 0-6 years old is about 90% of the district’s total child population in that category.

[This is the third of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here, and see the second in the series here.]

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 2

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Street scene in a northern Mumbai (Bombay) suburb

The urban-centric bias of the Government of India and its principal ministries and agencies has influenced national policy for the last two Plan periods, and is a tendency that will continue for at least the duration of the 12th Plan and possibly beyond, for as long as the fixation with high annual economic growth rate continues.

Yet, if there are 53 cities whose populations are a million residents and more, and these are considered essential for the stimulation of economic efficiencies, then there are 355 districts whose rural populations are a million residents and more, whose agricultural outputs and surpluses not only provide them livelihoods, but feed the favoured residents of 53 million-plus cities and of 7,935 towns.

That is why it is worth examining, in greater detail, these rural districts and the people who inhabit them, insofar as the small data sets released by the Census of India 2011 will allow. The first indication that measures of the rural population describe an India quite different, in movement and settlement, from the force that shapes towns and cities is seen in the composition of the top of the list.

Slum settlement in north Mumbai (Bombay). There were malnutrition deaths of children in this particular slum in 2010. Behind looms the largest waste dump for this enormous city.

There are no familiar metropolitan names here, no powerful centres of commerce and influence which are so commonly found in contemporary reportage of the Indian condition. Of the 30 districts with the most rural populations, there are 8 in West Bengal, 8 in Bihar, 8 in Uttar Pradesh, 2 in Andhra Pradesh, 3 in Maharashtra and 1 in Karnataka. Of the top five West Bengal has 4 – South 24 Parganas (6.06 million), Murshidabad (5.69 million), Paschim Medinipur (5.22 million), Barddhaman (4.64 million) and Bihar’s Purba Champaran ranks fifth (4.68 million).

These districts and their rural residents describe India’s dependence on its diverse agricultural systems, its natural resources, its stock of traditional knowledge. The list of the top 10 districts with the highest rural populations is completed with Purba Medinipur (West Bengal), Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh), Madhubani (Bihar), Muzaffarpur (Bihar) and North 24 Parganas (West Bengal). The 30 districts with the largest rural populations have between 3.43 and 6.06 million residents in each.

Their historicity as the locus of population density in the subcontinent – as recorded in the early census reports from the late-19th century onwards, and described in lyrical detail in the Census of 1911 – has been overtaken by the market that the 53 million-plus cities represent, and the reckless pampering of urban growth at the expense of rural resilience. There ought not to have been a battle for financial resources between the 160.5 million residents of the million-plus cities, and the 693.9 million rural residents of the million-plus districts – but that is the bias with which the 12th Plan will approach both constituencies of Indians.

Lower income group housing in Mumbai (Bombay). Such housing is a small step up only from living in a slum as water is scarce, sanitation is poor and waste disposal is usually absent.

Odious as the urban flavour to national planning is, rural transformation and conurbation has been a feature of demographic change in India for well over a century. One hundred years ago exactly, the report of the Census of India 1911 attempted to encompass the dimensions of such change. “With the spread of railways and the general improvement in means of communication, the smaller towns are growing in importance as distributing centres, but the process is a slow one and comparatively little progress in this direction has yet been made,” said the section on ‘Area, Population and Density’ in Volume I of this landmark census. “The small market town so common in Europe and America is rarely found in India. Nor as a rule do the smaller Indian towns possess the other amenities associated with urban life in Europe, such as a better class of schools and public institutions of various kinds.”

[This is the second of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here.]

Written by makanaka

November 22, 2011 at 15:42