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Posts Tagged ‘Planning Commission

Poverty is a new market for management firms

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The Rs 1,336 proposed by McKinsey will neither help run this household nor provide any 'empowerment'.

The Rs 1,336 proposed by McKinsey will neither help run this household in rural Karnataka nor provide any ’empowerment’. The family’s entrepreneurship, running a cooked food stall in a part of the house, keeps it comfortably above the poverty line.

There is a new contributor to an old subject in India. The subject is poverty, and the newcomer is a management consulting company. This sort of company has no experience with such a subject, however the McKinsey Global Institute – which works as “the research arm of consulting company McKinsey” – has not been short of advisers on the matter.

What does this consulting company say and why should we keep an eye on their activity in this subject? This institute has issued a report called ‘From poverty to empowerment: India’s imperative for jobs, growth and effective basic services’. The proposal, unabashedly touted as new thinking, is that India should focus not on a poverty line but on a “more comprehensive measure of what it would take to satisfy a person’s basic needs for food, energy, housing, drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, schooling and social security”.

This new thinking – presented as a startling innovation in the same way that a new brand of running shoes or some such frippery is launched – is called an “empowerment line”. This ‘line’ has been placed at Rs 1,336 rupees a month – which McKinsey points out is about 50% higher than the national official poverty line.

McKinsey_India_poverty_coverWhat is sought to be fixed at the bidding of the current government of India and at what cost? This new report by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that Rs 330,000 crore should be spent over the next 10 years to “empower 680 million Indians who are only marginally better than those under the poverty line”. And moreover that this spending be increased to reach 1.08 million crore by 2022 because “the government’s spending on various development schemes” does not “effectively reach much of the public”. At current rates of exchange, that is US$ 173 billion and what handsome percentage of that will be marked (or unmarked) as consultants’ fees?

Likewise, we must also examine those who have provided, as McKinsey has said, “insights and guidance” for this work. Among those listed are Subir Gokarn, director of research of Brookings India and former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India; Vijay Kelkar, chairman of the India Development Foundation, former chairman of India’s Finance Commission, and former finance secretary, Government of India; Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India; Arun Maira and B K Chaturvedi, members of the Planning Commission of India; Rakesh Mohan, India’s executive director at the International Monetary Fund; Nandan Nilekani, chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India; S Ramadorai, adviser to the Prime Minister, National Council on Skill Development; and Soli Sorabjee, former attorney-general of India.

Disconnected entirely from the dynamics of district livelihoods and factors that influence income and well-being, consulting companies such as McKinsey must not continue to be engaged by central and state governments in any capacity.

Disconnected entirely from the dynamics of district livelihoods and factors that influence income and well-being, consulting companies such as McKinsey must not continue to be engaged by central and state governments in any capacity.

These people are votaries of the thesis that GDP growth is good, and that all policy must conform to such a doctrine. Hence it becomes easier to see the connection between the direction that the UPA 1 and UPA 2 governments have taken till here, and the firm grip finance and industry have on the country’s journey into ‘development’, aided by the outpourings of management consulting companies such as McKinsey. This ‘empowerment index’ is nothing but a repetition of the desire that over the period 2010-20, urban India must create 70% of all new jobs in India and these urban jobs will be twice as productive as equivalent jobs in the rural sector, as stated in ‘India’s Urban Awakening: Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth’, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute issued in early 2010.

The expectation is that as India’s cities expand, India’s economic profile will also change. In 1995, India’s GDP was divided almost evenly between its urban and rural economies. In 2008, urban GDP accounted for 58% of overall GDP. By 2030, according to the McKinsey report’s calculations, urban India will generate nearly 70% of India’s GDP. Such a transformation, if it comes to pass, is expected to deliver a steep increase in India’s per capita income between now and 2030 wherein the number of middle class households (earning between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 10 lakh a year) will increase from 32 million to 147 million. And it is against the drawing of that alarming line of minimum urbanisation drawn four years earlier, that this new line must be viewed, together with the injunction that “India can bring more than 90 percent of its people above the Empowerment Line in just a decade by implementing inclusive reforms”.

Expanding India’s WPI, neglecting its CPI

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There are some 130 food items in the proposed WPI whereas the retail price collection basket with the most items has only 46.

There are some 130 food items in the proposed WPI whereas the retail price collection basket with the most items has only 46.

The Planning Commission is to agree by the end of 2014 March on the composition of an expanded set of items for the wholesale price index. The expanded index – with a few new categories and some reclassifications – is a proposal, formally, by the Office of the Economic Adviser, Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

But there are retail wheels within wholesale ones, and there are indications provided by the financial and business press that it is the Prime Minister’s Office that is backing the revision – which will also allow the Reserve Bank of India to make decisions about interest rates that could benefit industry.

My interest was drawn to the several additions that have been made to the category of ‘food articles’ (some of which has been covered by media reportage, which quite typically has ignored the changes proposed in the rest of the categories). More important than these few changes to the components of wholesale food price are the additions made under the ‘manufactured products – food products’ category.

This is a greater expansion of items (although the weightages for the new items have not yet been made public) and reflects the shift in what is being purchased by households – more packaged and processed food in place of raw cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetables. The expanded list also signals the dietary shift – a nutritional time-bomb whose effects can already be seen in the rising rates of youth becoming overweight – towards processed cereals, sugary drinks, edible oils, and snack foods.

The tall and narrow chart you see here shows the difference between the sets of items covered by the proposed new WPI and the current sets of items that are monitored for consumer retail prices. The three sets that do this are from: (1) the Ministry of Agriculture, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, (2) Ministry of Labour and Employment, Labour Bureau, and (3) Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Department of Consumer Affairs.

This is the second expansion in the number of items that make up the WPI in the last three years, whereas the relatively much smaller list of items that are used to monitor the prices of food for consumers has remained the same over the same period (the last revision was about five years ago in the Ministry of CAF&PD system).

As usual, there is little or no public discussion on the additions to the WPI and the continuing neglect of the items that are used to compute the consumer price index – some of those collection systems are 30 years old. The proposed expansion of the WPI food and food-related items will deepen the already very serious lack of correspondence between the WPI and CPI.

More troubling is the deepening meaninglessness of the CPI numbers – rural and urban for major states doesn’t help one bit if the list of items is not expanded to reflect more accurately what households actually buy, rather than ignore the growing list of items they do. Continuing to ignore this long overdue need for correction will short-change India’s salaried workers and wage earners, and very seriously under-report true inflation especially for food.

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.

A hasty and stunted legislation for food security in India

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The United Progressive Alliance in India, the ruling political coalition at whose centre is the Congress party, has called it “a historic initiative for ensuring food and nutritional security to the people”. By this is meant The National Food Security Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on 26 August 2013.

In recent weeks, criticisms of the provisions of the bill and suggestions for its amendment gathered quickly, from political parties, from state governments, from civil society and NGOs and academics, and from citizens who have followed the twists and turns of the draft legislation since 2010. How many of these have been incorporated into the bill as passed by the Lok Sabha is still unclear, but a government press release stated that ten amendments were approved. I don’t know which ten but these would be small in number compared with the scores of amendments, corrections, modifications and re-draftings suggested by groups and coalitions that have long worked for food security in India and its states.

Sifting through news reports for relevant information, I find that:

(1) The government has said that the word ‘meal’ as used in the approved bill means hot cooked or pre-cooked and heated food and not the packaged food, which was a definition that provoked many when it was spotted in the draft. This is an important amendment as it has an impact on the enormous mid-day meals (for schoolchildren in government schools) and the integrated child development services (ICDS) programmes, which reach tens of millions. The fear was that packaged food would supplant, to the detriment of the children, hot and fresh cooked meals.

(2) As far as I can make out, another approved amendment gives states a year to implement the bill instead of six months. Earlier, under the ordinance (whose passage was roundly condemned), the central government was to determine the number of eligible beneficiaries in each state. Not only was this centrist in nature, it required the process by which beneficiary households were to be identified to be completed within 180 days, even though the guidelines for such identification are yet to be issued by the central government. Moreover, there has been no consultation with the states on this aspect.

(3) There is some reference made to the states determining their approach and measures towards implementing the bill, which will be (or may be) governed by “rules” that are to be drawn up in consultation with the state governments. This is important for, in the text of the Food Security Ordinance the central government reserved the right to introduce cash schemes instead of food in the Rules of the proposed legislation. This had signalled quite clearly its longer-term agenda of dismantling the system of procurement of grain from farmers at notified minimum support prices.

The reportage of the passing of the bill has touched upon a variety of issues and concerns, and here is a selection:

Lok Sabha passes Food Security Bill
Sonia Gandhi’s ambitious food bill gets Lok Sabha nod; UPA gets its ‘game-changer’
The Food Security Bill will cost a lot more than projected
Food security bill: Is it right or fight to food?
Long due, Food Security Bill meets mixed reaction
Food Bill will not raise fiscal deficit: Chidambaram
‘Not against Food Security Bill, but want certain changes’: BJP
Food Security a ‘historic opportunity’ or mere ‘vote security’?
Food security Bill gets Lok Sabha nod as Sonia lauds ’empowerment revolution’

The government has said that the Bill will cover 75% of the rural population and 50% percent of the urban population in all states, coming to an average of 67% for the total national population. This however will use (we await a full reading of the approved amendments that will clarify this matter) the methodology of the Planning Commission for poverty estimates which is to provide the basis for dividing the population between below and above the poverty line. This is the same methodology and ratios that have been soundly discredited.

The point that has been made forcefully by the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPIM) is that these caps on population compromise utterly the right of state governments to decide criteria as contained in the bill. The caps are set by Planning Commission methods, not by state governments themselves. That is why the guidelines that are to be drafted – via consultation, the central government has said – by the state governments must ensure the maximum inclusion, and not the limited inclusion decided by the Planning Commission.

Moreover, the All India Kisan Sabha at its 33rd All India Conference (24-27 July 2013 in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu) had in a resolution of food security described the policy canvas against which this food security bill has now been passed:

“India has become more food-insecure over the last decade in terms of all three dimensions of food security: availability, access and absorption. Availability has been undermined by policies reducing productivity growth and making grain cultivation unremunerative. Access has been weakened by jobless growth and massive inflation destroying people’s purchasing power. Absorption has been undermined by the failure to invest in safe drinking water and sanitation. All three consequences are directly traceable to neoliberal policies. Yet, the UPA government hypocritically talks of food security and has promulgated a so-called Food Security Ordinance in an attempt to gain political mileage while flouting all norms of parliamentary democracy.”

Documents for reference:

The National Food Security Bill, 2013
The National Food Security Bill, 2011
The National Food Security Ordinance, 2013
Report of the expert committee on the national food security bill
Lok Sabha Standing Committee report on National Food Security Bill
Food subsidy and its utilisation
NRAA – Challenges of food security

Of an India behind the new poverty ratio

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Mural titled 'In the name of development', at Jawaharlal Nahru University, New Delhi

Mural titled ‘In the name of development’, at Jawaharlal Nahru University, New Delhi

New poverty claims from the government of India are being interpreted as (a) proof that the economic liberalisation is working, (b) that the ruling coalition has begun its preparation for the 2014 general election by claiming the largest percentage reduction of poverty ever, (c) that the ruling coalition by lowering the poverty line (and therefore the number of Indians identified as poor) will slash its social subsidies outlay, (d) that the way India measures poverty is desperately in need of repair, if not altogether in need of renewal.

The new state poverty lines table (see below for xls link)

The new state poverty lines table (see below for xls link)

India’s English-language media (in particular the financial and business press) has either repeated what the Planning Commission has released, or has reported reactions to the latest claim from opposition parties. Here is a selection:

“The proportion of people living below poverty line (BPL) has came down from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05 to 21.9 per cent in 2011-12 — a decline of 15.3 percentage points in a period that roughly coincides with the first eight years of the United Progressive Alliance.”
“The sharp drop was attributed to the high real growth in recent years, which raised the consumption capacity. The number of India’s poor fell to less than a quarter of its population in 2011-12, giving the government a reason to cheer amid the recent raft of disappointing macro economic data.”
“Over the last decade, poverty has witnessed a consistent decline with the levels dropping from 37.2% in 2004-05 to 29.8% in 2009-10. The number of poor is now estimated at 269.3 million, of which 216.5 million reside in rural India.”
“One theory is that this is the outcome of the trickle-down impact of the record growth witnessed in the first decade of the new millennium.”
“The BJP slammed the figures as a ‘political gimmick’ and a ‘conspiracy’ of the Congress to deprive the poor of the benefits of government schemes while CPI(M) said it amounted to ‘adding salt to the wounds of the poor’.”

It was only last year, in 2012 June, that the Planning Commission constituted an ‘expert group’ chaired by a former head of the Reserve Bank of India to “review the methodology for the measurement of poverty”. In the hoary tradition of Indian bureaucratese, this expert group is now “deliberating on this issue” (said the Planning Commission) and is expected to submit its report by the middle of 2014.

What is the main substance of the new claim? The note from the Planning Commission (titled ‘Press Note on Poverty Estimates, 2011-12’ and dated July 2013) has stated that the “percentage of persons below the poverty line in 2011-12 has been estimated as 25.7% in rural areas, 13.7% in urban areas and 21.9% for the country as a whole”. [A spreadsheet with the new statewise rural and urban poverty lines is available here.]

Government-friendly infographics from a financial newspaper

Government-friendly infographics from a financial newspaper

Thereafter the myth of the descending poverty line is outlined: that in 2004-05 the respective poverty ratios for the rural and urban areas were 41.8% and 25.7% and 37.2% for the country; that in 1993-94 the ratios were 50.1% in rural areas, 31.8% in urban areas and 45.3% for the country. And, in triumphant tones, that hence the 407 million Indians below the poverty line in 2004-05 had by 2011-12 dwindled dramatically to 270 million – a reduction of 137 million persons over a short seven years! And that indeed, it is all the more significant that for the last eight years it is the UPA (that is, the Congress) that has ruled India. So flows the polemic.

In the eagerness to find ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ and a ‘national’ poverty line, the tales of the deciles of the NSS surveys, referred to only fleetingly, are of importance (for the 43rd, 50th, 55th, 61st, 66th and 68th rounds, all of which we hope are being studied by the Rangarajan expert group). The deciles in the 68th round tell us that in rural India, the average monthly expenditure per person of Rs 153 on cereals would buy 7.3 kg of rice or 8.5 kg of wheat, and that the Rs 40 spent per person on pulses would buy 0.85 kg of pulses, both monthly measures (outside the fair price shop) being well under (13.8 kg and 1.2 kg respectively) the recommended dietary allowances.

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.

The 0.05 kilowatt farming human and other strange equations from India

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O mighty tractor, meet puny humans!

One of the Planning Commission of India’s working groups of agriculture concerns ‘crop husbandry, agricultural inputs, demand and supply projections and agricultural statistics for the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17)’ which is a lot to expect out of a single committee, howsoever eminent the members and however luminous their output.

Perhaps that is why their observations especially where the use of (and supply of) energy for farming are so, shall we say, unconventional. The equation is that one (cultivating, farm labouring, roti-eating) human’s output is 0.05 kW, a draught animal (cow or bullock) is worth 0.38 kW, a power tiller delivers 5.6 kW and a tractor rules our districts with a lordly 26.1 kW. [You can get the extraordinary numbers here, in this excel file.]

In a short chapter on energy use in Indian farms, the committee has said: “While developed world mechanised its agriculture to create surplus labour for the industrial sector, in India it has been directed to help farmers and farm worker do their job speedily”. Curious. When I last looked in the districts, there were Escorts, Mahindra, TAFE, Sonalika, Swaraj, HMT, Indofarm and Force tractors. Foreign farm equipment manufacturers like John Deere and Kubota are already here, ready to assist the “farm worker do their job speedily”? Not likely, ready instead to follow the diktat of the central government to replace human labour, send human farm labour on its way to the towns and cities to become obedient consumers.

A bit more than 0.3 kW each, but no match for the diesel beast

But the committee has more to say: “With high quality job, [the farm worker will] acquire additional capacity to achieve timeliness in field operations without much hardship and drudgery.” That is indeed a considerateness I hardly expected to see in this day and age of austere governments and spartan budgets. Hardship and drudgery are constant companions of the cultivator in India – the smaller the cultivator, the more bosom these buddies.

And there is more: “It also helps in achieving precision in metering and placement of inputs for better crop stand, better response to inputs and increased productivity. Farm mechanization imparts dignity to farm work.” Leaves you speechless? It did me. (An electric motor is 3.7 kW and a diesel engine is 5.6 kW, for the complete table, the source of all this encouraging kilowattage is given as ‘Singh et al (2011), Agril. Enng. Today, Vol. 35(2)’.)

The committee has however taken a nostalgic look at the years when India resounded to the “jai jawan, jai kisan” slogan. Its report has reminisced: “Bullocks and other draft animals continue to have relevance in India for socio-economic reasons particularly to marginal and small farmers”. But right away comes the transnational multinational structurally adjusted hard-boiled World Bank-IMF-Prime Minister’s Office-Planned Decommissioning of India approach.

And there is this: “However, animate power per unit energy supply is costlier than electro-mechanical sources. Animals need to be fed and maintained even when not in use and are vulnerable to morbidity and mortality due to disease and pest, paucity of feeds and fodders, harshness of climate etc. With mechanisation, farm power availability has increased, yet a lot of efforts and investments are needed particularly in Eastern and North Eastern states, hill and mountain areas and tribal areas.”

And there we have it, bold and ugly – humans are not fit to cultivate. The age of the tractor has hit rural Bharat with as much force as BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi have hit the semi-paved streets of Malltown India. Animals are troublesome beasts, humans are worth only 0.05 kw each and tractors are glorious. John Deere, are you here?

Written by makanaka

August 31, 2012 at 14:08

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.]

The cost of India’s urban land grab

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This is one of two related articles written by me and published by Infochange India.The full article is here.

Transplanting paddy in the rice fields of North Goa, in monsoon 2011

If the Government of India is, during the finalisation of the Twelfth Plan (2012-17) direction for agriculture and food, deciding to favour production over rural livelihood needs, then it must recognise clearly the internal land grab that India’s farm households are experiencing. The protests in western Uttar Pradesh by farmers’ groups typify the scale of the diversion of farmland for real estate development or industrial use. In the last four years the Bahujan Samaj Party of Uttar Pradesh has approved a number of projects like the Yamuna Expressway which has been allotted to a private company, JP Infratech Ltd, which holds a contract that includes the right to construct apart from the right to collect tolls for 36 years.

A village in the tribal regions of Navsari district, Gujarat, off the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway and its 'ribbon' land development

Along this 165-km eight-lane “super highway” a “hi-tech city” has been planned. This will include industrial parks, residential colonies, shopping malls, professional colleges, schools, hospitals and urban services centres. Currently estimated as a Rs 9,500 crore project this “hi-tech” city will, when complete to plan, occupy 43,000 hectares of land that is currently under cultivation by the residents of 1,191 villages. This very large land grab alone will remove the potential to harvest about 100,000 tonnes of foodgrain a year — an amount that can fulfil the cereal needs of all of urban Haryana for five weeks.

There are 533 urban centres with populations of between 1 million and 50,000 — this is apart from the metropolises. The drive to encourage the faster urbanisation of these 533 towns and cities has already taken an unknown amount of farmland out of cultivation. There is an estimate that in the last decade — to a large degree a consequence of the relentless expansion of the National Capital Region — Uttar Pradesh has lost about 6 million hectares of farmland. The expansion of the NCR and its satellite developments is unparalleled in modern India, but it is the biggest example of the land grab that is taking place in all urban areas in India.

A stack of crop residue in Satara district, Maharashtra. This biomass is increasingly being diverted from traditional uses and towards energy

Estimates based on fieldwork and the use of longitudinal spatial mapping based on satellite imagery show that for every acre of cultivable land that is built upon or used for urban purposes, over five years an additional four cultivable acres turns fallow and is quickly converted to non-agricultural use. How much has India lost in 2010? How much has it lost from 2001 to 2010? There are no best guesses, no reliable estimates, there is not even experimental methodology to apply to the chief crop-growing regions and their expanding settlements. Yet the macroeconomic models being produced for the central government and planning agencies promise ever-increasing yields from a plateau of cultivated land area. One of them is wrong and the evidence on the ground — and from the protests by farmers of Bhatta Parsaul village in Greater Noida — points to the error being in the models.

Will these errors be corrected before March 2012, when the Eleventh Plan ends? Will the social costs of real food inflation be counted, and will actual retail food inflation in India’s tier two and tier three cities be recognised and its underlying causes made public? At this point, all the answers are likely to be negative. The Government of India, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food Processing, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (Department of Commerce), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and central and state planning agencies now speak the same language — the message is that most of the growth in agriculture in future will come not from foodgrains, but from sectors such as horticulture, dairying and fisheries, where the produce is perishable, and where even greater attention needs to be paid to the logistics of transporting produce from the farm to the consumer, with minimum spoilage. Urban and urbanising markets and the structural change in nutrition being demanded by a section of the country’s population form the focus.

[This is one of two related articles written by me and published by Infochange India.The full article is here.]

Why India’s ‘growth’ focus is ignoring the food access question

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This is one of two related articles written by me and published by Infochange India. The full article is here.

Waiting for the bus in Satara district, Maharashtra

How much food will India need to grow to feed our population in 2011-12? How much in 2013-14? Will we need to import wheat and rice or will we be self-sufficient? Do we know the environmental cost of this self-sufficiency? Are we willing to bear it? These are the questions that the Government of India, its ministries and its planning agencies must find answers to before the start of the Twelfth Five Year Plan period, which is 2012-17.

The foodgrains view from mid-2011 is one of relative comfort — 235 million tonnes is the estimate (including 94 mt rice and 84 mt wheat).

From this position, the Government of India has a set of six broad-brush objectives. These it wants its ministries and departments, connected directly and as adjunct to food and its provision, to internalise. It wants state governments to shape policy to support these objectives, which are:
* Target at least 4% growth for agriculture. Cereals are on target for 1.5% to 2% growth. India should concentrate more on other foods, and on animal husbandry and fisheries where feasible.
* Land and water are the critical constraints. Technology must focus on land productivity and water use efficiency.

On what was formerly farm land in Thane district, Maharashtra, residential condominiums are being quickly built

* Farmers need better functioning markets for both outputs and inputs. Also, better rural infrastructure, including storage and food processing.
* States must act to modify the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act/Rules (exclude horticulture), modernise land records and enable properly recorded land lease markets.
* The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) has helped convergence and innovation and gives state governments flexibility. This must be expanded in the Twelfth Plan.
* The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) should be redesigned to increase contribution to land productivity and rain-fed agriculture. Similarly, the Forest Rights Act (FRA) has potential to improve forest economies and tribal societies. But convergence with the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) is required for strengthening rural livelihoods.

Are these objectives reasonable? Are they equitable and will they encourage an agriculture that is ecologically sustainable in India? From a resources use perspective, the government is right to point out certain constraints (land and water) and administrative improvements (land records, using NREGA labour for farm needs). The direction to provide better infrastructure in India’s rural districts, the better to link farmers to markets with, has been stated in every single Five Year Plan for the last five plan periods, and has been repeated in every single plan review and even more often in the Economic Surveys which accompany the annual budgets. (Under the Bharat Nirman programme, this need has to an extent been met, but the beneficiaries are as likely industry and land developers as they are cultivators.)

A 'basti' in Satara district, Maharashtra, whose residents provide both agricultural and construction site labour

Protecting livelihoods in agriculture, cultivation and from use of forest produce is not, however, a central aim for food and agriculture in the Twelfth Plan. This omission, surprising from the social equity point of view, is taking place because the central government has before it three points it is trying to make sense of, and to decide the best way to tackle. In brief, these three points are: there is a “structural change” taking place in nutrition (more consumption of dairy and meat); there are world factors influencing foodgrain production, consumption and use in India; there are indications that agriculture’s share of GDP is today edging higher than it was five years ago, and that per capita agricultural income is increasing faster than overall per capita income.

It is the last trend, as seen by the central government although not by smallholder farmers and marginal cultivators, which is being taken as proof that new approaches to agriculture are delivering income benefits. The new approaches revolve heavily around the provision of infrastructure that aids modern terminal markets, agri-logistics, cold supply chains, integrated farm to retail companies, agricultural commodity traders, private warehousing service providers, export-oriented food processing units, contract farming operations which are linked to branded processed food, and exporters of cereals, fruits and vegetables. It is here that the growth in agricultural GDP is taking place and it is here that the rise in per capita agricultural income is being recorded. The central government will fight shy of a real cost-real price district analysis of agricultural investment and income because it will reveal the huge structural imbalances that are forming — that is why a national outlook artificially disaggregated into states becomes far more comfortable to defend.

[This is one of two related articles written by me and published by Infochange India. The full article is here.]