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Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister

The sweeping of Bharat

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RG_Modi_jhadoo_6_smIt is as customary in politics as it is in administration to expect a new dispensation to sweep clean the debris and dust of the old order. It is just as customary to fix such sweeping with a suspicious eye and mutter that new brooms after all must sweep, for such is their calling.

Yet what we now see in India appears to be no ordinary broom and no ordinary sweeping. There is a movement afoot to clean the country and its chief cleaner and founder had this to say on 2 October (the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi): “Does the job of getting rid of filth belongs to municipal cleaners only? Isn’t it the duty of all the 1.25 billion Indians? We have to change this situation. All of us are responsible for no longer keeping our country like this.”

RG_Modi_jhadoo_7_smThe exhortation was delivered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has set a benchmark for plain speaking in his government. The tone was set and early adopters proved to be, not the average Indian weary of garbage in her neighbourhood, but practically every government department.

Against a background of apathy by government departments that has been painfully familiar for two decades and more, this is unusual but not surprising. The new Bharatiya Janata Party government has impressed upon bureaucrats and government servants that they too are responsible citizens first, which is why every day after 2 October, one ministry after another has advertised its eagerness to sweep India clean through press releases, posed photographs and stilted promises.

The campaign, called ‘Swachh Bharat’, or clean India, has at best left ordinary citizens both bemused and amused. To set the ball rolling, Modi invited nine well-known citizens to begin a high-profile sweeping. Amongst them is Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketer, who quickly sent for a bunch of the typically ordinary brooms that Indian households use, rounded up some of his friends, and set to work in his Mumbai neighbourhood with at least as much technique as he once used to score runs on the cricket pitch.

RG_Modi_jhadoo_8_smBut the clean India campaign is also proving to have reached places that no such campaign before it has. The governor of the Reserve Bank of India, who ordinarily ponders monetary policy and interest rate adjustments, is reported to have turned his attention to how new toilets in rural India can be financed. Moreover, India’s University Grants Commission, the apex body that coordinates higher education in the country, has instructed all the universities to ensure clean and green campuses.

Preferring the questionnaire to the broom, Delhi University has decided to sociologically study the impact of Modi’s campaign (will Delhi’s residents actually stop littering, they have asked). The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (whose job it is to monitor the gigantic Indian economy) has been asked to “develop an appropriate statistical framework” so that the government can judge whether the campaign is working and how it may be adjusted. And the first smartphone application has been released with which litter-averse Indians can tag unclean places in their city wards, upload pictures to a dedicated portal, and perhaps wait for a municipal cleaner to turn up, armed with a now very familiar broom.

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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”.