Why Farmers are in Distress

Often I read in newspaper and hear on TV that farmers are in distress. I hear farmers are committing suicide because of crop failure. Recently, farmers marched on foot for hundreds of kilometers from different parts of Maharashtra to Mumbai to put forward their demand. Many commentators believe farmer distress is going to play a decisive role in defeating BJP government in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and eventually in general election.

So why are farmers agitated and angry? I am not a farmer. I am far away from their problems and from ground reality. A cursory reading suggested the following reasons:

Profitability : Farming sector is not financially remunerative. So much so that farmers were seen dumping their produce, rather than sell to customers. Because, farmers claim they do not get right price. Whatever farmers produce, they sell it to middleman or wholesaler. It is the middleman that sells farm produce to retailers at high price and makes profit, depending upon demand. Many a time, middle men hoard farm produce to jack up price and create an artificial shortage. Obvious question is why farmers do not sell their produce directly to customers?

Minimum Support Price : Many farmers are asking for minimum support price be fixed for their produce. Recently, government has announced that a farmer will get 150% (1.5 times) more, for certain crops, than the money he has invested. Farmers investment is calculated using a formula : A2 + FL. Where A2 represents all paid out cost and FL represents value of family labor in the production of cost. Crops that will come under this scheme include cereals – paddy, jowar, bajra, ragi, maize, and pulses.

This minimum support price will cost government around 80000 crore rupees. Farmers still want a better formula for calculation of their investment amount and give fifty percent more than their investment.

Experts believe, minimum support price only covers a few food grains that government buys. Such a scheme will lure many farmers to engage in growing water intensive crops, which may impact ground water level. High basic price of food grains may affect export competitiveness of Indian farmers. Besides, by raising procurement price by law, would food items not become costlier, creating another problem for government?

Technique and Technology : Farming in India is done using outdated technology. Our farming is monsoon dependent. If there is drought, which happens more often than not, farmer sows seed but does not get any return. Many farmers used to commit suicide due to crop failure. Instead of flooding the field with water, can farmer not adopt less water intensive crop and less water intensive technique like a sprinkler or drip method of irrigation? Maharashtra government has taken initiative, in consultation with villagers, to encourage water harvesting. As a result, water scarcity that we heard a few years before, has not been reported this year.

Scientific Knowhow : Many a time a farmer is not aware of what to grow. Government should take initiative to advice farmers about what to sow, when to sow, if soil chemistry is proper for certain produce etc. Encourage water harvesting, use of technique and technology that uses less water, such that dependency on monsoon becomes less. If a majority of farmers from a region produce only a certain fruit or vegetable, and all of them get a bumper harvest, then price of produce automatically comes down. In that case, either each farmer should sow different product or a farmer should be able to store his produce for selling at a different point in time. Government must build such storage facilities. Food processing industry must come up in different parts of a state that will buy farmers produce.

Instead of helping farmers by solving basic problem, governments are busy giving loan waivers. Loan waiver makes the giver look good. Giver actually is paying someone elses money. Meanwhile, problem keeps coming back again and again.

Resource

1. Five ways to reduce farm distress in India | IFPRI

www.ifpri.org/blog/five-ways-reduce-farm-distress-india

2. Why are farmers distressed across India? – The Hindu

http://www.thehindu.com › News › National

3. India’s Agriculture Crisis- Business News – Business Today

https://www.businesstoday.in/opinion/…/india-agriculture-crisis…farmers…/258231.ht..

4. Modi Government Approves Hike in MSP for Khariff Crops

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/agriculture/modi-government-approves-hike-in-msp-for-kharif-crops/articleshow/64852476.cms

5. Looking Beyond Loan Write offs for Farmers

https://www.esamskriti.com/e/National-Affairs/Ideas–ad–Policy/Looking-beyond-loan-writeoffs-for-farmers-1.aspx

Advertisements

Whose Mandate is it Anyway?

I do not come from a politically aware and astute family background. My father used to have his covert sympathy for the left parties. His logic was left, whenever it came to power, had tried to reduce price of essential commodities. Besides, being a Bengali, my father had a sympathetic corner in his heart for the young men and women joining ultra left movement of late sixties and early seventies. I have always stayed away from politics, including office politics. In the late nineties, as private TV channels like NDTV started broadcasting news, I took an interest in listening political debates on TV. It is around this time, I learnt terms like fractured mandate, hung assembly, post poll alliance etc. etc.

In the second half of 1990, India had thrown up several fractured mandates, where no single party crossed the majority mark to form a government. The term post poll alliance was used to indicate two or more like minded parties have joined forces to form government. Often these parties had fought against each other. More often than not, the principle agenda would be stopping someone else from capturing power. Desire to grab power is hidden behind lofty statements like “saving Indian democracy” and “respecting peoples mandate”. Exactly, the same drama was played out in recently concluded state assembly election of Karnataka. The ruling party, congress, reduced its tally of seats from 122 to 78. Its sitting chief minister was rejected by voters in one constituency. He barely scraped throught in the second seat he contested. Sixteen of his cabinet ministers lost their seats. Thus mandate was against the ruling party. The main challenger raised its tally from 62 to 104, however, remained short of 7 seats from majority mark. The third challenger got only 38 seats and far far away from the seat of power. Yet, it is the smallest party in terms of seat share is forming government backed by a party that people have rejected.

Question that remains unanswered is who did the voters elect to rule the state? Almost like a hardworking student who scores more than 90 percentile in his test but does not get admission in a good course. While someone else with much lower marks gets in. Because the second candidate is either from a different social strata or because he has ability to pay more money. Post poll alliance is exactly like that. A weak party becomes eligible to rule due to considerations different from voters choice.

A party that falls prey to trick like post poll alliance, should sit in the benches meant for opposition parties. Instead of complaining, they should go back to voters and explain the charade being played in the name of democracy and how popular mandate is being disrespected. I have no doubt, popular anger will wash away tricksters in next election.

Padmavat, A Regressive Film?

After a lot of protest, threat mongering, some violence and vandalism, Padmavati was finally released in UP, Haryana and rest of India. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh film was not released. States where movie was released saw footfall of viewers. So much so, in the first week of release, film is believed to have grossed 149 crore rupees.

Despite popular appreciation, the film still faced attack. This time from a member of film fraternity. Ms. Swara Bhaskar, known for her left leaning feminist outlook, wrote a very scathing letter to Mr. Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Ms. Bhaskar described the film to be regressive, a film that glorifies jauhar and Ms. Bhaskar felt she was reduced to a vagina. In the furious debate that followed, many supporters of Ms. Bhaskar’s point of view also argued that glorification of jauhar indicates a patriarchal mindset. A woman is being denied her right to life after being raped by a man. By glorifying jauhar, we are potraying women to be weak who were not courageous enough to be captured and tortured.

While Ms. Bhaskar is entitled to her opinion. Was Ms. Bhaskar angry at escapades and infatuation of Alauddin Khilji with women or was she angry with Bhansali that he had shown jauhar? It is important to understand that Mr. Bhansali is telling a story. If the story writer claims a lead character embraced fire to protect her honor, Mr. Bhansali cannot change the story line.

I think, there is some confusion between jauhar, sati and rape. It must be clarified that jauhar used to happen in medeval India. Rajput women would jump into fire to avoid being captured by invading army. When a decision to commit jauhar is made, most likely no male member of woman’s family is alive. Woman risked being captured and used as sex slave in the harem of conqueror. As per historical documents several jauhars had happened at Chittor and Ranthambhor royal families in 14th and 16th centuries. There might have been  a few other jauhars in other parts of India.

It will be unfair to brand ladies committing themselves to Jauhar as cowards. It would take a lot of courage for anyone to walk or jump into blazing fire. Compared to Jauhar, it may be much easier to submit to your conquerors. Many others had chosen to do the same. 

In contrast to jauhar, sati used to be a practice where a woman would join her husband in funeral pyre. In many cases, relatives of the woman used to persuade her to commit sati to grab her family property and wealth. Raja Ram Mohar Roy had fought agains thte practice of sati. The practice was made into a criminal offence during British rule. In modern India it is a crime to practice sati.

While sati can be said to be coercive, jauhar used to be a self made decision. Question remains was it a right decision? Should a woman not chose to live rather than embracing fire? I think, every individual should have right to end his or life at a point when it is felt death is better than living a life of dishonor. A similar debate also happened to free Ms Aruna Shanbhag from her body, that was in a state of coma for nearly three decades. Indian laws do not permit mercy killing, but a few mature democracies in the world allow mercy killing. In ancient India people at a certain stage in life will renounce society and live a life of ascetic and wait for death. Even today members of Jain community embrace death voluntarily. At the end of the day it is my life, I should have some say how I live and if I do not want to live. It may be difficult to understand psychology of people in medieval India using standards of 21st century.

 

References

  1. At The End of Your Magnum Opus… I Felt Reduced to a … – The Wire https://thewire.in/218456/end-magnum-opus-i-felt-reduced-vagina/

  2. Jauhar – Wikipedia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jauhar

  3. https://occassionalmusingsblogpost.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/whose-life-is-it-anyway

All Pervasive Duplicity

I am stuck by double standard displayed by left and left leaning civil society groups. Assault and murder of Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan, Junaid and Afrazul, were horrible and repulsive. No amount of rationalisation can justify such acts. Killers should be punished in the harshest manner possible. I agree and accept every life is equally important. No one should be bullied for their personal choices. Loss of everylife must be mourned. Life and liberty cannot be measured in terms of statistics.

The same logic, however, was deserted on the issue of triple talaq. It was put forward that only a miniscule number of Muslim women get instant divorce. Should every life of a Muslim women not be equally important, irrespective of her marital status?

It was argued who will take care of a Muslim woman, if their husband is jailed for issuing instant divorce? More important question, never ever raised in 70 years, what used to happen to a divorced Muslim woman and her kids when man used to walk out? Why sudden concern?

Then the eternal dilemma why not address issues of Hindu women, specially those who stay in old age homes in Varanasi and Vrindavan? Problem is some Hindu widows renounce society and live alone in old age is search of their spiritiual quest. Without denying there are many women who are deliberately abandoned by their kin. It must be remembered that such a Hindu practice is social in nature not bound by religious diktat. Unlike the practice of triple talaq, as claimed by preachers, banning a Hindu practice will not hamper Hindu dharma. So why equate an apple with an orange?

Some politicians have even brought marital status of prime minister into debate. It is true, Mr. prime minister did not lead a married life. But his wife was free to seek a divorce and marry anothr person of her or her family’s choice. She chose a life of her choice, that is to stay single. How is this situation related to women who are pronounced to be divorced by uttering talaq thrice?

I think many civil society and political party organised protests are motivated less by plight of victims, and more by deep antipathy to prime minister and ruling party.

Padmavati Row : Myth of Benevolent Alauddin Khalji

The film Padmavati is embroiled in great nation wide debate. Right wing groups are demanding film should not be allowed to release. According to them, film has shown Rajput queen Rani Padmavati in a poor light and glorified the role of invader Alauddin Khalji. At the same time, those who want the film should be seen, are not only questioning the very historical existence of Rani Padmavati, but they are also claiming Sultan Alauddin Khali to be a benevolent ruler, who was a great general and an able administrator.

In an earlier article, I had tried to bring forward evidence and arguments in support of Rani Padmavati. In this article, I shall try to put forward my thoughts on the myth of Alauddin Khalji being a benevolent ruler.

Articles have emerged that claim Alauddin Khalji to be a brilliant general who had brought about reforms and no way he could have been involved in lustful pursuit of women :

In another article published in Siasat Times, it is claimed that India should be grateful to Alauddin Khalji for stopping Mongol invaders from pillaging and plundering India:

A third article highlighted administrative and agrarian reforms brought about by Alauddin Khalji :

A glance at wikipedia entries against Khalji Dynasty and Alauddin Khalji reveal the following traits that go against the image makeover of Alauddin Khalji that is being published.  Let us consider the following :

Ferocious and faithless: Historians note Alauddin Khalji was a tyrant. Alauddin Khalji had killed his uncle, who was also his father in law, by treachery to ascend the throne of Delhi. Alauddin also killed his own family members, and nephews,  after he suspected them of rebellion, by first gouging out their eyes and then beheading them.

Tyrant : Alauddin Khalji was known for his cruelty against attacked kingdoms after wars.   After capturing Chittor, Alauddin Khalji had ordered slaughter of 30000 citizens. In Delhi, Alauddin Khalji had executed between 15000 to 30000 newly converted muslims for suspicion of treason. Killing so many people, including his own family members, may not get him the tag of a benevolent king. Infact by todays standard, killing of so many human beings will be called genocide.

Plundered and pillaged neigbhors: Alauddin Khalji had invaded many neighbouring kingdoms in an attempt to expand his empire. His army invaded Ranthambhor, Chittor, Gujarat, Devagiri and further down all the way to Madurai. At all places, invaders had looted treasury, looted temple treasure, destroyed temples and brought the loot back to Delhi. Thus Alauddin’s men were not really very different from the Mongol armies that were trying to invade India.

Capturing Women of Captured Kingdom : Generals of Alauddin had captured wife Kamala Devi of King Karna after capturing Patan in Gujarat. Kamala Devi was presented to Alauddin Khalji as a booty of war. Sultan had married Kamala Devi. This gives enough ammunition to argument that one of the objective of Alauddin to attack Chittor was to attain Rani Pamini.

Agrarian Reform : As described in Khalji Dynasty, Alauddin Khalji enforced four taxes on non-Muslims which included  – jizya (poll tax), kharaj (land tax), kari (house tax) and chari (pasture tax). He had created laws that would allow officers to seize by force half of all produce any farmer generates to fill sultanate granaries.

Anti Hindu Bias : Alauddin Khalji created “rules and regulations in order to grind down the Hindus, so as to reduce them to abject poverty and deprive them of wealth and any form of surplus property that could foster a rebellion the;

This article is not an attempt to demonise Alauddin Khalji. It is understood that Alauddin Khalji was an individual of his time, that is 14th century. He had his religious inclinations, his own beliefs, own ambition and prejudices. Judging by standards of 21st century he may be potrayed as a monster. In his own time and own world he was probably trying to remain true to his own self. We may champion his bravery in battlefield and praise his mastery in marshalling his forces, we should not try to paint him as a man washed in milk and honey.

References :

Stories of a Rajput queen | The Indian Express

Why India Should Be Grateful to Alauddin Khilji | The Siasat Daily

Beyond Padmavati row: 5 things Alauddin Khilji … – Business Standard

Khalji dynasty – Wikipedia

Ratnasimha – Wikipedia

Alauddin Khalji’s conquest of Gujarat – Wikipedia

Alauddin Khalji’s conquest of Devagiri – Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

Demonetisation, One Year Later

One year has passed since the decision to demonetise high value currencies was announced by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on Nov, 2016. A lot has been said both for and against demagnetisation. Nobel laureates Prof. Amartya Sen and Prof. Paul Krugman have denounced efficacy of the mechanism. On the other hand, Prof Jagdish Bhagwati had praised demonetisation as a bold move, and S. Gurumurthy, an idealogogue of RSS, has claimed demonetisation to be a paradigm shift. In the political front, former finance minister Mr. P Chidambaram has called demonitisation the biggest scam, while the current finance minister Mr. Arun Jaitley has enumerated numerous benefits of demonetization on the posterity.

As the GDP figures on second quarter of financial year 2017 -18 came out, opposition and media had attributed low GDP numbers as an adverse effect of  demonetisation. Though economists have advised not to link demonetisation to low GDP growth, critics were relentless. Many of the expected deliverables of demonetisation were not achieved, for example:

  • Terror funding was not affected as incidence of stone pelting in Kashmir did not come down.  We know, however, that post demonetisation there had been several bank robberies in Kashmir valley. Could this not indicate there was cash crunch and terrorists ran away with cash?
  • Black money was not affected by demonetisation. Not only almost all money had come back to bank, no one has been arrested and or prosecuted for holding black money. There is no doubt that people that had black money, had peddled it ingenuously. But consider this fact that 30 thousand crore has  emerged as black money and 290 thousand crore of unusual transactions are under scanner. This may suggest around 320 thousand crore unaccounted money under scanner. Is that not nearly one fifth of Indian currency in circulation?
  • Economy has crawled back from cashless to cash driven. Prior to demonetisation, cash to GDP ratio was more than 12. This ratio has come down to 9 one year after demonetisation. Some data suggest, there is definite increase in cashless transaction. All said and done, bringing behavioural change takes time. Government has made an effort. It must persist by giving incentive to using cashless transactions.
  • Many people had to endure a lot of hardship. As many as 120 people lost their lives directly or indirectly due to demonetisation. Post demonetisation, I had visited Haryana and Assam on my personal capacity. I did not see the type of misery, and devastation being propagated by TV channels and news papers. In addition, ruling party had scored significant victory in many village panchayat, municipality and state assembly elections, most notable being landslide in Uttar Pradesh.

As I hear debates for and against demonitisation, it appears that both sides are speaking the same thing. While pro demonitisation group is putting emphasis on long term benefits, opposition is not denying exactly long term benefits, but they are focusing on short term inconveniences. Pro demonitisation groups claim hardship came with the package, and people were warned. Nature of the move did not allow great preparation. Anti demo group claim perceived benefits could have achieved by different means without causing less discomfort. Who is right? Indian people will decide, may be in 2019.

References:

 

  1. The-poor-have-embraced-modi-and-the-vote-merchants-still-dont-get-it

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/all-that-matters/the-poor-have-embraced-modi-and-the-vote-merchants-still-dont-get-it/articleshow/57597948.cms

2. From-harvard-to-house-how-notebandi-naysayers-got-it-so-wrong

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/right-and-wrong/from-harvard-to-house-how-notebandi-naysayers-got-it-so-wrong/ http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/right-and-wrong/from-harvard-to-house-how-notebandi-naysayers-got-it-so-wrong/

3. Demonetisation was a fundamental corrective to the economy much like liberalisation of the 1990s : https://t.co/FM77jLjX8p

4. Why DeMo, GST are not to blame for slowdown – Times of India Blogs

5. Modi’s Mission 2022: Government is methodically shattering the glass ceilings that trap Indians in poverty

 

 

 

 

Indian Economy : A Few Facts

Recently, noted economists and former finance ministers, namely Mr. Jaswant Sinha, Mr. Arun Shourie, Mr. P Chidambaram and Dr. Subramaniam Swamy have attacked finance minister and prime minister for mismanaging economy. Some has blamed demonetisation for the slowing of economy. Others have suggested poor implementation of recently introduced Goods and Services Tax along with demonetisation to be responsible for low GDP figures. Apart from poor GDP number, critics have pointed out high unemployment, contraction of manufacturing sector, distress in agriculture sector, disruption of informal business opportunities all may be linked to poor GDP growth or contributed to it. Add to this distress high price of petroleum products also came under criticism. Though several others including prime minister of India have indicated that because of structural change in Indian economy there is a temporary slowdown, which will very likely recover soon.

I do not pretend to be an economist. I decided to study to get a better understanding of economic issues. In the best of times economy of India is as complex a subject as the country itself. Many people with great erudition have devoted their life in understanding and managing Indian economy. My understanding of the subject is rudimentary. Like every average human being, I understand than one should spend only as much as he / she earns. Otherwise, one may have to borrow and one may get into a debt trap if he / she cannot service his interest and payback his loan on time.

I started to read on the net about the state of Indian economy. I learnt that like an individual, government also borrows money and has to payback loan amount with interest. Fiscal deficit is a term that reflects difference between government earning and government spending.

Fiscal Deficit = (Government Spending – Government Earning)

Most governments borrow money for social spending, for infrastructure development and for many other reasons in national interest. Government issues a guarantee to borrower that it will return the money, by issuing government bond. Debt servicing is a term that includes the amount a government has to pay as interest plus the capital amount upon maturity of loan amount.

Debt servicing =( Interest on borrowed capital) + (return of borrowed capital at maturity)

Ratio of Debt servicing to Fiscal deficit was 0.7 in 2009 -10. It rose to 1.28 in 2014 -15. This ratio means in 2009, government was using 70% of borrowed capital in debt servicing. In 2014 -15, government was borrowing money to payback previously borrowed money and accruing debt. This is called a Ponzi scheme.

Financial Year 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15
Debt service : Fiscal Deficit

0.7

1.02 0.75 0.87 1.04

1.28

Vivek Kaul

In the second half of UPAII government, government was losing revenue due to scams, at the same time  government had to fulfil its social commitments, for example MGNREGA. So government borrowed money to fulfil her commitment and more money to pay interest and maturity amount for borrowed money. A key outcome of such a scenario is government is left with little money for spending on social schemes and government has to raise tax to generate more revenue.

Financial Year 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
Inflation 3.8 5.6 6.5 5.5 9.7 14.9 9.5 6.5 11.1 9.1 5.6 6.3 2.2 3.4
GDP 6.2 8.4 9.2 9 7.4 7.4 10.4 7.2 6.5 3.2 7.2 8 7.1 5.7
Prosperity

Influx of money leads to inflation which touched close to 10%. While a lot has been said about slowing GDP growth in second quarter of 2017, a relatively less time is devoted on  inflation data. It has been suggested that for people to prosper, atleast 1.5% difference should exist between GDP figure and inflation. As shown in table above, though growth was high between 2008 to 2012 prosperity declined due to high inflation.  By contrast, despite demonitisation, we do not see an outburst of public distress may be due to low inflation and average GDP growth. However, situation may change if GDP growth declines further and inflation rises.

It is generally believed that economy takes a long time to show real time change. So one government may pay for sins of previous government. At the same time, economic sagacity of one government may be beneficial to popularity of next government. Policies of previous government possibly has forced the current government to find avenues to generate more revenue. Demonetisation, among many things it may or may not do, will bring more people under tax net. In a nation where only 2% citizens pay tax, this may be an important step to get more tax revenue. Similarly, Goods and Sevices Tax will likely force business people to declare more income and pay higher tax. Higher price of petroleum products is very likely related to an effort to generate more revenue.

We cannot ignore what people like Mr. Jaswant Sinha and Mr. Chidambaram has said on economy. They have based their arguments on existing facts. However, if is doubtful if in a politically charged environment, if these people have considered and / or revealed all facts.

Bullet Train : An asset or liability

Now that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe have inaugarated bullet train project, there is a lot of questions being asked. Yes many are genuine questions. Is the project worth it at a cost of 110000 crore rupees covering a distance of 500 km? Critic like Mr. Akaar Patel  argue that there are so many trains (~200), great air connectivity, and a 6 lane expressway between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. According to report to become viable, the train has to carry approx. 100000 passengers daily. So why Bullet train?

Bullet train has minimal impact on Indian rail financing : The bullet train is likely to cost around 110000 crore rupees. Approximately 88000 crore rupees out of 110000 crore rupees, of the project will be financed by Japan at a nominal interest of 0.1% to be paid over fifty years. Spread over 50 years, India will have to pay 1700 crore per year plus interest (@0.1%) per year. The remaining expenditure of 30000 crore if spread over five years, will cost exchequer around 6000 crore per year. So in effect, bullet train has miniscule effect on Indian railway financing, which has a budgetary allocation of Rs. 55000 crore in 2017 -18, with 20,000 crore set aside address passenger safety related issues.

Bullet train has no bearing on safety issues of Indian rail : It has been argued that Indian railway is plagued by inefficiency, poor punctuality, poor hygine, frequent accidents and generalised poor safety record. So it is a valid argument that instead of spending on luxury items like a bullet train, Indian railway should address more mundane issues. As discussed above, if anything, bullet train project will not drain finances of Indian railway . Issues like safety, punctuality, hygiene etc are addressed by Indian railways separately. Let me look at two points here :

Railway is a public transport which is subsidised by government to fulfil its obligations to society. Yet railway needs money to address myriad issues it faces, including passenger safety. At least for a decades railway passenger fare has remained frozen, on the other hand number of trains introduced have increased. This may have impact on rail passenger safety due to impact on track maintenance.

  • According to experts, a minimum of 2 hours at regular interval is needed for track maintenance. In busy routes, say Delhi – Kolkata, such interval is less than 20 min. As a result maintenance work has been affected.
  • If trains are deliberately delayed, to maintain tracks then it may lead to loss of punctuality. Managers and administrators allow passage of trains over tracks that have not been maintained adequately.
  • Rail accidents due to various causes have come down over the years.  The number of derailments remain a problem. Out of a total of 1,14,907 km track in the country, 4,500 km should be renewed annually. In 2015-16, of the 5,000 km of track length due for renewal, only 2,700 km of track length was targeted to be renewed.
  • Even though we agree railway fare is subsidised to help fulfil social commitment, let us compare fare of Indian rail and British Rail. So next time we criticise Indian railways for service, we should remember the numbers. Travel from Delhi to Kolkata, a distance of 1500 Km, costs around Rs. 3000 in an AC 2 Tier coach of superfast Duronto express. We get refreshments, lunch/dinner and breakfast / snack as part of fare. By contrast, a distance of London to Glasgow is 500 Km, costs around 150 pounds (roughly 15000 rupees). One has to buy snacks / meals from ones own pocket. Did this affect rail safety, it may appear so. So Indian raiway is heavily subsidised. Why not remove subsidy and pour on rail safety, speed and punctuality?

Bullet train may actually indirectly improve rail safety? Many non viable trains can be phased out, if people take liking for bullet train. More time will be available for track maintenance.

Why put all eggs in one basket?

If we go beyond routine utilatarian arguments and look slightly beyond,  we must appreciate that every country and society needs options. It is upto people to decide whether they avail those options or not. Take for example of travel between Delhi and Kolkata. A few years before Duronto express was introduced. Not one, but two. One for Howrah and one for Sealdah. One coould always argue what was the need? There were two Rajdhani express trains, and many other mail and express trains. Not to mention, there were at least five airlines operating between two cities – Air India, Jet, Indigo, Spice Jet, Go Air, Vistara. Today, we do not get ticket in any superfast train unless booked well in advance. People who used to travel by regular trains have moved up into superfast trains because it cut travel time. Given time bullet train may be similarly adopted by public. If it lower travel time from six hours to two hours, why not?

Many have argued that bullet train will cost more than air ticket. Railway minister has said ticket for Ahmedabad to Mumbai will be around Rs. 3000. It should be remembered that for an one hour air travel, one has to reach airport at least two hours before. So infact one is spending three hours to fly. If the time becomes comparable or less at same price, people may opt for bullet train.

Bullet train not at the expense of education, healthcare, and other social spending 

It has been said that Bullet train costs higher than Indian education budget. In India, children at the age of two are malnourished, have stunted growth, have poor intellectual ability. All these arguments are true. These issues have been there before bullet train arrived in India. Improvement in social welfare did not happen because of lack of funding, but for poor administration and accountability?

In the name of public transport, everyone knows what kind of infrastructure that was created. Railway stations used to reek with smell of human excreta. Public toilets were unusable. Public transport buses had godawful design. An able bodied male will find it difficult to board, forget about women, elderly and sick.

If public funding of social welfare should remain the topmost priority, then India must gt out of space research. Does anyone remember in initial days how much public funding was needed for the organisation to arrive a the stage where it is now. Space research has no direct bearing on public health, education, sanitation etc etc.

Only a shortsighted person pits one activity of government against the other. Like interim prime minister of India, Chaudhuri Charan Singh, had stopped preparation of India for Asian Games of 1982. Only after Mrs. Indira Gandhi came back to power, the activity was resumed.  Cancellation would have brought bad name to India as a host of an international event. Many intangible benefits accrued that cannot be counted in monetary terms. For example, expossure to international athletes, creation of an awareness to sports, and availability of sports infrastructure. Similarly, bullet train infrastructure will be an Indian asset. Indian engineers and technicians will learn how Japanese work and think and their dedication to work. All these will be good for India.

India’s Rohingya Dilemma

I read a story in Mahabhara. At the time region was going through severe drought, a brahmin earns a little food for his family of four – self, wife, son and daughter in law. The family was hungry for several days. When they were just about to sit down for their meal, Dharma appears at their door to test their piety. Dressed as a brahmin, Dharma said I have not eaten for a few days. Please give me some food. According to tradition, a guest is like a god. Guest cannot leave without being taken care of. But Brahmin was helpless. He himself had not eaten for days. This was to be their first meal in many days. So what should he do? Who should spare his / her morsel. Being head of the house, Brahmin offered his piece of bread to the guest. After eating the piece, guest was still hungry. So brahmin’s wife gave him her bread. Guest was still hungry. So first his son, and then his daughter in law gave their share of breads as well. Dharma went away happy. That night, the brahmin family passed away. They all went to heaven. They place where brahmin family prepared and ate their meal, a mongoose came and rolled himself on crumbs of dough. One side of his body became golden. Since then the mongoose is in search of another selfless family, for rolling into their crumbs. So that remaining portion of its body becomes golden.

I narrated this story to share my thoughts on deportation of Rohingya muslims from India. Rohingya muslims fled their home in western Myanmar fearing persecution. In India is believed there are around 40000 Rohingya muslims. Out of which around 16500 are legal, rest have moved in through porus borders. Indian government has decided to identify and deport illegal Rohingya population. But human rights groups have filed a petition against such deportation.

Indian dilemma is how to deal with Rohingya people. Tradition tells us to be generous, to be selfless. But, like the poor brahmin family of ancient time, todays India is beset with own problems. India that has 120 crore people of her own. Many of them poor without access to healthcare, education, food and sanitation. In India hardly 2% people pay tax. How can India afford to accept Rohingya people when she cannot take care of her own people? Add, to the resource problem, the terrorism angle. There is suggestion that there is Rohingya angle to Bodh Gaya blast of 2013.

In the Mahabharata, brahmin did not ask his wife or son or daughter in law to give up their bread. He gave his share first. His family could have declined to share their morsels. Because as head of the house, sin of insult to a guest would accrue to the head of the family. In the present day India, debate is between self interest and generosity. In the matter of spending public resource, should India act magnanimous, at the expense of depriving her own people? Or should India take care of interest of her own people, and use her clout to convince other nations to chip in and accept displaced Rohingya people. She may convince Myanmar to evolve policy such that Rohingya people do not feel persecuted. But if India decides to take in more people from different country, it should ask her own people.

OBOR, CPEC and India

China has come out a grand vision of world connectivity. In One Belt One Road summit held in Beijing on May, 2017, Chinese President shared his grand vision of interconnected world. As part of the plan China will invest 124 billion dollars towards building of road, rail and sea networks connecting Asia with Europe, Africa and beyond. As many as 29 countries from all continents participated in the meeting. Many were represented by heads of states, which included President of Russia, President of Turkey, Prime Minister of Pakistan, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. Other countries had sent their senior ministers. Many countries in Indian neighborhood, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka also participated in the meeting.  India had abstained from the meeting.

The opinion on Indian decision to abstain has been mixed. Mr. Manishankar Aiyer has written that India has isolated herself by not attending the meeting. While, others have supported Indian move to boycott the summit. To be fair, India had limited option. As part of Belt and Road Initiative, China is building an economic corridor, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), that runs through disputed Jammu and Kashmir state. India claims Jammu and Kashmir belongs to her. China, however, brazenly constructing highway through a region that is not only disputed, it has a potential of surrounding India from the eastern and western borders. China on the other hand, is very sensitive to territories it considers disputed. For example, China claims Arunachal Pradesh of India to be her territory. China objects to India allowing Dalai Lama visiting Arunachal Pradesh. Because according to China, Arunachal is a disputed territory.  Same goes for Tibet, same goes for South China Sea and islands in the area. China considers every piece of disputed real estate to be her own. Under this situation, India joining OBOR summit is akin to accepting Pakistan’s claim on occupied portions of Jammu and Kashmir state.

In the short run, India appears to be isolated. However, in long term it can be argued can CPEC be successful without India participating in the initiative? Consider the following points:

  •  Carrying oil from Guador to Xinxiang will be ten times more expensive than sea route. Obviously, this stated objective of CPEC may not be the prime objective.
  • Pakistan will have access to power, infrastructure, information technology, modern agricultural technology. Question arises, can average Pakistani afford to pay the high price of power? Will Pakistani people be ready to pay toll for travelling on motor way?
  • If Pakistan defaults on payment of her interest of 55 billion dollars loan, China will take over the property it has paid for to build. The same has happened in Sri Lanka and in many countries of Africa.
  • Will Pakistani people get enough high quality jobs? Unlikely. Because Chinese prefer to work with their own man power and using their own raw material.
  • On the upside, China may ask Pakistan to rein in terror groups. Already Pakistan has announced Hafiz Saeed as exporter of terror. India may breathe a little easy because cross border terrorism may come down because China may prevail upon Pakistan to rein in jihadi groups to protect Chinese interest. How terrorist groups will react to new situation, only time will tell.

Overall, it appears CPEC and BRI are heavily tilted in favour of China. As Chinese economy is slowing down, China may be creating jobs for her burgeoning population through infrastructure projects. Many also believe, polluting industries may be transferred out of China, into places like Pakistan. Nevertheless, being the stronger economy, larger population, and stronger economy, for any BRI and CPEC to be successful, India must participate at some point in time.