26 July 2010

Dead end ahead?

Ramchandra Guha's article in the Telegraph about the IRMA assessment of the PESA:
..the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act. Passed in 1996, PESA conferred on tribal communities the ownership of non-timber forest produce, the power to prevent alienation of land to non-tribals, the power of prior recommendation in granting mining leases, and the right to be consulted in land acquisition by the government. Assessing the impact of the legislation a decade later, the report found that “in most states, the enabling rules for the gram sabha’s control over prospecting of minor minerals, planning and management of water bodies, control and management of minor forest produce, [and] dissent to land acquisition are not yet in place, suggesting reluctance by the state governments to honour the mandate of PESA”.
In the past decade, it is in tribal districts that the Maoists have made the greatest gains, in good part because of the State’s own short-sighted and exploitative policies. The IRMA researchers are no sympathizers of the methods of the Naxalites. They see them (in my view, rightly) as a threat not just to Indian democracy, but to democratic values in general. They quote an activist who notes that while the Maoists might have, in the beginning, fought for greater economic and social rights for tribals, over the years they have “become corrupt, power hungry and intolerant of any difference[s]”. The insurgents are also deeply hypocritical; thus “while denouncing the ‘loot of adivasi resources’, the Party takes money from the mining industry to fund its operations”.
Ironically, although it had commissioned this assessment of PESA, the ministry of panchayti raj has thus far refused to allow it to be printed. If the ministry is sincere about its mandate, it should have this study read by all its officials. The officials of the home ministry and the prime minister’s office would profit from reading it too. Perhaps four people in particular should closely read and digest its contents: the prime minister, the home minister, the Congress president, and the youngest of the Congress general secretaries.

As Guha writes:

The IRMA study quotes an activist saying, “The government might not be interested in talking to the Maoists without certain pre-conditions. But what stops it from talking to its own people and understanding their pain?” Mahatma Gandhi once walked through the riot-torn districts of Bengal and Bihar — it may be too much to ask the leaders of today to walk through Dantewada, or Koraput, or Narayanpur, or Gadchiroli, or any of the other areas of tribal suffering and discontent.
The report can be read at Tehelka's website here and concludes:
But PESA—if honestly honoured—might help us 
as a democracy, to begin rewriting this tragic story. Incidentally, this may be the last opportunity 
that the State may have to retrieve PESA. The alternative is too horrific even to contemplate for 
the Tribal Areas.

22 July 2010

Step on the gas.. with care!

Excellent post by Suvrat Kher, geologist, on the implications of using shale gas as an energy source in India:
Over the last few months, several articles and papers have emphasized the potential role shale gas will play in India's hunt for energy. Shale gas is natural gas trapped in fine grained sediment.
I don't know how much shale gas resources India has because there has not been a systematic evaluation of shale gas. India's current energy policy prohibits exploitation of shale gas and coal-bed methane. The sooner that policy changes the better for energy starved India.
Still, there is one aspect of exploiting these resources that has not been touched upon by any of the articles I have come across and that is the environmental costs of extracting shale gas.

He goes on to point out the social and environment costs, the regional implications as well that need to be carefully dealt with.  

21 July 2010

What's wrong with economics?

A great speech by a Central Banker, Dr DeLisle Worrell, Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados that talks of the problems with economics today, about complexity economics, about looking at data and understanding its details rather than going in for models that hide such detail at the aggregate..and lots more.

Our theories can’t deal with reality, so we ignore the real world and spend our time “testing” our theories. If economics is to have any advice to offer which is useful for the management of real economies, we must speak to the reality in all its rich complexity, using all the data we have, all the methodologies we can devise, and all the sources of insight we can borrow. We must dig as deeply as we can, and become sleuths in pursuit of deeper understanding of our economies, even if our search leads us into paths that are dark and uncertain.

So when central bankers talk of going back to the drawing board and making theory more realistic, what does that mean for policy?

15 July 2010

Agents of change

A recent news item about the Finance Minister to tell CEOs to tone down their lavish lifestyle, had a quote from Tarun Das of CII :
"People in India think the corporate sector is not doing enough for the society,” he said. It was time, for instance, that the top 10 Indian corporates set aside Rs 1,000 crore each for providing safe water, good quality education and medical facilities for the poor, he said.
“More than money, the corporate sector has the management skills to execute programmes without leakages. They must join the government in its efforts,” Das said.

Perception-wise this is correct, the general feeling is that the corporate sector can do much more. Yet public perception of the government not doing enough either is also very strong.
However, mandating limits is not the right way to go about it, it is in fact a rather bureaucratic solution and it is doubtful whether public perception will change much even if such amounts are spent.
What would prove more useful would be to see how much does the corporate sector actually do, and here a study by the CII would be valuable as a benchmark.

More interesting though was his second point, that the corporate sector should join the government in its efforts and help execute programmes without leakages - now that will be a big step ahead. There are of course instances where this is already happening, e.g the UID project - Nandan Nilekani has opened the doors to volunteers :What we are finding in many companies there are a lot of youngsters who want to do something meaningful for a couple of years in the social world. So we have volunteer sabbatical programme. We generally want this to be a public participative project because it is not limited to a few people. It is about getting everybody energized. So anyway they can help we’ll be happy.

Another example of the corporate sector aiding the government in raising efficiency is TeamLease Services, which has tied up with the Karnataka government to revamp the defunct employment exchanges in the state:
According to TeamLease, India currently runs about 14,000 government employment exchanges with about four crore registered candidates. Only two lakh jobs were created last year.  Under the new public-private model, TeamLease would set up the building and infrastructure to run the service, and government would contribute to the training costs. This means registered candidates will get trained for free.
Small steps maybe but in the right direction.

And then there is the news that Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze are back with the National Advisory Council. What is heartening is that 'Both see the state as part of the problem, not the solution. Dreze frankly says he continues to find the government and its functionaries “elitist” and “repressive”; Roy, that ordinary people and their concerns are far away from the priorities of those in power in Delhi' Yet, there they are, working with the government, doing their bit to get a better system worked out.

Of course, all these efforts will work only if the government is open to such assistance and is willing to work out change in its own functioning. As PK Dubashi points out in a piece on dealing with the Naxal challenge,'Dedicated leaders and selfless people like Baba Amte and his sons, Vikas and Prakash, spent years in tribal areas, providing them medical service. So do the couple, Abhay Bang and Rani Bang. They are respected by the tribal society but the government does not feel it necessary to consult them and take their guidance. Instead selfish leaders from the tribal communities rule the roost and instead of helping their own community they promote their own interests and those of their families.'
His solution: 'We will have to refashion our administration of the tribal areas. A large number of young people with dedication and idealism, conversant with tribal language, culture and way of life, would have to be put in service in administrative positions in the tribal areas. The sooner such a new approach is adopted, the better.'

 There is no dearth of such people, but the question again arises, will the current administration allow such a change..or rather to phrase the question more constructively - what will it take for the current administration to allow such a change? If we look at the examples of currently successful efforts like the UID, the change has to come from within, whether it is the corporate sector, social activists or volunteers ready to work, they cannot work with the government unless the government works with them. It is when the hand of help is accepted that public perception will change, for both the government and the corporate sector.

01 July 2010

This time for Africa!

Read about a very interesting project in Africa, under the Millennium Project initiative, a new health application based on mobile phone Child count+ which allows community health centres to monitor every single child in their area and follow up on the progress. With networks now all in place, such ICT initiatives are set to explode all over the continent. For more particulars check this.
 Matt Berg, Director of ICT for the Millennium Villages project, indicated that, as of this year, all MVs are wired for Internet and mobile phone service, thanks in large part to partners Zain and Ericsson. These systems are connected to the larger fiber networks now in place through much of Africa. “The infrastructure is in place,” Berg said, and “Africa is ready to code.”
The ChildCount+ Goals

Register every child – Create a “living” registry of all children under five in a community. This list provides the basis for CHWs to monitor the health status of their children.
Screen for malnutrition every 90 days for children from 6 months to 5 years. When a child with acute malnutrition is detected, the program provides support for Plumpy’nut based malnutrition treatment.
Monitor for malaria and diarrhea – track and treat the two major preventable causes of death in children under five. ChildCount+ provides support for home based malaria RDT testing and ACT dosing, and oral rehydration salt (ORS) usage.
Full child immunization support - Group all children in monthly age groups to know when a particular immunization is due. Record all immunizations and follow up with all children who are behind with their immunization schedule. Help manage vaccination campaigns.
Register all newborns and record when child deaths occur to enable local CHWs and communities to understand why.

The system can even be used to transfer wages to CHWs and monitor their productivity. 
It shouldn't be too hard to get similar programmes underway in India.Though the Minister of State for Health Dinesh Trivedi just went on television complaining about the red tapism in his own ministry -

"Roadblocks are that these people (bureaucrats) are not innovative. They don't understand technology. Young people fresh out of college would be able to run the Health Ministry better that these bureaucrats," he said. 
So will we catch up with Africa someday on public health programmes?