Saturday, August 31, 2013

Indian economy has been redefined

Observing the events of the past few weeks, with a sharp focus on the two most critical ones - the passage of the Food Security Bill 2013, and the dip in Indian GDP growth rate (first quarter) - I realise that these two events will ensure that the Indian economy stands redefined in a fundamental way. I clarify that my personal conviction is all for food security for those who really need it, but not at the cost of taking a huge risk with the fundamental economics of the whole nation, which includes people who do not need it (the food security as promised).

To set the background right - I am very proud of Indian agriculture. Despite so many hurdles, India is the biggest producer of milk and pulses in the world, and leads in at least 10 other areas substantially. We have world-class research institutes, and sincere scientists, politicians and farmers. 

Let me now list the reasons I feel that the Indian economy has been redefined.

Issue 1. The successful passage of the Food Security Bill 2013 This clearly implies a huge change in the way the agricultural economy in India works. And since more than 50% of people depend on it for their direct incomes, that's profound. Even more significant is the fact that 67% of Indian population will be directly covered by the handouts of this Bill's promise.

Issue 2. The central role of Indian farmers
The HUGE promises made in the Bill require massive procurement of foodgrains (wheat, rice, coarse cereals) which means our farmers need to work really hard to produce more (since imports are ruled out). Given the extremely low productivity of agriculture in India, this means that in a few months or years from now, the strains will start showing. 

Issue 3. Why our farm productivity is not going to improve anytime soon
The table clearly highlights the structural problem with Indian farm productivity. Majority of the farmers are stuck with very small landholdings due to social, personal and family reasons. Consolidation is the crying need of the hour, but since that entails huge social readjustments, I do not see that happening quickly. Maybe in another 10 - 20 years, but not now. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Sen-Bhagwati debate - a refreshing change!

Prof. Amartya Sen
The past few weeks have seen headlines announcing a shrill debate between the Sen and Bhagwati camps of economic growth theory. The pace at which the rancour has grown is paralleled only by the one being witnessed in the Modi-Rahul debate. And that's saying a lot!

So what's the big noise all about? Let's get to the basics to understand the debate.

Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati
Amartya Sen (80) and Jagadish Bhagwati (79) are two of the most renowned Indian-origin names in the field of economics. While Mr Sen has contributed immensely to the field of welfare economics and has even been a big force in the design of the UNDP's Human Development Index (HDI) under the leadership of Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, Mr Bhagwati has been a leading global light that's come from the subcontinent. As an American economist and professor of economics and law at Columbia University, he's well known for his research in international trade and for his advocacy of free trade. Amartya Sen, in 1999, was awarded the 'Bharat Ratna' India's highest civilian award, and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998. Bhagwati, meanwhile, earned the Mahalanobis Medal (1974) and the Padma Vibhushan (2000).

Their vigorous debate can essentially be reduced to this : what comes first - chicken or egg?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Munde's Rs.9 crores sets the cat amongst India's white pigeons

In one of those positive-firing-in-my-neurons moments Mr.Gopinath Munde, a senior BJP leader, accepted from a public podium that he spent more than Rs.9 crores in his parliamentary elections, much above the statutory mandated Election Commission limit of Rs.40 lacs. Personally I feel that it must have one of those sanctimonous "Oh, what the heck, why this hyprocrisy" feeling for Mr.Munde when he startled everyone - most of all his opponents (read the Congress) by such a frank admission. His political rivals are ecstatic that he has chosen to say something they would never have (at least not from a public platform)!

Perhaps the gravity of his mistake must have been apparent to him immediately after saying it, as in this nation we reward hyprocrisy and tartar-twisted-two-timing politicians who lie incessantly far more than simple, frank, honest ones. 

(media reports initially suggested 9 crores and 40 lacs as the amounts under debate, which was later rectified to 8 crores and 25 lacs respectively. Snippets from the People's Representation Act 1950 can be seen here)

Some big questions pop up, in the wake of this rather unexpected declaration from Mr Munde.
  • Does anyone - ANYONE - believe the spending amounts mentioned in the affidavits filed to the EC, by all winning (and runner-up) candidates, in the parliamentary elections, which declare an expense of around Rs 40 lacs?
  • Does even the Election Commission of India really believe any of those documents, so sanctimoniously filed with it, claiming they never breached its hallowed limit of Rs.40 lacs in the whole election?   (I suspect they must be having a long laugh reading those!)
  • Do we not know how difficult it is for a politician to really win an election in a typical parliamentary constituency in India? Each one is so big (the constituency, that is), with so many far-flung villages and hamlets, that accessing and influencing them all is impossible in a measly Rs.40 lacs? Even a small meeting of a thousand people will need a lac rupees or more to be well-managed.
  • Are we, and the EC, not aware of the unstoppable spikes of inflation that have jacked up the rates for tea, coffee, drinking water (bottled), printing, posters, pamphlets, fuel, jeep rentals, loudspeakers, manpower et al, in the past 20 years at a stretch?
Personally I feel that anyone who has set up an enterprise in India, and is running it, knows it is impossible to run a full-fledged election campaign and spend less than Rs.40 lacs. This is totally ludicrous, at least to me. (You may disagree)

So why the hypocrisy? What is the real problem? Can it not be solved?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Finally, Hashtags are mainstream!

Hashtag Twitter Facebook image for Bright Sparks blog Sandeep Manudhane SM
The humble hashtag
Say what you may, but going mainstream sounds hollow unless the biggest of them endorses you. And Facebook has done the humble Hashtag the favour finally. The “#” is now officially the disparate-content-puller-aggregator on the world’s biggest social media platform also, in addition to the hugely addictive Twitter.

So what is this Hashtag (hashtag from here on), what does it do, and why the fuss?

Many years ago (six is many in internet lingo!), open source and open standards advocate Chris Messina introduced the hashtag to Twitter, thereby transforming it into the fast moving yet stable content reference and sharing microblog we know it today. What would Twitter be without the humble # that so easily helps us look up any topic we wish to, in real time?

Perhaps it is this very ease of use that has finally prompted Facebook to accord the distinguished “officially approved” status to the hashtag. On its official blog, Facebook calls the hashtag feature the first step of “a series of features that surface some of the interesting discussions people are having about public events, people, and topics.”

This is a nicely couched way of saying – “Hey, we seem to have missed out on a great simple tool to collect separated information on same topic. Let’s catch it from hereon!”

Why are hashtags so cool?

Hashtags are perhaps the easiest way to read the BIG picture on a topic, rather than views of only those you are connected to.