Finding solutions to the world’s water crisis!

Water resources is a critical factor these days. So too the critical leadership that is sensitive and committed to augmenting water resources for agriculture and drinking water and for the general health of the economy and society.

What do we see on the ground?

riverVery narrow political and sectarian considerations. Take the daily newspapers. One regional party in the South, “the DMK slams Kerala’s plant to build check dams across the Bhavani River” runs a headline! Supreme Court says that the Sutlej-Yamuna link canal decree cannot be flouted. And on and on.

There are any number of smaller rivers and canals need to be attended to take waters further and further. Only when you live in a village you would realise how serious the water crisis is nowadays. Who is the implanting agency for water resources?

The water resources minister and the agri minister or their deputies must be travelling all the time. But they are nowhere to be seen nor we hear them about what they are doing!
That is the dilemma of a democratic government. There is so much to do, so much freedom for people’s representatives to do many useful things. But governance in a democracy always takes a beating!

With the widespread drought hurting the economy and the lives of vast mass of farmers, it is time to read anything that pertains to augmenting water resources and tapping all sources of waters. Just now we read a review of a new book on Meltdown in Tibet: China’s reckless destruction of the ecosystem from the highlands of Tibet to the deltas of Asia. By Michaeal Buckley (Palgrave Macmillan).

The Chinese has committed ecocide in the vast Himalayan land it had invaded in 1950, says the author who has also managed to get a foreward from the Tibetan monk, Dalai Lama.

Anyway, here is this book that details how Tibet is a quarter of China’s land mass. But here is some critical information on China’s water potential. Tibet’s 37,000 glaciers, its ecological status as the third pole, the largest store of ice after Antarctic and Arctic-and the great Asian rivers feeding five mega deltas-the Indus in Pak, the Ganges-Brahmaputra in India and Bangladesh, the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, the Mekong in South East Asia and the Yangtse in China-all have their origin in Tibet!
The Chinese have mastered the giant skills to divert large rivers.

So, let us pause here and think how much the world can benefit by equitably distributing these mighty rivers for the larger benefit of those countries in need of big water resources?

Let us all know how much remains to be done as the great tasks of peace and finding solutions to the world’s water crisis?

No CMD for the Agriculture Insurance Corporation!

Prime Minister’s many welfare schemes: what progress?

There are many of the Modi government welfare schemes that are advertised extensively.

pmfbyOne of the welfare schemes is about the farmers’ crop insurance scheme. Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bhima Yojana. It is a year since the scheme was launched. The new scheme has brought down the premiums considerably. The government has targeted 50 % of farmers in three years.

What is the progress of the scheme in the first year? The old crop insurance schemes introduced in 1999 and 2011 didn’t make any headway. As per official data in 2015, only a fifth of the country’s farm land was under crop insurance!

Anybody surprised? Only those who are innocent would believe official data or even officials and ministers would believe what they say about agriculture. Not we, at this media!

For we know for sure that agriculture doesn’t attract any public attenton, let alone the media. There is no agriculture media worth its name in the country. Anyone who w ventures into the agri media knows how serious is the lacuna! There is a huge DAVP, the Central government agency. Not a single paisa comes to the agri media like ours.

That is all the so-called agri media and publicity are for those who are already entrenched and who cream away the funds. On the PM’s foreign trips, do they care to take farmers representatives on the PM’s special aircraft?

The matter is so serious it is better to leave the matter at this point!

The Prime Minister’s pet crop insurance scheme, it isn’t reported, has not been received well by the farmers associations themselves! Says Kavitha Kurungati, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture: The non-loanee farmers are usually tenant farmers or share croppers who also pay huge lease rents. In coastal AP for instance a tenant farmers pays usually Rs.30, 000 per acre per year as lease rent. Tenant farmers in most states don’t have access to institutional credit and since the banks are go to implement the insurance schemes; the tenant farmers are practically ignored. Farmers associations are opposed to banks debiting premiums from farmers’ accounts without the farmers consent. This is another bone of contention.

There are any number of problems, you know?

So much of crop-cutting experiments! Four crop cutting experiments, for 2.5 lakhs and odd gram panchayats! Where is the manpower with revenue depts.?

But we also read that the Agriculture Insurance Corporation (AIS) is also functioning without a full-time head! AIC with 40 percent share in crop insurance. After Joseph Plapapallil left as CMD in March last year. The charge has been transferred twice. RN Dubey held the post till September, says an official inside AIC!

So, here too we have to examine how seriously we are implementing these schemes.
The five most advertised welfare schemes on television for the period from January 1 to August 5 were Swatch Bharat, National Health Mission, Skill India, National Rural Health Mission and Pay Jal Aur Swachata Mantralaya, according to data from Broadcasting and Information ministry. Other government programmes advertised heavily on TV during this period were Save Fuel, International Yoga Day and anti-tobacco campaign. The objective of publishing these schemes is to make the intended beneficiaries aware of the initiatives and befits to reach the people.

A total of 350 crores for 2015 -16 has been published in the newspapers.
In this budget comes some other schemes as well such as Swatch Bharat(Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (Rs.211 crores) Indra Danush(10.3 crores) and PM Fasal Bhima Yojana(crop insurances for farmers(Rs.9.7 crores),Beti Bachao Beti Padhao(Rs.20.5 crores).

Why quote these figures? Now comes the news about the actual working of the farmer’s crop insurance schemes’ working.

The Businessline reports an elaborate account, in our opinion, mostly thankless job, we find as per the Agriculture Ministry press release, it is claimed that the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bhima Yojana had made impressive progress. There is a six-fold increase in the coverage of “non-loanee farmers, from 14.88 lakh in 2015 to over 100lakh in 2016.

There are loane and non-loane farmers. The ones who had not availed of crop insurance.
The figures are not surely dependable given the fact that the Agricultural Insurance Corporation, a central government institution, has covered only 40 per cent of all farmers under the schemes.

Tamil Nadu is the one state after 15 years is the state with lowest number of farmers with a crop insurance cover!

How we in India understand the economic growth and political fall-outs?

How transparent is governance in India?
After all these years of Modi government?
Parties, castes and dynasties don’t change anyway!

modiNow, Modi government is out of the woods, so to say? Demonetisation has eased peoples’ hardships? Country and the issues are of a long-term nature. The Global Wealth Report 2016 compiled by the Credit Swisse Research Institute (CSRI) notes, India is the second most unequal country in the world with top 1% of the population owning 60% of the total wealth. How much of the wealth of the top 1% comes under the government scanner? No one asks and no one seems to know either. Now, comes the real damper: IMF has projected a slower growth, from 7.6% to 6.6% in 1017 and also pitching China with a higher growth rate.

We are sure Modi’s experts might have advised the PM and whatever be the other implications these are the basic realities on the ground.

What about other questions? Black money elsewhere? Corruption and black money in elections? Governance and other issues?

Governance is slack. Much of the government official machinery is left unattended. The so many high offices, from higher court judges ,even the CBI(as we write the decision is left undecided, there are other urgent reforms.EC reforms so that many of the much-debated issues left undecided. Election funding, including the pending cases before the Supreme Court about the undisclosed sources of income by parties.

We dont want to bore the readers and only draw attention to the report on black money with the parties as revealed by the Association fro Democratic Reforms(ADR).

In fact, even this question seems silly for we all know how much efficient is our government machinery?

We know, some of the most sensational cases of high corruption and high criminality, even as per the latest news reports there are some more than 300 high profile criminal cases that have come for final stages of hearing, after filing of charge sheets and also sending summons from ED and CBI and other agencies the cases haven’t come for further hearing and disposal!

What does this mean? It means that even if we all agree upon the latest statistics on high corruption cases there are any number that are unlikely to come up for final disposal in the near future. Why?

We all know that our politics, our democratic structure, as one Information Commissioner put it, is the most undemocratic at its basic structure. There are political parties that are controlled by forward castes and also there are parties headed by families that are dynastic and blatantly so so as to make any change nearly impossible.

So, the caste alliances, more and more as elections are getting more narrow focused and becoming opportunistic alliances. See the latest alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress?

Till yesterday the parties were posturing differently, today once the election dates are announced, the Samajwadi and Congress have no illusion or shame but they align without any qualm of conscience or truth whatever! Now, what is the lesson? Survival, not any prospects of long-term tie-up.

How then can you explain the alliances in the latest round of elections in five states?
In UP alone you see the parties churning different explanations for their own survival.
What principle or accountability you see? None whatever!

Rahul Gandhi is now under obligation to the Samajwadi party. He will play the junior partner. When he hopes to lead his party as an alternative to BJP? Never, perhaps how knows too? It looks like that. Rahul’s legitimacy would come only when he himself is contesting. When he is winning. After the BJP came to power Rahul Gandhi hasn’t won any election, if we leave out his another alliance in Bihar. In Bihar too he did marginalise himself by standing near the giants! He went in late there and fell in line!

As one academic (Kanchan Chandra, professor of politics, of New York University)puts it the dominance of the forward castes, read brahmins and the other OBCs and others have only become more dominant, the dynastic and the democratic ideals coincide so silently!.Also, not just forwards castes, the sub-alternisation, the consolidation of Dalits, adivasis, there is a rise in these trends towards consolidations.

Why dynasties becoming dominant? Here again our view is that more and more political parties get used to handling unaccounted funds and there is no chance, even now, after Mr.Modi has been going round and preaching his own version of demonetisation, there seems to be no hope that cash has vanished, there is still 6% of cash in black money and the rest 94% of the wealth is in real estate and also in foreign banks, say reports.

They, the fat cats know how to launder money and this is going on as we write!
So, the so-called digitisation of our cashless economy also carries with it a parallel digital divide as part of the ground level reality. We can go on and on in this fashion.
To cut the story short that we have to introduce simultaneously other steps like Lok Pal, Lok Ayukta and other institutional bodies like an active independent judiciary and Election Commission with powers to check malpractice and why, even a legislation that no leader can contest twice to the same top posts like the Chief Minister!

Otherwise, you would have the same phenomenon like 6 times CMs, the same person as party president for almost life! As is the case with Sonia Gandhi as party president for some 20 years! Then as the many anomalies. Son succeeds the father to the party post and also hopefully to the Chief Minister’s gaddi.!

More relevant, the case pending before the Supreme Court, of the unaccounted election funds, as admitted b y the two large political parties, namely, the Congress and the BJP, before the apex court has to be disposed of expeditiously.

The black money in the form of election funds is the single most source of mischief and we have carried this bad legacy for far too long. Recently, there have been too much revelation about the rise of inequality in the world’s wealth generation. Also, there are debates about the economic growth rate in major countries.

Also, the political fallout. The recent elections in the USA and Europe show there is a rightwing turn and also the rise of populism and in short a rise in illiberalism.
All this point towards a unstable world economy and polity.

This is not a happy turn.

The reality and the multiple issues.

The government is now on accelerating economic growth by all means.

MamathaThe World Bank has now put the Indian economic growth rate at 7 per cent. This is way down from what we claimed to be the world’s fastest growing economy. Even faster than what China was claiming.

After we were claiming with much fanfare an economic growth rate of 7.6 per cent growth, there is now a clear indication there is clear slowdown. The demonetisation aimed at checking the role of black money circulation that exceeded all limits of reasonableness, and also seeing the corruption in the economic and political systems were also becoming almost scandalous, the government did the most bold step perhaps for a long time. By suddenly on November 8 the government announced a shock and awe-type step by rendering the high value notes invalid overnight.

This, we also welcomed as a bold move and believed the Indian economic ills needed such a shock treatment. Even now, after many weeks, this hope and optimism persists. We only want this debate must bring forth further new ideas and new innovative steps so that the economy and the country stands to benefit.

The government for its part went on an over-drive of publicity on all fronts. The move was called as a game changer, as transformational etc. Yes, it was and even now it can have such far-reaching beneficial impact, we believe.

But what started as a fight against corruption was welcomed by people. Public opinion by and large reacted positively, though the inconvenience to the public was considerable. Now, after two months and more, the reality is as the newspaper headlines put it:”Currency supply to the financial system is still below 50% of pre-note ban days”. This was on January 16.And also the government still says that recovery might take a few more weeks.

The question is: how long we would be in this uncertain phase of our economic recovery. Recovery we must make and also do many other things in the process to accelerate the economy back to the same old rate of 7.6 per cent.

The other day, why even almost every day, we hear the Prime Minister and the other ministers saying on the TV channels and elsewhere that now the emphasis is on how to make the digital payments universal.

Now, the pitch is to make the digitalisation of the payments system almost complete. Is this rush and obsession a bit too premature and causing further delays in the recovery to normalcy in the currency circulation and easing of existing restrictions on banks and ATMs?

Every major and minor opinion is now geared to bring the public attitudes to this particular pitch. The other day we saw on the TV screens that heavyweights of the financial sector, like for instance, Deepak Parekh and other industry captains like Sunil Munjal were brought on the platform to endorse whatever the government is doing. Fine here too, if the pitch helps the shaping of public opinion and also leads to really easing the discomfort that is persisting as we still see in the long queues that stand before the bank offices and the ATMs. To see the public crowding before the RBI offices tell a lot of things. Isn’t it so?

Economics is a tough and complex subject

You see economics is a tough call and economic growth is every economist’s playground or a nightmare, depending upon on whose side the particular economist places himself.

Unfortunately in India, there are too many economists who had worked for the government. The government economists, that are the ones who had worked like, say, Dr.Manmohan Singh who also eventually rose to the position of the Prime Minister the ordinary citizens doesn’t gain by his mature wisdom, however important or other might be. Why?

You see Dr.Singh, now in retirement is doing a flip-flop job of one day seen as an active Congress party activists and the other day seeking to work as a professor of economics in a university in Punjab. Is he a professional economist or a professional political activist?
How the common man would look at him and seek his wisdom for the larger public good?

So too the other famous economists, all seniors and all who were active and vocal till a few years ago and now under Mr.Modi’s regime they all seemed to have fallen silent for some inexplicable reasons?

So too the others who as independent media voices have now fallen silent.
Why, even the media, we mean the whole of the TV news channels and the large print media, we guess or suspect that some of the assumed independent newspapers have become very obliging and their independent voices seem a bit muted and we don’t have any contrary views to the government propaganda thrust.

How to fight corruption?
The most obvious questions, as we see, are as follows:
1. How far we have succeeded in fighting corruption, both corporate and political corruption?
2. We have rendered closing the obvious loopholes, no doubt. The big fishes are affected. But can we say we have really put in place any institutional mechanism so that independent of this one measure there is a sustainable and independent authority, like say, Lok Pal or Lokayukta so that corruption at many levels, administrative, political and other forms of corruption are brought to book. As per the latest news reports, there are already a number of criminal cases, of prominent nature that are not proceeding further for more than three years.

Also some of the agencies entrusted with the task of implementation are in various stages of inaction!

There is also other aspects of the lack of clarity or lack of commitment to further close the loopholes of corruption. The PM has been talking of reforming the political state, making the electoral funding accountable.

There is delay for obvious reasons. Unless we reform the electoral funding, there will be political corruption of a very mind-boggling scale and banning the high value notes might not impact much of our past habits.

So too the black money and counterfeit currency in funding terrorism. So, we like to say, sadly, that instead of doing these obvious corrections we seem to be trying to convert the Indian masses to digital payment practices.

As many editorials in the new media noted that to rid the political system of corruption at the roots, digitise funding of political parties and make it cashless! Can’t this be done by the PM who is relentless in calling all the other sections of society to do the same?
So, it looks the government’s obsession with converting a traditional economy accustomed to cash to a digital mode is a bit premature, it seems. There is as per the experts a portion of black money hoarded in cash. Most of that has now entered the banking system in the form of deposits made with demonetised banknotes. So, a new currency normalcy could be achieved with a circulation of currency level of around Rs.Two Lakh Crore below the pre-demonetisation level of circulation. The existing restrictions on cash withdrawals from banks and ATMs that has led to sharp decrease in the availability of cash in the economy has surely led to a slowdown and that would impact on the economic growth.

On another level, there are other issues too about the cash levels at the rural co-operative banks; the decrease in lending through them has also affected the farmers, small businesses and also the poorer sections.  On the political level

Also, at the other level of political impact the public perception so far, fortunately, is positive for the government.

That also for the simple reason that the Opposition parties, in particular, the Congress led by Rahul Gandhi is in an inchoate state. Mr.Gandhi as of now has managed to have only the image of a disruptor of Parliament. Not a unifier of the Opposition parties. May be that distinction goes for the other leader, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress. As for the the PM’s image, as a doer of good for the country is luckily intact.
This is the saving grace, so to say.

So, let us hope the PM is able weather the present ticklish state of affairs and he manages to come out of the present situation quite undamaged. You see politics too is rather unpredictable.

And the economy also picks up steam so to say to get back to its inherent strengths and the growth rate accelerates.

We live in a globalised world, right?
What is the future of global civilisation, if at all?

romanAfter the ‘Decline and Fall of Roman Civilisation’, what are the new features of a civilized world? What would shape man’s hopes for a better style of living? Is a more equal world, a more equitable world possible?

I didn’t study history at Oxford. But I studied under great thinkers and philosophers of history. At Oxford, next to philosophy, the history faculty in my time, just the middle of the twentieth century, was perhaps the largest and the most talked about of the academic faculties at both Oxford and Cambridge. In my own time, the most talked about of the thinkers were of course philosophers like Sir Jules Ayer and Gilbert Ryle who taught us. They were so influential that their great books were our philosophy classics. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic went into multiple editions. It sold like a detective novel, so controversial and its some of the famous lines were always on our lips, the students! If you can’t prove a proposition, for instance by the verification principle then, it is nonsense! What doesn’t make sense must be nonsense, right? That is how we asked every argument then in our time, inside and outside of our class-rooms! That was Logical Positivism, our core philosophic doctrine! Now, Gilbert Ryle, tall and almost athletic figure who used to pause and walk as he talked on the lecture stage and holding the cigar sometimes as he talked and still remember his figure when he thundered with such authority that when we say mind, it is a ghost in the machine. There was no such thing called mind as such separate from the body, it was a bodily process, or call it a mental process but certainly it is not a separate object away from the body, right? His book, the Concept of Mind was also my classic.

Of course there were other philosophy tutors for me. One, Mr. Anthony Quinton, later, Lord Quinton was a great influence on me and I learnt to write precise English when I learnt under him to write precise, exact and correct English words and phrase. At one point I felt ashamed to call myself an M.A from an Indian university! Such was my long-winded sentences and use of too many unwanted adjectives and other excesses.

But then history? Oh, here too are many names to mention here. There was Sir Isaiah Berlin, perhaps the most formidable intellect of my time. He was a Jew and a Russian, in fact a Latvian. Only those who know or care to know more precisely about history of the Soviet Russia know that the big country grabbed and absorbed the three small nations, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. I once encountered a short and bulky Latvian (or Estonian, I don’t remember correctly in Finland, in Helsinki and he grabbed me by his stout hand and went on giving me a long lecture on the street of the capital about how Soviet Russia almost destroyed his country! I was flabergausted! I was to reach St. Petersburg the next day by ship! So, my introduction to the Soviet Russian politics and history started with such a jolt!

Sir Isaiah Berlin is exactly from Latvia and a Jew too. And he had such a formidable brain that he was elected as a Fellow of All Souls College, a great honor. He dominated the Oxford debates of my time. His lectures drew large outside crowds too! Such a brilliant speaker. Now, his specialized field started with philosophy and continued in the history of ideas. He had the reputation of having read almost all the books that mattered. That was again one more characteristic of Oxford scholarship.

I have in my library almost all that had been written by Sir Berlin and I have the books by Harold Laski. Now, as for history, my favorite lecturer of history was Sir A.J.P Taylor. In my opinion, he was the most brilliant of the lecturers. His impromptu interventions in the famed BBC Brains Trust made him a household name! He has no parallel in my view on issues concerning the two world wars. His books are equally famed. So too his writings on Hitler and Soviet Russia.

Now, there were others. Sir Karl Popper and a long line of historians influenced me. Karl Popper’s classics: Open Society and Its Enemies, Poverty of Historicism had changed modern man’s attitudes towards a new political ideology and also of the other Viennese intellectuals and philosophers. Vienna Circle is one that changed my own intellectual beliefs.

Now, I come to my recent readings. While in England I missed travelling to Greece and Rome, the two usual Grand Tour destinations, every educated, upper class families used to make during their life time. I had the money but I missed somehow the opportunity. The rare opportunity came recently. Though late, I am glad I took my family this time when we visited Rome and Renaissance Florence and also Naples and the historicity of Pompeii.

I had read Edward Gibbon’ multi-volume history of Decline and Fall of Rome many times. But an actual visit to the historic spots opened up my eyes to a new reality. How we Indians were deprived by the Macaulay education! The ruling classes didn’t expose the Indians to the glories of Greek and Rome. And as a consequence our education remained clerical job-seeking exercise. Unfortunately it remains even to this day. Now, one or two observations.

The impact of Westernization. We, Indians, don’t understand how the latest globalization trend is a historic flow and direction of the great civilisations, Mesapotomia, Assyrians, the Persians and the Greeks and the Romans. It is the Roman civilization that gave the modern world the concepts of Republic, Rule of Law and urban government, roads, stadiums, modern civic life etc.
From now onwards too we would have to follow the very same flow and direction of history?
But then there is some new awakening possible. That is this: Democracy originated in Athens, Greece.

India’s place in the sun? Today, the world’s largest democracy is practiced in India with one billion citizens, right? This should give us a new impetus in self-discovery, a new self-confidence, right? This new historic realisation, now we have to impute to our people.
Unfortunately, this self-discovery was possible in the time of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Many of our intellectuals, in the past or in the recent past too didn’t realize the flow and direction of history. We were narrowly focused on British rule. The time has come now afresh to re-connect with the past and join the world in its historic flow and direction.

After my visit to Rome and seeing Julius Caesar and his spots I feel I had become a new renaissance man! Let us join the civilization crowd!