Where too many theories don’t work!

Amartya Sen was in India recently and he was at his usual best: brilliant, insightful and oh, too many stimulating words and suggestions. So too another Nobel Prize economist, the American Joseph Stiglitz too was in India and he too was so brilliant and made very many insightful points. He is an expert on Globalisation and its “discontents”! Capital movement is part of the globalisation, in fact, the chief trigger. Fine. But then this economist says, rightly, that it is better that the physical movement of labour is much more a stablising force than the capital movements. There is somehow in India the notion that economic development of the country can be brought about by listening to the professional economists. Or, as we have done, entrusting the policy making (as we have done with Ahluwalia at the Planning Commission) and policy implementation as with Manmohan Singh in the Prime Ministerial chair.

Sen in one of his speeches, as he did when he released a book, “Locked homes, Empty schools, the impact of distressed seasonal migration on the rural poor” said that done rely on the market economy for development as “the market economy would neither run the village hostel for children whose parents have to move out of their homes every year to make a living nor would they run schools for their children at the sites where they were employed”. Citing the example of Bangladesh, Prof.Sen said the availability of micro credit was a result of people like Muhammad Yunus and institutions like Grameen Bank succeeding because of market economy but not relying on it”. Only Sen could split the hair like this, the point is that it is the market economy, it is the opening up of the market reforms that had triggered economic growth in the country and it is the duty of the government through its various policies to see that the wealth so created is not concentrated in fewer hands but evenly distributed.

The point is that in spite of the much talked about economic reforms, the Singh dispensation couldn’t arrest the continuing farmers’s suicides in the countryside, even in Karnataka there is a considerable number, not to speak of the Vidarbha farmers. Rural migrations are now a critical input in the development of the economy, more so the rural economy. Next to any other major economic sectors it is the construction industry in the rapid urbanising India, that is drawing vast numbers of rural migrants to the cities. This trend has assumed some critical mass to the extent, for instance, that in Kerala most urban centers are crowded by Tamil rural migrant labour in all the construction sites. Even the local Keralite poor labour now feel agitated and the trade unions seem to urge for controlling this influx neighbouring state labour. In another state, Karnataka, in Bangalore the very booming construction industry is dependent upon the Tamil rural migrant labour force.

Of course, the well-known rural migrants from UP and Bihar to the Punjab and Haryana harvesting season is now an established trend. So too the AP rural migrant labour to Mumbai is well studied and their economic impact on their home state, their home districts are studied in detail. The Bihar rural migrant labour all over India is known and the problems faced by them in other states is also reported. The latest is in Tamil Nadu where in the hosiery town of Tirupur, draws labour from distant Orissa and other states is a growing trend. So too the industrial town of Coimbatore is drawing outstation labour from Northern states to its foundry and textile mills.

So, the rural migration is an economic activity of great significance and of course one can draw one’s own conclusions. But the central fact is well-established. There is a growing rural migration and the Indian urbanisation process is accelerated by the rural outward migration and we have to welcome it as a positive economic development. One more fall-out, if we can so call it, is the fact that the rural migrants now send their children to well-off English medium schools and more important they, the migrant poor, also get good quality medicare in the corporate hospitals. So, after all, rural migrant labour movement has done lots of good for the migrant families concerned. This has not been noticed by our policy makers, more so the professional economists turned policy makers!

Also, the pet topics of Sen, education, we mean primary education and health, also primary health are all still out of the reach of a considerable number of the poor families.Yes, there has been some very positive developments, the human development index compares the states and give us much hope. This we have to recognise. And yet, we see the very many failures. We have to just glance through various economic indicators. There are growing regional variations in incomes, per capita incomes, say between the rich states (Punjab) and the poorest (Bihar).Over a period of say the last two decades the income divide between the two states is growing to 4.3 times from that of 2.9 times in 1980-81.And from such indicators comes the common sense belief in the human development index of the states. The rich states are catching up in critical areas like literary and infant mortality, while the poorer states falling behind.

One of the pet themes of Sen (as other economists and pro-government apologists turned experts) is land reforms. What do they mean by this label? Not very clear. Yes, if they mean that in the old zamindari areas the progress in economic and social development is slower than in the Ryotwari areas. But then what the land reforms today would bring about? More surplus lands? Or, more surplus lands to be distributed to the landless? We have the curious comic case of Tamil Nadu today where the government and other wastelands are taken over by the government and “made cultivable and distributed free, at the rate one or less acres to poor families?

Again the estimates of the poor. The latest NSS puts the poor below the poverty level at 300 million. The predominantly agricultural states have more poverty, more slow development than the urbanising states. So, the moral? Go for rapid industrialisation. Right? There are two issues here. One, whether the Government intervention alone is enough to correct the persisting resistance to change in the rural India? The continued presence of school -going children outside the formal school stream? The continued neglect of the primary healthcare, even in such ‘developed’ states like Tamil Nadu? The near total absence of any definite health insurance scheme for the poor in the villages?

Only one such private initiative taken by the Bangalore-based Narayan Hrudalaya for the poor farmers has now been introduced by the state government to cover the whole state. The exact position of the scheme for the whole state is not known to us at this point of time. But it is reported in the press the state has extended the scheme to the whole state.

Except this piece of hopeful news no other similar scheme is working in the country elsewhere. So, what to do, to bring in more children and ensure near 100 per cent attendance in the schools of the school-going age children? How to ensure there is some hope and a sense of security for the poor and the not so poor (it is now becoming a hell of a high cost even for the rich to go to the corporate hospitals for the latest healthcare needs).So, a progressive state has to come out with some state-sponsored and workable policies. Sen here is clearly unhelpful. All his ideas and formulations stop at a point beyond the academic gates or public platforms.

Second issue. Sen Runs his own private trust, Pratichi Trust with its office located in his own home at Santiniketan. I had been to Santiniketan recently and tried to visit the office of the Trust. I was told it was some houses besides his own residence. Then I was told that office is also not functioning at the time, when I visited the place. All I learnt from neighbours is it is a small office and it is a very tiny effort to tackle what seems to be some of the biggest issues in the Indian economic and social sphere. You can’t run the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) from such a place, of course. What is told about its work by its research associate, Kumar Rana, is very discouraging. May be it is at best a pale survey team cum some public discussion group. Not anything to be criticised but given Sen’s formidable reputation we feel he should be doing much more, by speaking from public platforms alone.

I have written elsewhere that Sen, given his close association with Santiniketan, a Central University, should be doing much more for raising the issue of quality education at the University, it is now almost declined to the status of a district university, so much is at stake, Tagore’s dream university is declining and it is his friend, the Prime Minister is the Chancellor and if Sen raises such an issue that would have an instant hearing.

The Mexican migrant labour in the US farms!
Average hourly farm wage hovers between 6.29 to 9.43 dollars! That is from Rs.300 and odd to Rs. 500 per hour!
In the 1930s poor American farmers fleecing Oklahoma’s Dus Bowl was a constant scenario in news, films and books. They all arrived in the San Joaquin Valley in California. They became well-known hard working farmers. Yet, even after 70 years their living standards remain poor.
This part of California is made up of the poorest parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky. The USA pays its poor to move out to settle down elsewhere is in this part of America. This move-out programme is called, More Opportunity for Viable Employment (Move).Some poor families, really the paupers take the money and move out in the reverse! To the Plains and the Midwest. The percentage of population living below poverty line, as in 2000 estimates, range from 0.0-5.0 to 5.1 to 10.0 to 15.0 to 15 to 20.0 to 20.1 to 25.0! Yes, such is the steep poverty ratios in this part of America. But the regions are also agriculturally productive; the Fresco County alone produced commodities worth 2.8 billion dollars in 2000.

Poor immigrants, who forge the Social Security cards and still continue to arrive and look for work in the farms. The Mexican workers and their families now constitute in this Valley alone at 3.7 million souls!

Local farmers have come to depend upon the seasonal migrants to do their farm work. This is cheap labour for them. Even some leaders organised this cheap migrant labour to get them better wages. The labour shortage in American farms, in this region, is variously described. Politicians say this is a disaster. Local farmers say this is a God-send! Illegal migrant labour is after all is not so bad a description. They can get legal legitimacy somehow one day. In Sept. this year some 207,000 men and women toiled on the farms here. Half the valley’s rains in (grapes) crop is still picked by hand, dropped into trays, then flipped to sheets of paper and then let dry in the sun. Average hourly wage hover between 6.29 to 9.43 dollars!

There is a 50% rise in the farm wages now. Mexican border crossing is a routine affair! So long there is a labour shortage for farm work; the demand will be met by adequate supplies! La or no law, Mexican cheap labour is waiting to cross over at any time of the day or night!

Nexican farm labour would be seasonal or permanent depending upon the other opportunities for this labour for the education of their children to the women to get jobs in hotels and restaurants in the neighborhood.
So migrant rural labour is now a universal reality!

Image Source : iadb.org

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