The highest allocation since its launch!

We are all likely to forget or even if we know, at least some of the experts and others might know that on Februray 27 2015 the Prime Minister Mr.Modi in a speech delivered in Parliament had described the scheme s a living example of great failure!

gfx4Yes, that is how politics is conducted in the country, though we have to give credit to Mr.Modi for having displaced the Congress party that had been then had become a coterie of corruption presided by a well-rated economic expert!

What went wrong that sent out a powerful signal to the people to vote the mighty party out?
What else but simple act of isolation and no one in the then Congress party, why even now, after three years of such a monumental defeat the party hadn’t recovered from its slumber or arrogance of such magnitude?

Anyway, the much over-rated or maligned MGNREGA has been now taken up by the successor government s inevitable. According to experts like Prof.Ashok Gulati who had studied the scheme it seems that in terms of the price rise and other factors that had been taken into account that the allocations is not a sort of rise but a decline in value.

Measured in real terms at the 2011-12 prices, the expenditure is a decline. Says the experts that measured in current prices, the budgeted expenditure in FY 15, it has actually been declining.
Fine. The real question is whether the much touted scheme, why even credited to the now discredited National Advisory Council over which Sonia Gandhi presided over with such fanfare, is it a mere dole scheme, to disburse funds freely for the poor as a populist election appeal or was if functioning as a development -oriented well-thought out scheme?

We who are living far away from Delhi and the outside of New Delhi’s comfort zone of Lutyen’s bungalow zone, the scheme is a hazily conceived scheme to win the successive elections in a populist fashion, very much like the other schemes, very much like AIADMK schemes, so many to count here, anything and everything that catches the fancy of the poor, from almost subsidised low-cost meals to what have you (if readers permist, we also cite the kio-ends like Tasmac liquor shops to even corruption currency notes at the time of elections!) all that go win an election!

Yes, that was also one such scheme, we mean the much over-rated MGNREGA which was in many parts a laughing stock even with the poor and the villagers. The scheme led to a sudden shortage of farm labour and to that extent it led to a depression in agriculture activities.

We in this very medi pointed out many times that it would have been a welfare scheme for rural farm labour if it had been tagged with farm labour employment.

The cost of agriculture production activities might have been kept under watch but no one paid any attention. So the scheme in many parts, we were eye witness to such farce as sending the labour out in the roadside activates where the labour simple idled for the time allotted and ended up with no sustained production activities whatever!

Nor as now pointed out by experts in retrospect that the scheme must be redesigned in consultation with the Panchayat Raj activities. That would serve some direct benefits like conservation, sanitation, lake formation etc.

Even now, the implementation of the MGNREGA must be recast in the light of the experience gained under the empty populism of the Congress regime.

A decentralised planning and supervision a much transparent spending of the funds that is by account very huge and so much benefit the maximum reach and benefit. The scheme is a good one and from experience it is better to improve and improvise rather than take any partisan view of things.

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The Reserve Bank Governor’s warning!

Was it worded in the politically incorrect language?

Raghuram_RajanThe highly-rated RBI Governor, Raghuram Rajan had made the very insightful remark on India’s economic growth claims claiming that because only the Indian economy is reportedly growing at 7.5 plus rate that we, Indians, shouldn’t feel complacent nor should we imagine that we are tat the top of the world! India is only reporting such high rate. But then, the hard reality is that in terms of per capital incomes we are at the bottom of the scale, China is reporting four times such growth in per capita incomes.

Mr.Arun Jaitley and Ms.Nirmal Sitharaman, the two ministers pounced upon Mr.Rajan to say that the RBI Governor should not have used a language that was hurtful to a section of the people. Certainly, the RBI Governor is a public official and a high profile one at that and any remark that provokes people and divert attention from serious issues must be avoided.

Fine. Point taken. But how the two high profile ministers in the government conducted themselves? Did they help to enlighten the public with the inside knowledge of the Indian economy?

This is the real question. Unfortunately, the two seniors didn’t help the public good, in our opinion. Why?

The Finance minister, not an economist, but only a clever lawyer, but a competent person, had been giving the impression that everything is good with the economy.Also, Ms.Sitharaman is also a highly competent minister in charge of commerce and trade.

We all know and it is public knowledge that exports from India is decelerating. From the peak of 390.5 billion dollars recorded in March 2013 to 22 billion dollars in March 2016.Almost for more than a whole year. The RBI Governor in his Ramnath Goenka Lecture delivered recently has dealt with the reasons for such an export deceleration. He cited, among others, there major reasons how the countries as they grow and expand their trade the growth of the GDP and the Exports don’t match.GDP might grow but the exports might change patterns depending upon the growth of countries. As GDP grows, as say in China its non-traded service constitute a greater share of GDP, also trade-intensive capital goods investment muted etc.

The point here is that the structure of the trade and exports components change and we have to learn to live with a new normal growth and the old double digit growth in exports, says the RBI boss, is at best would be a memory!

Anyway, the RBI Governor on his part had made clear that if India is to reach a level when poverty of the vast mass of the Indian people are to be removed and a new level of prosperity and a decent living for the vast majority of the people is to become a reality then, the RBI Governor candidly said than the Indian economy must be growing at a higher rate for the next 20 to 30 years or more!

This is the reality of the Indian economic policy making challenge.
Till now, this harsh troth was not said so simply and openly.
The professional economists of the earlier era, under the UPA regimes, the economists who also indulged as politicians (!) did a great disservice to the Indian people by not talking so openly or candidly.
By keeping mum all the time as the chief executive of the country the ones who pretended to promote India’s economic growth only kept their jobs safe only. Not the lives of the people from the endemic poverty.
Now, we have a real change for the better. Now, we see under the Prime Minister Narendra Modi a new bold initiative, Transforming India by a series of reforms the Indian government wants to promising a faster growth.

They have put forth ten new promises. Aadhar number for 90% of the ration cards. Increase rural tepeldensity 100% by 2020. 175 broad band connections by 2017.Deregulation of GM crops by March 2018.WTO-compatible norms by March 2018.Third party scrutiny of road project execution agencies by end of 2016.

Of course a grand promise of 10% growth in GDP.175 million jobs. A 10 trillion dollar economy.

Bravo! It is needed such a grand vision. Then only a sceptical and doubting Thomases-filled nation can be rejuvenated!

We welcome the government’s rush to think big and do things with great hopes. A nation succeeds by the scale of its own beliefs.

May the tribe grow? Or, when you will act and do justice?

ModiNew--621x414Mr.Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister, might not have imagined in the wildest of his dreams that a set of intractable problems, corruption, black money and also unpaid huge bank loans by the high and mighty, besides his unfulfilled promises of getting the black money from foreign banks and putting into the citizens accounts as much as Rs.15 lakhs per family? Or, per head?

Whatever it is, the amount, the amount now lying in run realised debts in the PSU banks ,now after Mr.Mallya fled the country has really become something no one seems to have a clue so far. We, citizens, all believed that bank loans, once taken, would be repaid like you and me, one day with interest!

But no, alas! This is not true at all. Only lately we realised that if you are a bigwig, in business or like Mr.Mallaya, in Formula I race or IPL cricket or simply a member of the Rajya sabha, you can flout rules and delay payment. On the very same day when Mr.Mallaya fled we saw a pathetic replay of a defaulter, this time, it is not like Malaya but a humble farmers in far away Tamil Nadu district, he was shown beaten up by police or by the recovery agents and his tractor was seized and taken away! As a result the poor or unfortunate farmer decided to take his life and he committed suicide!

This was in a state quite advanced in agriculture and in district known for its irrigated fields! What about the other farmers, more unfortunate, in far off Maharashtra in the drought-hit Vidarbha district. No one anymore seems to have kept count of the number of unfortunate farmers who take their lives. Yes, farmers’ lives are cheap and deaths of farmers are not reported in the daily news. It is no more news worthy.

Now, as for the big banks and big loans, as in the case of the King Fisher Airlines, we are told that there are bigger defaulters in other industries and yet they are not declared as defaulters. The story is long and unpalatable for all who know how the Indian economy and politics work.ven a child knows that no banker would shell out cash in such big boxes, or in sacks (we don’t know how the money was transferred but we all know before the money is handed out it must a phone call or an email or through some unknown channels it is the politician, a minister or a higher-up secretary who would have advised the bank manager to shell out such big cash bundles.

It is sheer hypocrisy that till date no one seems to be willing to disclose this was done s a quid proquo for a favour done by the corporate heavyweight. And, pray, this all happened when the Congress party, call it UPA or NDA (!) was in power.

Why then this silence? Now, this sort of bulk cash disposal can’t happen in India without political patronage. So too, under the successor government. Why it took two years to come to this stage? Even now, there is much doubt whether the money can be recovered, not just from one corporate heavyweight but from other heavyweights as well.

Or, do something so that we start afresh. No less important is also to fight corruption. As per one account in Karnataka in the court of Lokayuktha, there are some 750 cases registered and there is no chance they would all be disposed off, given the disbanding and reconstitution in the avatar of ACB (Anti-Corruption Bureau), a state government department.

Also there are some high profile politically sensitive corruption cases. When all these cases would be disposed off? We don’t want to sound embarrassing to anybody.

The point is that we have to initiate some large scale or limited scale reforms in party funding or Election Commission Reform and speed up the implementation of the Right to Information Act and there are many such sensitive areas. Today, we write from the grassroots, that corruption t all levels, yes, all levels are rising by leaps and bounds.

We are sure the PM downwards must know this trend very well. Unless, the many democratic institutions from Panchayats up to the district and state levels upto Delhi we fill up vacancies we can’t have things under control. So, please encourage press freedom, freedom of expression, media freedom. The PM can then get the latest developments.

So that many of the problems at many levels might get themselves solved.Democracy is a great tool. To get the citizens express their grievances. Please see how China under Xi has managed to tackle corruption. It is really a tough call in China with one party and strict media control.

It must be a bit easier in a democracy. People must feel relaxed and happy. Indian people are relatively a happy people by the latest Happiness Index, you know! So, feel happy for the small mercies you enjoy!

Both in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to meet

They would probe the ethics and the conduct of MPs

15TH_CITY_PARLIAME_1144100fThe power of the press and public opinion can help the Parliamentary committees to do a great job. You see ethics is heavy word. Its meaning and significance can’t be explained in simple journalistic style. In philosophy, in the west, ethics is treated as a branch of moral philosophy. Only those who have studied philosophy as an academic course would know that ethics has a long history. In my time at Oxford in the late 1960s we studied G.E.Moore’s Principia Ethica, a heavily loaded treat.

What is good? So you must know that when the recent ‘Ethics’ Committee in the Rajya Sabha met under the chairmanship of Dr. Karan Singh, a learned MP, it raised eyebrows. Why? In a typical politician’s style Singh dodged all queries, he said that the Ethics Panel would meet and discuss whether one member, the distinguished Dr. Vijay Mallya’s exit from India on the eve of his alleged evasion of duty to clear his big loans with the banks and also his delay in the clearance of the dues to his King Fisher’s Airlines staff, all running into multi thousand crores!

One more news from the Lok Sabha came out where too the ethics committee is to probe the very latest sting operation in West Bengal. The cash for favours deal was caught on camera by an unknown website So, now we have two ethics committees in the two houses of Parliament enquiring into the ethics and morality of the distinguished MPs who over the years, at least lately have come under greater scrutiny and even severe criticism for doing things that are widely seen as inappropriate in keeping with their status as law makers for the common people.

Now, there are many issues here and all can’t be touched or debated. One, the MPs, especially those nominated to the Rajya Sabha are supposed to be experienced persons, with achievements in all walks of life and as such would be men and women of high calibre, high in moral scruples and would contribute to the quality of public life in the country. But it is unfortunate that we see a steady decline in morals and standards in public life. To cut the story short, we see now that Chief Ministers in the states face criminal charges, some went to jail also and still face serious cases in the Supreme and High Courts, also elsewhere.

Now, the Committees are specifically asked to find out whether the RS member Mr. Mallya’s conduct as an MP is fine or does his conduct in the present crisis in which he finds himself for action by the Committee. You see there are other cases of other MPs that are also equally questionable. A Rajya Sabha MP, as we know must be usually a resident of a state from which he is elected. Mr. Kuldeep Nayar, a former MP filed a case in the Supreme Court on this question and he famously lost the case. The Apex court ruled that a Rajya Sabha member needn’t be usually a resident from the same state, he might come from anywhere.

So, like this change, there are other changes also. The nomination process for the Rajya Sabha had so degenerated that we find today a party president can nominate anyone he or she desires and thus we see so many deteriorations. Take the tobacco chewing/smoking ads with pictorial covers. On one side or two sides. There are furious discussions. RS members who represent beedi, cigarette lobbies bring pressures. Thus, many RS members, not necessarily corporate interests dictate policies biased on narrow interests, not in the larger public interests.
So, Mr. Mallya also sits on many Parliamentary panels including the civil aviation. Any conflict of interest! The ethics committee would find out.

So too the conduct of the Lok Sabha members! You see the ethics committees are also instruments of political forces. Unless the committee goes into the entire process of caution and greater moral and ethical commitment on the part of party leaders there is very little chance that it can effect positive changes. Now, the Lok Sabha committee, we are told, would enquire into the TMC party leaders who are caught on camera by the website, a sting operation. All names, big, have come into the public domain. What the ethics committee can do? Nobody knows.

Now, the critical point is that there is an urgent need to reform the political parties; party democracy is thrown out, the party president remains in office for years and years on!
So, vested interests, coterie culture are the mark of political party machines! So also the party funding. Auditing of party funds. There is also the reform of the EC. So too the Lokpal, Lokayutha. In Karnataka, the Lokayuktha is replaced by a departmental anti-corruption bureau, a mockery of sorts.

But there is no cause for desperation. Time and tide wait for none! So too politics!
We have to wake up, why, stand up and welcome new ideas and new policies and fight for them! That is politics all about. And in a democracy like ours, public opinion is critical. As Kuldip Nayar writes (17, March, 2016, Deccan Herald) it is the power of the press, the media that undid the Emergency in 1975. So too even now, the power of the media could contribute to the ethics committees to do a great job!

Guest Post


By – Dr. Kaustav Bhattacharyya



The word ‘Bengali Entrepreneur’ was perceived as a contradiction in terms in the past, while growing up during the heady days of Leftist ideology one could sense the disdain and apathy expressed towards commerce and trade.

Today the expression ‘Bengali Entrepreneur’ connotes something of a distorted notion of commerce and enterprise with the recent spate of financial chit funds scams, scandals, dubious businesses like financial ponzi schemes, real estate and arrests of businesspersons. Flamboyant wealthy millionaires and billionaires create headlines from the precincts of prison rather than corporate boardrooms.

Current climate of Bengal business and entrepreneurship is rift with cynicism and disenchantment. The notion of business and commerce is associated often in the popular psyche of Bengal with guile and acquisitive profiteering; sole driver for business being the easy and quick path to the riches. While the rest of India marches ahead in vibrant sectors of IT, dotcom startups, renewable energies and high-tech engineering Bengal seems to be falling behind.   Although there would be isolated glorious instances of high-end, high-tech entrepreneurship, this seems to be more of an exception.

Sometimes we have to turn the pages of history to seek answers for the future; the wonderful French saying, ‘reouler pour mieux sauter’ translated as sometimes one has to take a step back for moving forward.   Here I turned the pages of Bengal’s history to seek glorious instances of entrepreneurship and specifically high-tech entrepreneurship; high-tech entrepreneurship being defined here as businesses engaged in sectors which deploy new technologies and processes for new emergent products.  Similarly in this context high-end product categories would include those that require higher levels of engineering expertise and skills for manufacturing.

Bengali enterprises which arose during the early 20th century as ‘Swadeshi endeavours’ sought to establish a manufacturing and industrial foothold in colonial India, when most of the industrial complex and business infrastructure were subverted by the imperial economic exploitative machinery, objective of the British Colonial administration being to keep Indian economy under-developed,  is the most fascinating chapter of that history.

Jewels in the crown
Some of the distinguished household names which one can rattle off are Martin Burn of Sir Biren Mookerjee, Bengal Chemicals of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray being the grandees. Apart from the twin jewels there were Calcutta Chemical Company in the domain of chemicals, Bengal Immunity and Dey’s Chemicals in the domain of pharmaceuticals, Bengal Lamps in the domain of electric lightning products, Bengal Waterproof in the domain of rubber and household products like raincoats and schoolbags, Bande Mataram in the domain of matches, Banga Laxmi Cotton Mills in the domain of textiles, Sen Raleigh in the domain of bicycles and Gwalior potteries in the domain of ceramic potteries.

Intriguingly the sectors in which these Bengali entrepreneurial companies were foraying were chemicals, bicycles, potteries, textiles, pharmaceuticals, rubber products, electric lamps, construction engineering, personal care products and not financial services, extractive like mining or agro-resources based like tea or jute.  To comprehend the size and impact of some of these enterprises, consider the fact that the Mookerjees were the third largest business group in India till mid-1960s and Bengal Chemicals was one of the largest chemical and pharmaceutical company in India which was considered to be the birthplace of Indian pharmaceutical drug industry.

Most important is to acknowledge that the sectors in which most Bengali entrepreneurs were active were high-tech by the standards of the day, innovative, high-risk, emergent, in a way were forerunners of today’s start-ups.  Several of these companies were the first in the field to foray into manufacturing the products which till then were being imported, for instance, bicycles, waterproofs, electric lamps and electric fans. The founder of Sen Raleigh was instrumental in popularizing the concept of bicycles as means of personal transport for ordinary Indians and were bringing bicycle to the masses, when bicycle was mostly a luxury item.

Waterproofs were being imported into India and were prohibitively expensive making it beyond the reach of most individuals with modest means till Shri Surendra Mohan Bose started his Bengal Waterproof ‘Duckback’ venture which manufactured them indigenously. The same holds true for electric lamps which were restricted to urban areas introduced by foreign investors and then came Bengal Lamps which started their factory manufacturing electric lamps. In a short while Bengal Lamps earned accolades for its superior quality and affordable price. In 1930s Calcutta Fan Works was set-up with K Chuckerbutty as Managing Director for localized manufacture of electric fans.

Most of these entrepreneurs had to chart undefined, unpredictable territories of marketplace since there was no available marketplace for these pioneering products which were being manufactured for the first time in India by indigenous entrepreneurs.   Hence these Bengali Swadeshi entrepreneurs had to navigate the uncertainties of marketplace, lack of access to financial capital for high-risk ventures and the task of translating their technological ideas into tangible products for marketplace, from drawing-board to the finished part.

However one oft-ignored dimension of the Swadeshi entrepreneurship is the profile of these Bengali Swadeshi entrepreneurs which would hold inspiration for the next-generation of aspiring business persons of Bengal; distinguished professional qualifications and engaged in tireless pursuit of research and development.  Many of these Bengali entrepreneurs were highly educated, technically competent professionals who defied the ancient logic of Bhadralok being averse to trade and commerce and wary of plunging into risky ventures.

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray of Bengal Chemicals fame held a distinguished qualification in Chemistry with doctorate from University of Edinburgh and a track-record of working in research and development.  Surendra Mohan Bose of Bengal Waterproof was educated at Berkeley and Stanford Universities in the US and Kiran Shankar Roy of Bengal Lamps attended Oxford University.
Besides most significantly they engaged in tireless pursuit of research and development and made strenuous efforts to develop new products and technologies, in other words they were profound innovator, yesterday’s Steve Jobs.

Surendra Mohan Bose formulated a process indigenously sans any foreign collaboration for manufacturing waterproofs known as the ‘Duckback’.   Acharya P C Ray experimented in his laboratory, which was the outhouse at his residence at Upper Circular Road with various products prior to initiating his industrial venture with pharmaceutical preparations.  Bengal Immunity pioneered manufacturing anti-toxin in tropical conditions, which came as a surprise to most Europeans.

Apart from these glowing instances there were innumerable applicants for patents from Bengal during the early 20th century(1912-1943) as lucidly chronicled in the book, which provided inspiration and direction to large extent for this article.  According to Professor Dipen Sanyal, treasurer and trustee of IISWBM(prestigious business school of India located in Kolkata), ‘Many of these Swadeshi entrepreneurs were driven by the zeal and aspiration to demonstrate that Indians can manufacture and build a home-grown industrial base rather than sheer pursuit of profits or seeking riches.  Making profits was not the sole drive for many of these entrepreneurs launching new products and technologies.’

What lessons does it offer for today’s Bengal which is on the march towards progress?? The key lesson is to abandon any feelings of victimhood, resentment and grudge and then to embrace the new opportunities being offered by a globalized, interconnected economic world order. There are a plethora of emergent sectors like pharmaceuticals, renewable energy solutions like solar, wind, bio-mass, bio-technology, information technology, green technologies for ecological solutions like water preservation and public transportation like electric vehicles which can ignite the imagination and zeal of young Bengali entrepreneurs.

Contemporary technological and global economic landscape offer far more lucrative and congenial opportunities to plunge into entrepreneurial ventures with technologies, higher content of services through consulting, access to risk-finance like venture capital and access to global markets than it was the case for the predecessors of Swadeshi enterprises.  Today an aspiring entrepreneur doesn’t require huge capital investments and resources in terms of land and factory to foray into cutting-edge sectors with an ingenious idea, courtesy the vibrant services and consulting sector.

Let not the aspiring Bengali entrepreneur be mired in dubious financial scheme as means to affluence and prosperity but look at the broader horizon of new technologies and solutions yet be inspired by the enriched legacy of their forefathers, moving forward with inspiration from the past!! Let Bengal revive the glorious traditions of high-tech, high-end, cutting-edge entrepreneurship once more and be a glowing instance for the rest of India!!

‘I wish to take this opportunity to mention the moral support and encouragement I received from the Publisher of this blog, Mr. Isvarmurti, Chairman of Vadamalai publications which has attained great fame and reputation in agriculture, industry and educational publications is one of the fines product of Shantiniketan and Oxford. In his earlier days at Shantiniketan and Bengal Mr. Isvarmurti met and interacted with the creme de la creme of Bengali bhadralok society including industrialists like Sir Biren Mookerjee and his wife, Lady Ranu Mookerjee and Mr. Sen of the Sen Raleigh bicycles.  Mr. Isvarmurti completely agrees and feels strongly that its time Bengal revives its legacy of rich meaningful entrepreneurship which transcended the sole motive of money-making by any means.’

Profile: Dr. Kaustav Bhattacharyya is an entrepreneur from Bengal engaged in the field of ecological water treatment and holds a PhD from Cass Business School, University of London in Management Sciences. Entrepreneurship and Business History being one of his favourite research topics.