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The population challenge for India…

November 19, 2017 1 comment

Events in India hardly get reported in the global media. But what found space in many of the world’s newspapers and televisions were images of smog filled Delhi and streets clogged with thousands of vehicles. And as usual, we saw the blame game enacted by our politicians, schools closed down, the National Green Tribunal having its say, NGOs coming up with their share of comments and the band-aid solution of odd-even plying of vehicles. Once the winter moves on, so will this crisis, till the onset of the next winter and the whole story will be played all over again. Why is that the underlying, larger systemic reasons not being handled the way that it should be gets little attention or media space? And why is one unwilling to see the larger picture of our burgeoning population being a part of, and the critical undercurrent of many of the problems including pollution that India is facing today?

India is now the home to around 1.32 billion people. Furthermore, India’s population is expected to grow to 1.8 billion before stabilizing around the middle of this century, even if sufficient measures are taken before hand and sustained till then. India is stretched to its limit due to overpopulation on several fronts. The demand on already scarce resources negates any development or progress that the nation attains. Whether it is drinking water or sanitation, the programs that are being initiated by Government will never cease to end. There are always more toilets to be built, more people to be provided with safe drinking water and more houses to be constructed. Apart from the inefficiency and leakages in the system, what makes matters worse is the sheer increase in number of people placing a demand on the system.

Excessive population leads to dysfunctionality of public and private institutions and makes all plans to improve a country’s infrastructure, health care facilities and social welfare initiatives ineffective. This includes the Indian Government which has struggled to enact reforms over the past 70 years since independence. Whether it is public infrastructure in rural or urban areas, or creating spatial and digital connectivity to the teeming millions, investments can never really match the needs. For real progress and the nation to thrive at the current levels of economic growth, the country’s population should ideally have been around 500 million. But we are nearly four times the population that India was when it got its freedom in 1947 without a parallel growth in support facilities. The consequences of population growth are a problem that the whole world will soon face sooner or later, but it is worse for India. Lack of fresh water, whether it is for domestic, industrial or agricultural use; crumbling sewage treatment and waste management systems; rapid depletion of natural resources and increasing use of fossil fuels; increasing urbanization with crumbling civic amenities; extinction of many plant and animal species due to deforestation and loss of Eco-systems; increased levels of life-threatening air and water pollution; inability to maintain public infrastructure; fall in standards of public probity and societal morals; high infant and child mortality rate and hunger due to extreme poverty are some of the results of this over-population that we are already experiencing.

While billions of rupees are being spent by public and private sources, one cannot dismiss away the growing inequality socially and economically. One cannot merely keep repeating the rhetoric of growing the pie, the reality of having less number of people sharing the social and economic pie has to be taken seriously. The issues are even more critical due to the advancements in Artificial Intelligence and Automation. Automation threatens 69 percent job losses with millions of job losses already occurring in the IT and production sectors. Despite all the skill development programs, we must keep in mind that India’s problem of jobless growth is just not going to be wished away by mere sloganeering. With farm labour becoming less and less remunerative, unskilled people are now looking for low skilled jobs that are just not there. Imagine the challenge of India’s social and economic fabric threatened by this growing numbers of dis-enchanted and restless generation of young people with heightened aspirations. While it is customary to see them as law and order issues, let us not forget that the sectors that can absorb some employment – whether it is the police, the judiciary, retailing or hospitality & leisure – they can only assure secure jobs to a small segment of this population, and that too after basic skilling. Even jobs like driving and running taxis are going to disappear as driver-less cars are going to be the reality within the next decade. Let us not forget the fact that the city of Dubai is already experimenting with robot policemen and Walmart in the US has begun to replace low skilled people checking store-inventory with robots.

While many people are already aware of the social and environmental problems due to overpopulation, but only a few are aware of its adverse effects on health. Most Indian cities (and not just Delhi) are badly polluted and have little fresh air. This leads to countless airborne diseases and skin infections. Poor public transport further worsens this as private vehicle are now becoming a necessity and not just seen as a luxury. Whether it is unscientific agriculture, in terms of burning agri-waste or vehicular pollution, reduction of sheer numbers is the only viable solution. And that cannot be managed as our population size coupled with a populist political system, will just not make it feasible or tenable.

While it is easy to wrap our minds around the problem, we need to understand what led to this. Though marriage age has been legally fixed at 18 years for girls, it is still customary for families, especially in rural areas to get their daughters married earlier than that. There is enough statistical evidence to show that girls getting married after 18 are likely to be educated and have less children. Poverty has seen to have a direct correlation to family size but unfortunately it ends up being a chicken and egg story. Growth cannot benefit people as the population is too large while the rich are known to have less number of children. State intervention beyond just doles and welfare are needed to tackle this head on. Whether it is a re-look at other incentives for smaller family size like eligibility to contest elections or getting tax cuts, one has to think out of the box to disincentive large families. Building the human and social capital of the citizens on a war footing is inseparable to the issue of over-population. The cultural narrative of seeing the men as wage earners and women as confined to the kitchen has to be refashioned and a voluntary movement to undo years of conditioning is imperative.

The government, politicians, policy makers, media and civil society groups and activists should come together with a bold population policy so that the human, social and economic growth can keep pace with the demands of a growing population. Major steps which have been already implemented need to be emphasized more and go beyond any political or religious underpinning. It is not about being a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian – it should be about being an Indian and such a population policy should be universal and enforceable across all demographics. Increasing the welfare and status of women and girls, making education and health care universal, increasing awareness for the use of contraceptives and family planning methods for both men & women, sex education in schools, and building safety nets for the socially and economically marginalized – all has to be done together and at the same time for consistently long periods to start making a noticeable difference.

We need to remember that India has 15% of the world’s population with a mere 2.4% of the land area. While it is inconceivable to expand our land area, the only way out is to stabilize the population to manageable levels. And these needs to be done within the next 10-15 years, or we may not have an India to talk about in real terms after that.

-Balu

This article appeared in the Star of Mysore, dated 22nd Nov 2017. 

SOM Nov 22

 

Categories: General, Musings

GDP is passe, Human capital takes center stage for WB, IMF

October 27, 2017 Comments off

This article appeared in Deccan Herald on 27th October, 2017 and can be seen here:

Deccan Herald Fri 27 10 17The article can also be read here –

While the Indian media and political analysts have been talking about how the slowing down Indian economy is likely to hurt the electoral prospects of the BJP and slow down the Modi-Shah juggernaut, a different scene unfolded last week in distant Washington DC. The annual meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was held then and it brought together central bankers, ministers of finance and development, parliamentarians, private sector executives, representatives from civil society organizations and academics. The core agenda was to discuss issues of global concern, including the world economic outlook, poverty eradication, economic development and aid effectiveness.

Only a few years ago, India’s growth story was being touted as the only shining patch in an otherwise depressing economic world order and experts were quick to offer differing explanations for the same. Equally quickly are the experts again explaining the dip as possible outcomes of the demonetization or the introduction of the GST and poor handling of the nation’s economy by the government. Somewhere in this narrative, human development and the fate of the ordinary citizen on the street does not find any mention. It is in this context, the meetings of the WB and IMF offer a shift in the way these global bodies are beginning to view development.

For several decades, the World Bank and its allied Institutions were seen with suspicion and as mere political instruments with very little appreciation of grassroots development and of being insensitive to local community interests. They have also been accused of turning a blind eye to citizen engagement, to environmental concerns and to mis-governance and mal-administration in the implementation of projects funded by them. They have been working over the last decade and more to shed this image and are now actively soliciting engagement with local community groups, in ensuring social accountability of the projects funded by them; and of looking internally to address inherent structural flaws in their aid and loan processes. But despite all this, their primary focus was on income growth and economic development. This year’s meetings saw a quiet and subtle shift which if sustained, could have long term consequences on how the world sees human development and progress.

While the WB President Jim Yong Kim and the IMF Chief, Christine Lagarde stressed on the relevance and effectiveness of Institutions like the WB and IMF, they also conceded that the Multilateral banking systems need to evolve and become more responsive and accepting of the changing geo-political realities of the day. The challenges of the Globalization backlash, of countries becoming fiercely nationalist and losing interest in multilateralism, technology transforming labour, and the global economic slowdown were some of the key concerns articulated. The newly announced Global Concessional Financing Facility appears to make it more strategic and flexible but one needs to see if the Bank can take it forward with the kind of lukewarm response that was shown by the member countries to a call for increased capital infusion. One also needs to appreciate the challenge that the WB will face keeping in mind the view of the United States regarding the WB funding of middle income countries, especially China. It is to be seen whether the World Bank will truly be a bank owned by the member countries and operate in a free, fair, just and democratic manner or continue to stay as extended political arms of powerful governments in the Global North?

Another major shift that was announced was the recognition of expanding human capital before any meaningful economic development can happen. The WB’s decision to publish ‘Human Capital Index’ reports annually like the ‘Ease of doing business index’ reports will push countries to now reassess how they will begin to view human development. Focus on Nutrition and the impact of stunting on the GDP of countries were highlighted in the discussions.

A call for participation of private capital in WB funded projects sounds like a monster waiting to be unleashed and paradoxical to the call for enhanced social accountability frameworks. With many countries including India already grappling with ‘Policy Capture’ by select corporates, this could result in policies being skewed to the advantage of powerful forces and drowning out the needs and voices of the common citizen. Dr Jim also raised the controversial topic of enhancing ‘sin taxes’ and presented the enormous health benefits by making tobacco products increasingly unaffordable. Though agreeing with him was politically correct for many of the finance ministers present, it needs to be seen how many will walk the talk and take on the powerful tobacco lobbies. Focus on women entrepreneurs and creating platforms to promote them is being spoken about for some time now. But it should gain more legitimacy and momentum, now that these Institutions have provided formal space. This welcome change needs to be reflected in clear and specific policies at the country level and presents a unique opportunity for India as untapped potential in millions of Self Help Groups is waiting to be unleashed.

Going by the past, one is hesitant to believe that all these major shifts will get operationalized immediately or if these agencies will be de-politicized soon. For too long have policy debates been distorted by over emphasis on incomes alone. It is indeed a welcome move for these Institutions to focus on other deprivations like poor health, lack of education, stunting, social exclusion and unemployment which reflect in poor human capital within nations. It is in this context that India needs to present a refashioned narrative and look to building the human and social capital of its citizens rather than get lost in the debate of the state of the economy and mere GDP numbers.

-Balu

 

 

 

Making Indian democracy dance…

August 30, 2017 1 comment

India is not only the largest democracy in the world but is also known as one of the noisiest and unhealthy ones. Whatever it is, the events of the last couple of months is something that will make Indian democracy qualify as a ‘ugly’ one too. We always knew that the electoral democracy in India made our politicians dance – dance to the tune of the pressures of caste, cash and elite interests. But these recent events do not take much to convince us that our politicians are now making the Indian democracy dance. And that too in its naked form bereft of any decency or dignity and with scant regard to the people for whom this democracy exists.

If formation of a coalition Government in the state of Jammu & Kashmir by parties with two opposing ideological forces was mocking our democracy; its continued existence without a clear action plan to deal with the problem of insurgency, of conflicting interests and of the stagnation of both governance and development in the state leaves one feeling lost and despondent. This situation does not seem to trouble anyone in the Government or in the citizenry beyond issuing emotional expletives and listening to irrelevant politicians and retired bureaucrats on endless television debates.

The state of Bihar saw the change of dancing partners overnight. Partners who had earlier come together to tie the knot knowing fully well that their marriage may not work and with another opportunistic suitor constantly wooing one of them. How could anyone promise good governance and a corruption free administration with having one of India’s most corrupt politicians as a partner? And overnight, we are again promised good governance all over again.

As though the decibel levels are not enough, we have the latest entrant to India’s list of politicians – Arvind Kejriwal striking at the core of our Electoral System. While he seems to be convinced that good governance for him is the constant blaming of the Central Govt for all ills prevailing his state, his antics surrounding the Election Commission of India lies exposed by the fact that he never took up on the challenge that they posed to him. All that he seems to be indulging in are cheap theatrics, but he must be given the credit to make this ‘dance’ a ‘duet’. And the promise of exposing all his opponents and getting them to dance naked seems to be stuck in the court of law while his lawyer saw fit to script his own dance and withdraw from the defamation case that he was representing him in.

The election to the august office of our President and Vice-President was another treat that was scripted by Prime Minister Modi and his chief choreographer, Amit Shah. Together they pulled off one of India’s greatest political Operas. It was so well planned and executed that the opposition could not even get their stage ready, leave alone perform their dance. While one has no opinion on the ability or the capacity of the people elected, one only wonders if merit alone was the factor under consideration. Suddenly being a Dalit or coming from a poor farmer’s family or from south India seemed to matter. Democracy is now spoken of as being healthy as the elites’ of Lutyens Delhi are now being replaced. Are we sure that these replacements are because of democracy working or is it because of a few master puppeteers pulling the strings and making democracy dance to a new tune that one will hear for some more time before this new set of elites will be replaced by the Indian electorate.

Maharashtra presents an altogether different scene. While a coalition government is ruling the state, one of the partners seems to be living in perpetual doubt over whether it is on the dance floor or in the audience. One is unsure of how the Chief Minister keeps assuring the people growth and development, while at the same time battling this everyday distraction and rumors of his cabinet colleagues succumbing to the temptation of corruption.

The Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections was surely an anti-climax to what could have become a well-orchestrated performance. One party went overboard to ensure a candidate wins while another tried hard to get him to lose. The ECI not to be outdone also jumped in and disqualified two MLAs. All in all, this dance had so many twists and turns and was performed on so many different stages and with several actors. Karnataka had its share to contribute to this emerging dance-drama and a key protagonist was made to dance to the tune of the Income tax department. One is unsure if the dance has ended or we will soon have a series of sequels. In the same Rajya Sabha elections, another political party refused to endorse the candidature of a star parliamentarian for the third term. One is not sure if this was just democracy in action or a party going by its own constitution or the handiwork of another senior politician in the party who wanted to end the parliamentary role of Sitaram Yechury.

The entire drama of Tamil Nadu is something that defies reason. We have powerful external forces negotiating peace and bringing together warring factions and allowing them to share the spoils of war. All in the name of saving democracy and wanting to provide a stable Government. Not to be left behind we can see dynasty politics establishing itself firmly in both Andhra Pradesh and Telengana with members of the Chief Minister’s family in both the states holding sway. In neighbouring Kerala, we have political differences settled in barbaric ways and end up maiming and killing each other. All this in the name of democracy.

Karnataka has begun its electoral dance in right earnest. From stroking regional sentiments and having a separate flag to starting a debate around forming a religion, the state’s politicians are writing tunes that they will soon lose control over and lead to irretrievable consequences. The cacophony that will emerge will possibly deafen saner voices and we can be assured of some interesting days ahead.  Amidst all this, the fact that 8 MLCs gave false residential addresses to vote in the mayoral elections of BBMP is getting forgotten.

West Bengal is a state that never tires of making democracy visible. From the streetlights, all over Kolkata painted in the ruling party’s colours to ‘Ma, Mati, Manush’ being the slogan scribbled all over, to the everyday fun that the Chief Minister dishes out with her own special touch – the dance is always loaded with contradictions that is so cleverly camouflaged. It is indeed ironical that the TMC keeps talking about grassroots democracy and how the voice of people matters but bans Student’s union and Elections in a reputed University. One needs to follow the social media of the key political leaders of this state to indulge in some real confusing intellectual dancing.

Haryana – how does one even describe what has transpired in this state in the last few days? How do we condone the actions of the Government and the state which acted by not doing anything? How can one describe the Institution of the executive failing to dance along with the Judiciary? How can the state escape the responsibility of not ensuring law and order with its police being one the most top heavy in the country? How will one justify the loss of 38 lives and millions of rupees worth public and private property? How can we pretend that we are living in a democracy when it takes 15 years to prosecute a rapist? We saw how the state works to please a potential electoral constituency while losing sight of the larger responsibility of providing law and order to all citizens alike. And as though this degenerate dance was not enough, we have another parliamentarian arguing that the voice of 5 crore devotees of this God man should have been heard more than that of the court of law.

With elections to several large states around the corner, this dance will not only get more interesting, but unfortunately be baser and degraded. With the Nation having no credible opposition party and motley groups coming together not out of any larger National interest but out of their own need to survive and be relevant, this dance is only going to border on the absurd. We need to remember that the audience always gets the show that it deserves. The quality of this dance will continue to worsen, till we the citizens decide that enough is enough. We need to reclaim the space that we have so negligently given up. We now need to restore dignity and decency to democracy. And this can happen only when each one of us breaks out of our slumber and self-imposed indifference and decide to rid ourselves of our ‘voice poverty’. It is only the citizens voice that can provide the much-needed music to make our democracy healthy and vibrant again. Otherwise we will only have ourselves to blame for the trash that is dished out to us in the name of democracy.

-Balu

This article appeared in the Star of Mysore, dated 6th Sept, 2017

SOM Making Ind Demo dance

Categories: General, Musings

‘Seeing God in Man’ – Article that appeared in the Star of Mysore on 5th July 2017

July 7, 2017 1 comment

The Joy of giving…

June 21, 2017 1 comment

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
– Kahlil Gibran

Running a Non-profit anywhere in the world is not as easy as it sounds and is a difficult proposition. Apart from the image that the sector generates, the constant uncertainties of funding and resource mobilization, the lack of high quality talent, the changing demands of accountability & prevailing statutory laws, and most importantly the evolving nature of the world of social development itself, all pose great survival challenges. While all these factors make high demands, it is resource mobilization that takes away a major chunk of the time and energy of leaders of the non-profits. We at SVYM are also not immune to these pressures and we saw a major crisis that emanated last year.

The Government of India undertook a paradigmatic policy shift 2 years ago and decided to transfer 42% of its resources to the State Governments. While this is a major milestone in the history of India’s federal structure, it affected many non-profits like ours. The Indian Government decided that ‘social development’ is mostly a state subject and the states now needed to fund all such development programs from their own resources. In line with this thinking, funding to SVYM for running the tribal hospital, tribal school and the mobile health unit was abruptly stopped from last year. While this sent our programs into a toss, we could not suddenly stop health and education services to the indigenous communities. We felt truly caught between the ‘devil and the deep sea’ with the Government funding stopping on one side and the communities not being able to or willing to pay for the cost of services on the other. This is the time when we truly understood that in the last three decades and more of SVYM’s existence, Indian philanthropy had also evolved and matured. This was also the time that the people of India in general and of Mysuru in particular, rose to the occasion and donated generously to ensure that our health and education programs do not cease to function.

Though India has a long tradition of philanthropy, most charity has been focused on religious giving. Until the 1800s, giving in India was largely religious in nature and motivated by the search for individual salvation. Later, philanthropy also began to be directed toward social causes such as education and women’s rights. Throughout the 20th century, leading Indian industrialists established foundations and other charitable institutions of national importance, some of which were partly inspired by the country’s freedom movement. The last decade has seen a major shift in the number of people who are donating, the causes that they are supporting, the new CSR act that has come into place and the changing nature of Non-profits themselves. Donors are also contributing more and donating to a larger pool of non-profit organizations, giving philanthropy a much higher public profile. All of this has put philanthropy in India significantly ahead of that in other countries with similar levels of prosperity. This growth trend is showing a continuous upward trajectory. In fact, more than a third of current donors expect their donations to increase in the next five years. And as the nation implements the corporate social responsibility (CSR) regulations under the new Companies Act, there will be a positive disruption in the philanthropy space, bringing in more corporate donors and bringing about greater accountability and transparency.

Bain’s ‘India Philanthropy Report’ mentions that 28% of the adult population donated money and 21% donated their time in 2013. This means a staggering increase of more than 100 million more Indians making donations in cash or time than in 2009.  Media reporting of philanthropy is also now double what it was five years ago. What in 2009 was a tiny sapling is now a resilient tree in bud, awaiting its first blooms. The November 2012 ‘India Giving Report’ by Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) found that philanthropy in India has the potential to soar in the next decade, with more than half a billion-people giving for religious and charitable reasons each year. Overall the report found that most people in India—84% of the 836 million adults—give at least once a year. What is remarkable is that philanthropic donations in India are ahead of donations in other developing countries. India is a global outlier, with a larger percentage of its population making charitable donations than other countries at its level of prosperity elsewhere in the world. As a consequence of this growth, India is now No. 91 on the World Giving Index, up from No. 134 in 2010. In a few short years, India has moved from the bottom to the middle of the pack.

To sustain and grow this interest in philanthropy, there are several issues that non-profit organizations also must address. Donor apathy and a general mistrust of non-profit organizations and their operations are widespread. The space is dominated by a large number of “disconnected” donors who donate out of guilt or due to personal relationships rather than a personal connection to the cause. They demand low overheads due to their lack of faith in non-profits and this generally affects the quality of the services rendered by the NGOs. There are also a large number of small non-profits that lack adequate transparency, sophistication and organizational capacity, which make them less credible to donors. Non-profits need to develop better accountability & transparency measures, put in responsive reporting systems, deliver to communities on the social commitments made, build sustainable relationships and learn to use technology and social media to communicate their successes to their stakeholders. Government’s decreasing spending on social development needs alternate but efficient and effective partnerships to emerge in the non-government and private space. This can happen when genuine, transparent and accountable non-profits partner with this growing number socially conscious philanthropic minded individuals, foundations and corporate entities.

The constructive evolution and growth of the Indian Philanthropic scene gives organizations like SVYM much needed confidence that our work will not dry up for want of support. And like the old adage goes, ‘no good work will ever stop due to want of support’ and whether it is the palliative care project that is today fully supported by the people of Mysuru or the tribal development projects that we are implementing, we are confident that resources available locally will be more willingly shared by this growing number of philanthropic minded people and organizations.

-Balu

This article appeared in the Star of Mysore on 25th June, 2017 and can be read here…

Joy of Giving SOM

Categories: General, Musings, Story of SVYM

A quiet revolution – ushering in a new vision for tribal development…

June 11, 2017 1 comment

Recently, I was attending a program at the MRA campus at Panchgani in Maharashtra. Here, away from the din and noise of Pune, the nearest large city, around 93 young indigenous tribal youth from different parts of India were huddled together for a week. 67 men and 26 women from 19 different states and from 55 tribal communities were participating in this program. Having lived and worked with indigenous tribal communities for nearly 3 decades, I was overjoyed to see these young people being trained in leadership, in development and having engaging discussions among themselves trying to discover their lost selves and their identities.

 

                  Having fun together                                         Learning together

Though constituting a little more than 8% of the Nation’s population, these indigenous tribals today are neither fully understood nor have they got their entitled due. They continue to struggle to cope with the pressures of modernity while rapidly losing out on their tribal identity. Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India refers to Scheduled Tribes as those communities, who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. The essential characteristics, first laid down by the Lokur Committee, for a community to be identified as Scheduled Tribes are – a) indications of primitive traits; b) distinctive culture; c) shyness of contact with the community at large; d) geographical isolation; and e) economic backwardness. Tribal communities live, in various ecological and Geo-climatic conditions ranging from plains and forests to hills and inaccessible areas. Tribal groups around the country are at different stages of social, economic and educational development. Out of a total of 705 communities, the government of India has classified 75 of them as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). These PVTGs are tribals still using pre-agriculture level of technology; are having a stagnant or declining population; have extremely low levels of literacy; and have a subsistence level of economy. There are 10.43 crore indigenous tribals living in India as per the 2011 census. They vary in strength in different states from a few hundred to several lakhs. 14.7% of the tribal population of India live in the state of Madhya Pradesh whereas 2.5% of them live in Meghalaya. Broadly the STs inhabit two distinct geographical areas – Central India and the North-Eastern Area. More than half of the Scheduled Tribe population is concentrated in Central India, i.e., Madhya Pradesh (14.69%), Chhattisgarh (7.5%), Jharkhand (8.29%), Andhra Pradesh (5.7%), Maharashtra (10.08%), Orissa (9.2%), Gujarat (8.55%) and Rajasthan (8.86%). The other distinct area is the North East (Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh). The most numerically high are the Gonds (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh)—about 4 million, the Bhils (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh)—about 4 million, and Santhals (Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal)—more than 3 million. The smallest tribal community is the Andamanese with the strength of only 19.

With the objective to give focused attention to the social and economic development of these indigenous communities, the government of India set up an exclusive Ministry of Tribal Affairs in the year 1999 and has planned to spend around INR 5300 crores in this financial year for the same. While millions of rupees are being spent by Government, NGOS and Corporates under their CSR programs across the country, one finds it difficult to explain why the development of these indigenous communities has not been to the levels expected.

To understand this, we need to appreciate that programs are currently designed by non-tribal people who seem to be deciding on what tribal development should be. It is unfortunate that many of these ‘experts’ are designing and delivering programs that many a time seems to be disconnected from the ground realities. Having made many similar mistakes working with and for the tribals, I can now appreciate the need and importance of engaging with the people before even considering what and how one should be undertaking any development interventions. Across India today, the tribals are at a cross road and are neither able to move away from their dependence on traditional economies nor are they able to integrate with the demands of the market. They are wrestling with change – both at the individual level and at the community level and are neither able to let go off the past nor are they able to embrace the present. Programs that are thrust on them are forcing them to accept lifestyles that are unsustainable socially, economically and culturally. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, they are left vulnerable to the forces that continue to exploit them and are living a life of merely coping with the poverty that surrounds them.

How does one then engage and work in such situations? Even if one is genuinely concerned for their welfare and is willing to bring in enormous resources, can such a person be able to truly appreciate and articulate what the indigenous communities of India are going thru on a day to day basis. How would one be able to understand and capture the width and depth of traditional tribal wisdom into such programs even if one wants to?

Personally, I feel that this can happen only when the leadership to drive the development of these indigenous tribals come from within their own communities. Educated tribal youth with an understanding of the problems that they are currently facing and the challenges that forced integration with the mainstream economy is causing, would be best placed to be part of the solution framework. Gaining legitimacy to solve their problems is not easy to negotiate, either with Government or with the NGOs working with them. These youths need additional skills and a new assertiveness. They need have their human and social capital built before they can become a credible force to contend with.

And this program was doing exactly that. Quietly, a powerful force that will revolutionize the very concept of tribal development in the years to come was being unleashed. This program conceived and wholly sponsored by Tata Steel as part of its CSR activities is possibly a first of its kind. These youths were getting trained in issues related to their culture; the challenges and opportunities that mainstream economy brings in its wake; and the leadership and soft skills that one needs to find solution frameworks for them. Breaking into small groups, they were learning from each other issues that the tribal groups faced locally – whether it was managing local resources, hijacking of reservation by other powerful forces, disappearing traditional systems and practices, health care issues, education opportunities or the problems of forest dwelling tribes. Whether it was the problem of building huge dams or industrialization or the improper forcible resettlement and rehabilitation that many communities were subjected to – everything was spoken about and analyzed. It was joy to watch young minds think this reality through despite the strong emotions that the issues emanated.

Samvaad - 2017

Building social capital…

The true impact of this program will be felt, possibly a decade later…when hopefully a cohort of nearly a 1000 young people across the country will be trained and a network built. A network of like-minded, compassionate, aware and empowered tribal leaders who with determined optimism will not just be mere spectators or sit on the sidelines, but be willing participants of development that they themselves conceive and implement. Moving from traditional economy to the current mixed economy takes time, patience, sustained efforts and knowledge and skills. Finding the balance between holding onto the good of one’s tradition and culture with the best of what today’s reality can bring needs leadership that is mature, pragmatic and positive. It will be a new generation of such tribal leaders that can hope to nurture and build communities to move from one level of skill sets to the next to create a future that is just, humane, equitable and fair. And silently with no fanfare this paradigm shift is being ushered in by a program that is both futuristic while at the same time realistic. In the years to come, we will surely see a generation of young people with the ability to negotiate with the government, local NGOs and other development partners willing to engage and work with them. These young men and women will now be able to communicate to their people that development can be with dignity and without taking away their traditional position. And possibly, these young men and women will also have lessons for rest of humanity to learn from and usher in the sustainable development that all of us are looking for.

-Balu

 

Categories: General, Musings

Discontent with democracy and the AAP experiment…

May 3, 2017 2 comments

Towards the end of December 2014, a lot of people asked me if I would be joining  the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).  Having been a key person in Karnataka in the crusade against corruption that Anna Hazare had led, many had presumed that I would also automatically gravitate towards this newly formed political front. When Arvind had met me then in Bengaluru, he did talk about the need for people like me to be in active politics.  Yogendra Yadav and Prashanth Bhushan too had tried to impress on me the need to be actively engaged in AAP and contribute to fine tuning its ideological moorings.   A few newspapers had also announced that I would be their candidate for the Parliament elections that was held in May 2014.  It was around this time that I had posed a few questions to them about the political ideology of AAP; the intent of having structures that demonstrated inner party democracy; what was the governance model that their were having in mind and what economic theory of development that AAP subscribed to.   Though I did not get satisfactory answers, I decided to respectfully observe the growth and trajectory of AAP as I believed that this could possibly be the much-needed paradigm shift in the Indian political scene.  It was also the time that I decided not to associate with any political party but to closely observe how AAP’s existence would affect the quality of all the other political parties. I must confess that I was hopeful that this experiment of the Aam Aadmi Party will bode well not just for Indian politics but for the nation’s progress as well.

It is interesting to understand the underpinnings of what led to the mercurial growth of Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP.   What we saw from 2010 to 2014 in India was a collective expression of the restlessness of the Indian masses.  There was such a deep distrust of the political setup and the common man was desperately looking for a messiah.  Over the previous several decades especially after 1991, growth opportunities and investments in Infrastructure, education and health care seemed to benefit only one particular class of people.  The effects of distributional consequences were beginning to be seen and the social and economic inequities were becoming more and more stark.  State expenditures on health and education were being inconsistent and the private sector was encouraged to consider providing public services for a price.  Cutting of the social benefits was hurting the poor the most and International trade, market policies and technological change over the last many years were resulting in hurting the same people again and again.  There was widespread discontent with democracy and the electoral process due to rampant perversion of the system, use of money & muscle power and using identity politics for electoral benefit.  It was in this scenario, Arvind and company entered and convinced the Nation that corruption was the cause of all their sufferings and that he could provide them with a viable and a fresh alternative.  A nation hungry for change lapped up everything he said and he soon became the poster boy of not just AAP, but also of an emerging new political paradigm.

Arvind soon learnt that he could build political capital for AAP and deal with the pervasive cynicism by constantly pulling down the ‘establishment’ and everyone associated with it.  Little did he realize that it would soon become counter-productive once he became the establishment himself.  Even after being swept into power in Delhi, he continued to denigrate expertise, selectively use ‘filtered’ information and kept projecting himself as the helpless victim of the ‘establishment’, which he equated with the Central Government led by Modi.

Today he and his party are going thru a reality check.  The more he and AAP have become like others, he needs to understand that the people will treat him with the same disdain and distrust that they have treated all political parties and politicians till date.  Inner party democracy cannot just be a sledge hammer with which you beat up others.  One needs to role model it within AAP and then bandy it around.  He needs to not only encourage people to speak up, but he needs to learn to listen with patience, humility and serious intent.  Respect for colleagues cannot not be driven by political expediency and he needs to demonstrate authentic leadership now.  His government’s policies need to be administratively feasible, politically practical and financially viable.  No longer will the people tolerate his constant blaming of ‘others’ and AAP as a party has to learn that the metrics of performance in a democracy like India is electoral success.  Decisions have to be informed by the trade-offs that such decisions entail and he needs to prepare himself and his party to learn to absorb them.  Democracy was questioned and in helping vote the AAP to power in Delhi in 2015, the people saw a redeeming solution.  But today, one cannot fault the common man of Delhi for feeling let down and cheated.  And they responded in the only way that they could – not give AAP their trust as demonstrated in the recently held MCD elections.

The AAP has to put its house in order not just to save their fledgling party, but to save this experiment in Indian democracy.  People are now no longer dissatisfied with AAP alone, but see a justification in their discontent with democracy itself.  The debate should not be whether elections are rigged but should be about whether the political process itself continues to be rigged.  If the evident skew in favour of the rich, the mighty and the powerful had to change, we needed this political experiment to have succeeded.  Questions that still lie unanswered are the challenges of Affluence vs Influence; Public opinion vs Public policy; Interests vs Positions, and Competence vs Values.  And one had hoped that the emergence of AAP on the political spectrum in India would have kick started the debate on finding the answers for these vexatious questions and Indian Democracy would become healthy and vibrant.

– Balu

Read this article that appeared in the Star of Mysore on 10th May 2017.

AAP experiment

Categories: General, Musings
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