The popular perception is that the ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) option – a measure of rejection of all candidates – did not make a difference in the recent assembly elections, being as low as 0.6% in Delhi. But the NOTA choice came third in terms of votes polled in as many as 148 of the 520 constituencies in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, suggesting widespread discontent with governance deep inside the country. Of these 148 constituencies, 63 are in MP, 51 in Rajasthan and 34 in Chhattisgarh. Most of these constituencies fall in Maoist-affected, tribal or rural areas. Take Bijapur, in Naxal-affected southern Chhattisgarh, where over 10.1% of voters chose the NOTA option.
All the five states that went to polls over the past month, and whose results will be announced on Sunday, have seen an increase in voter turnout. While Rajasthan has recorded the highest jump of 9%, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have posted an increase of 4.5% and 3.5% respectively. Political parties have attributed this higher turnout variously to anti-incumbency or enthusiasm for their candidates and policies, but other factors have also been at work. The first of these is the sterling work done by the Election Commission to ensure a higher voter turnout. The second is the wider recognition among voters and candidates that these polls are more closely fought than previous ones — and, therefore, every vote could indeed count.
Adani Ports and SEZ has challenged the environment ministry’s decision to impose penalties on it for environmental violations, setting the stage for a faceoff between the government and the company, possibly even a legal battle. In a letter to the ministry dated October 14, a copy of which has been viewed by ET, APSEZ has challenged each of the seven penalties, saying the conditions have been either complied with or are not applicable to the company. The ministry had derived these penalties from the report of a committee, headed by environmentalist Sunita Narain, set up to probe persistent complaints of environmental violations at the Adani port, power plant and SEZ complex at Mundra in Gujarat. The report, submitted in April, found that APSEZ had committed serious environmental violations.
For the longest time, the price of farmland in Vadicherla stayed below Rs 20,000 an acre.Ten years ago, that began to change. “In 2003, an acre cost Rs 25,000. By 2006-07, it had climbed to Rs 2 lakhs,” says Byru Veeraiah, sarpanch of this village in Andhra Pradesh’s Mehbubnagar district, “By 2010, an acre cost Rs 3 lakh. And Rs 12 lakh by 2012.” It was a puzzling spike. This village with its 700-odd families is nowhere near big cities. Warangal, the nearest big town, is 50 kilometres away. Nor is it close to any highway. The Vijayawada-Hyderabad highway is a good 15 kilometres away. Nor is any farmland in the village or its vicinity being acquired by the government or companies.
Vadicherla is not alone. In the last ten years, the price of an acre in Ramavarapadu, a village next to Vijayawada, has leapt from Rs 7 lakh to Rs 7 crore. Or take Mardi, 15 kilometres off Solapur, Maharashtra. The price of an acre in this village, says Prakash Arjun Kate, a local, has “climbed from Rs 20,000-25,000 ten years ago to Rs 10 lakh now.”
Ramavarapadu, Vadicherla and Mardi are not isolated instances. Microstudies and anecdotal information suggest almost all of rural India is seeing a similar climb in farmland prices. If the trend suggested by the villages — and the microstudies and other anecdotal inputs — is indeed correct, then a large change is playing out in rural areas — their farmland markets are getting activated.
And the question is: Why now? And why are markets across the country waking up at the same time? And what does this mean for food security, rural livelihoods, migration patterns, you name it?
For all that, see story one: on the reasons for this spike, and its implications for farmers, food production and suchlike.
(Also see the next post: story two, on the quantum of land leaving agriculture)
ps – while on the question about the fallouts of such escalations on village india, i cannot help remembering my year at tihi (see this and this), a village in malwa, madhya pradesh, near indore, studying the village level impact of itc’s e-choupal project. it was an enlightening time. in part because tihi was a village in flux. it was close to the industrial cluster of pithampur. it was close to indore, one of the major industrial cities in madhya pradesh. abutting, as it did, the road linking pithampur and indore, tihi was seeing a lot of schools, factories, what have you, coming up on that road. what amplified those trends for the village were two other factors. one, the bombay-agra bypass was cutting thru the village fields to the north-west. and then, there was a proposed rail line for cargo. between them all, land rates in the village were rising fast. they stood at about Rs 44 lakhs to a bigha when i got to tihi. A couple of years later, they stood at a crore.
this change had epic impacts on the village. the younger son of the richest farmer in the village became a land broker. other villagers, especially the youngsters, began trying to copy his example. and began talking to other villagers asking them if they wanted to sell land. with each kid telling farmers to come to them if they wanted to sell. “i will get you a good rate”, etc. there were other changes. villagers confused by the rapid changes around them began yielding to what their kids — more in sync with the processes at work if foolhardy and impulsive about the desire to sell land — said. households began diversifying their livelihoods. working as labour in pithampur, etc. this was, of course, as contract labour. which suggested an uncertain future. i remember how suspicious some villagers were towards me — some right till the end, suspecting i was there to buy land for the company or something.
due to the great rural land grab, how much land is leaving agriculture? that is hard to say. the government says there is hardly any change — but that is unlikely. some say enough newer lands are being brought under farming to make up for the loss of farmland. but there is little mathematical work to back those claims up. puzzling, the whole thing.
Its loans are smaller than those given by the Bank of Baroda branch in the village. But it is faster at lending to small farmers. Says Rashid Gulab Sheikh, a farmer in his late fifties, “If you are a two acre farmer, a loan from the bank (Bank of Baroda) will take 2-3 months to come. The Society gives the loans in 8 days.”
Mardi’s ‘Society’ Bank is a Primary Agricultural Cooperative Society (PACS). Low-profile cogs in India’s agricultural credit machinery, these are the field outposts of the three-tiered cooperative society lending structure that currently accounts for 17% of all agricultural loans.
Over the last few months, PACS have been seeing a pitched battle over their future. This January, the report of an RBI-appointed committee to study the functioning of the cooperative lending structure recommended they be converted into banking correspondents for District Credit Cooperative Banks – the second tier of the cooperative society lending structure. Once the RBI accepted the recommendation, Nabard, whose chairman Prakash Bakshi was chaired the RBI committee, issued operational guidelines.
Such a transition, says the rural lending institution, is the only way to save the PACS. However, opponents of the plan, like IIM Bangalore professor and rural finance expert MS Sriram say the idea will kill the PACS, not save them.
in the days after the cbi’s 14th FIR, delhi’s political circles crackled with ignorant speculation.
the FIR was the congress’ way of warning industry against supporting narendra modi, the BJP’s prime minister aspirant; the FIR had been filed to discredit pc parakh, the former coal secretary; a rival business group was trying to scupper industrialist kumarmangalam birla’s chances of getting a banking license…
in the process, a key question escaped scrutiny once again: how are India’s attempts to fix the mess created by coalgate progressing?
coalgate, remember, is not about small, undeserving companies getting coal blocks. nor is it about the government blowing a chance to rake in cash by auctioning them. it is about a resource grab where a handful of companies cornered 44 billion tons of coal, leaving coal india (CIL) with just 49 billion tons to meet coal demand from the rest of the industrial sector.
as such, its fallouts are serious. by concentrating ownership of coal reserves, coalgate has distorted the thermal powerplant market. power plants which have to import 35% of their coal — due to a weakened CIL’s inability to meet everyone’s coal requirements — cannot compete with power plants with captive blocks. projects have been abandoned. consolidation and bank write-offs look likely.
it has also pushed the country towards an oligarchic future and compromised india’s energy security. it has also accelerated the loss of india’s central forests and imperilled the rivers that originate there. CIL, with a range of coal blocks to mine in, could defer mining in pristine forests. a company with a single block doesn’t have this luxury.
over the past year, multiple institutions, from the supreme court to the CBI to the coal ministry, have been examining different aspects of coal and coalgate. between them, the country has a rare second chance to get its act on coal together, to set in place a new architecture which provides cheap, plentiful coal equitably till the country can move to cleaner fuels.
the question is whether the corrective steps underway are taking us in such a direction.
on vikram akula’s attempt to get back into sks microfinance, by my colleague john samuel raja and me.
This January, the competition regulator sent an independent report to the ministry of agriculture on why onion prices spiked abruptly in 2010, a pattern that is playing out again today, with prices ruling at Rs 60-80 a kg for the last two months.
This 86-page report, one of the clearest descriptions of how India’s agricultural markets function, made some stinging observations: traders colluding and acting like a cartel, the unequal relationship between traders and farmers and exports not being calibrated to domestic demand, all being perpetuated by loopholes in the rules.
While this report, titled ‘Competitive Assessment of Onion Markets in India’, studies a crisis that happeend three years ago, it warns of why, unless systemic change is not effected, the spike in onion prices will keep happening in the years to come, especially at this time of the year.
This report—commissioned by Geeta Gouri, member, Competition Commission of India, and prepared by researchers at Bangalore’s Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC)—has remained in the ministry’s cold storage. “There has been no response from the ministry at all,” rues Gouri.
a quick and dirty story on why, every so often, onion prices spike so abruptly. i need to get into more detail on all this.
What is the future of one of India’s most high profile government programmes after Monday’s Supreme Court interim ruling on Aadhaar? And is there a collateral damage on election-facing UPA’s ambitious welfare schemes? The answers are starkly different. Aadhaar, unless the Supreme Court changes its ruling in the final judgement, has received a body blow. But, ironically, minus the linkage with Aaadhar, UPA’s direct benefits transfer (DBT) programme can perhaps get a boost.
a quick and dirty story on the fallouts of the supreme court’s interim ruling barring states from making aadhaar mandatory for accessing welfare. i should have added a para discussing the fallouts of doing DBTs without aadhaar. while deduplication would suffer, the instances of the old, etc, struggling to get their entitlements due to poor biometrics would also go away — assuming, that is, the new processes set in place by states do not use biometrics at all.
By slapping a Rs 200-crore penalty on the Adani Group for environmental violations, the ministry of environment and forests may be breaking its own laws, say environmental lawyers. According to Delhi-based environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, the two laws that define the penal framework for such violations — the Environment Protection Act (EPA) and the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) — don’t give the ministry the powers to levy a fine. “They empower the ministry to start criminal prosecution in a court and to cancel an environmental clearance,” he says. “There is nothing in the laws giving the ministry any power to levy such a penalty.”
one of the defining traits of the upa regime has been its opportunistic relationship with the rule of law. this story, out today, again highlights that tendency.
Imagine a database that contains the following data about your family. Household level information like address, caste, asset ownership, the kind of house you live in, when you came to the city/village where you now stay, ration card number, etc. And individual level information about including names, ages, educational background, occupation, incomes, bank accounts, existing illnesses, UID numbers, PAN numbers, welfare entitlements, etc, of your family members. And now, imagine this database is to be for determining your tax obligations. Also imagine it will be visible to — for they are the ones maintaining it — government employees in the block/district office.
The pros and cons are immediately obvious. If the government has near-perfect information about everyone’s financial status, tax fraud will come down. However, if the information is wrong or if it is accessed by outsiders, the consequences for you could be severe.
The government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP) is creating something similar — not for the urban affluents but for the poor.
Between December 2012 and now, it has taken the MoRD’s SECC (Socio Economic and Caste Census) survey and added household and individual level information like address, number of members, bank account numbers, NREGA card numbers, their entitlements, the quantum of land they own, whether the house is kuchcha or pucca, if it has a toilet, and so on. So far, about 85% of the households in the state, about 2.5 crore people, have been enrolled across urban and rural MP. It intends to use this database, called Samagra, for determining eligibility amongst the poor for welfare entitlements like pensions, scholarships and food.
Is this a good idea? The state government thinks so. But, if you look at a similar experiment carried out in Delhi, you will see how the use of databases can all too easily go wrong as well.
In 2008, the Congress government in Delhi had similar intentions in mind when it decided to overhaul its welfare delivery. Today, that failed experiment with databases reveals everything that can go wrong with databases: from exclusion to selective updation, from political profiling to privacy issues.
Delhi overhauled its welfare delivery architecture in two ways. One, it brought in databases. Two, it outsourced the last mile between the government and the people to NGOs. Both moves have badly failed. Please to be clicking on the links for more. Thank you.
The sheer sweep and scale of the National Food Security Bill — subsidised food of subsistence quantities to up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population—suggests it could be an election game-changer for the ruling Congress-led UPA. But when seen along with the way this legislation will be implemented, the NFSB’s pull for the Congress as a voter magnet in the 2014 elections is considerably dulled.
State governments will be in charge of implementing the NFSB, through their respective public distribution systems (PDS). The NFSB effectively sets the floor for food entitlements, but states are free to offer more. In terms of their existing food security programmes and the efficiency of their PDS, states can essentially be divided into two categories.
The first category is states that are already giving a larger food entitlement than what the Centre is promising and where the PDS is efficient: for example, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Himachal Pradesh. Here, the NFSB will, mostly, not be delivering new benefits to the people. The NFSB can make a difference in the second category of states, whose current food entitlements are smaller: like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But to do so, it will have to fix the hugely corrupt PDS in these states, a tall ask in a year.
“We will see rapid implementation of the NFSB only in those Congress-ruled states where improvements in the PDS are possible,” says Himanshu, an assistant professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, tracking agricultural change.
also see this story on how chhattisgarh’s food security programme changed the state.
today marks two years since shashi rajagopalan or, as i called her, dr rajagopalan, passed away.
for more on her and her work on co-operatives, click here.
Last Sunday, the Uttar Pradesh government suspended Durga Shakti Nagpal, the sub-divisional magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar who had been cracking down on the sand mafia. Three days later, Pale Ram Chauhan, a Noida-based activist who had taken on the local sand mining mafia, was killed. Sand mining is back under the scanner. As are questions on how to balance the construction sector’s need for sand with ecological and social concerns. For, right now, what is underway in construction boom-spots such as Greater Noida and elsewhere is analogous with nothing less than Karnataka’s iron ore scam.
Last week, when Mundra overtook Kandla in the first quarter of 2013-14 to become the country’s largest port by tonnage handled, it was as much the result of the Adani Group taking decisions with purpose and strategic intent as the Kandla management demonstrating an inexplicable streak of indecision and inaction. In Gandhidham, the town that services Kandla, the perception among shipping firms and cargo agents is that, this public sector port has been scoring self-goals, ceding business – and tactical advantage – to privately-owned Mundra 60 km away, where the first ship docked just 15 years ago.
i stumbled upon this story while working on a profile of Gautam Adani, one of post-liberalisation India’s largest infrastructure tycoons.
ps – i can now legitimately claim to write on shipping and ports for the economic times.