uidai: bouquets, brickbats and bugbears

while i was out bobbing in the bottle green waters of lakshadweep’s lagoons — see previous post — this story on the uidai came out.

Barely six months ago, UIDAI was under siege-not just from civil society activists, but also from other parts of the government. The home ministry, one of whose arms was undertaking a similar exercise of identifying Indians, said UIDAI was setting the identity-bar low, which could pose a national-security problem.

A clutch of ministries, all potential users of its solutions, said UIDAI’s blueprint for cash transfers was not feasible.

Elsewhere, UIDAI’s parent, the Planning Commission, was rejecting its Rs 15,000 crore funding proposal and questioning its processes. And a Parliamentary panel examining a legislation that gave the UIDAI legitimacy was dismissing the project as one “conceptualised with no clarity of purpose”.

The question is: after Budget 2012, which increased UIDAI’s allocation by 47% to Rs 1,758 crore and handed it greater responsibility, is all that opposition a thing of the past now? The answer is yes and no.

wrasse-leela. or a trip to coral reefs.

am just back from a polymesmeric holiday in lakshadweep, an archipelago of coral islands off india’s west coast. learnt how to swim. kayaked. dived. saw turtles, dolphins, morays and more. and had my head turned inside out by the intricacy of coral ecosystems. am now back convinced that i need to read about coral reefs, and that i need to learn how to dive solo. (perchance, if i feel i can write eloquently enough to do justice to the trip, a longer post sometime).


and hmmm, credit for all underwater photos goes to amod zambre. and that fifth snap from the top, those are the friends i travelled with. ramana, vidya, their daughter aarushi, and amod. a wonderful trip, indeed. also, in case you are wondering about the snap with the cars, kavaratti, the island where we stayed is about 5km long and 1 km wide. the government babus, nevertheless, feel the need to have cars to ferry them about.

i should also hastily add that credit for the horrible pun (wrasse-leela, wrasses are fishes found in reefs) goes to ramana.

“Na Na Na”, said the government, “I Cannot Hear You Standing Committee”

A committee of MPs has questioned the budget’s endorsement of the Aadhaar project despite the panel’s rejection of a draft law which sought to give it legal backing. The 31-member Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, chaired by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, has asked the government to explain the proposed increase in budgetary allocations to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) steered by Infosys founder Nandan Nilekani.

Another update on the UIDAI by my friend Vikas and me, in the wake of the report by the standing committee on finance last december.

The Great Forest Cover-Up

In February, the latest instalment of a little environmental kabuki played out when the Forest Survey of India (FSI) released its biennial report card of forests. It declared India’s forests were in fine fettle, with a net addition of 1,128 sq km, or 0.16%, in the last two years.
At 692,000 sq km, forests covered 23% of India’s land, and were directionally headed to reach the targeted 33%. What the Dehradun-based FSI did not declare, and tucked it away in definitions and methodologies, is how it computed that number. Take the very definition of ‘forest cover’ it has used since 2001. The FSI breaks up land into 1-hectare plots (100 metres by 100 metres) and looks at their satellite images. If tree canopy covers more than 10% of a 1-hectare plot, the FSI classifies it as a forest, regardless of who owns it, for what purpose and what kind of trees it has.

1n 2006, there was a large outcry when we realised that the environment ministry had been fibbing about tiger numbers. Well, something similar is happening with India’s forests as well. The definition that the FSI follows is so expansive that it counts tea and coffee plantations, orchards, parks and timber plantations, among others, as forests. At a time when forests are under increasing pressure, this definition (and previous methodological alterations) have enabled india’s forest establishment to claim India’s forest cover is rising. The complete story here. A PDF of the page, here.

fazed out. india’s fertiliser ministry and phase two in fert cash transfers

and now, another update on how india’s journey towards fertiliser cash transfers is unfolding. see it here.

some thoughts on this, though. this january, ET had reported that companies, wholesalers and retailers alike were nervous about the fertiliser ministry’s plans to reroute subsidy from companies to retailers. You can read about that, with context and all, here. well, the ministry has finally decided to scrap this intermediate phase, which was slated to start this kharif. this means the existing subsidy regime — where companies get the subsidy — will continue till it is possible to transfer the subsidy to farmers directly. for that to happen, they will all need to have UID numbers.

that said, this decision to scrap this intermediate phase is going to offer little more than short term relief to farmers and retailers. partly because once cash transfers start flowing to farmers — retailers/wholesalers/farmers will have to buy at full price anyway. also, more tangibly, cash transfers or no cash transfers, in the last few years, fertiliser prices have risen precipitously. see the point made by JNU professor himanshu in the last paragraph.

“While the price of urea has more or less stayed around Rs 500 over the past 6-7 years, that of DAP, for instance, has climbed from Rs 1,050 in 2010-11 to Rs 1,500 by June 2011 and is currently at Rs 1,900. It will definitely increase further.”

this precipitous rise in fert prices means we are using more urea than anything else. which takes us back to the crisis in indian agricultural soils. another thing the fert ministry continues to turn a nelson’s eye to.