28-Apr-2006

A Different View Of L'affaire Kaavya

Here from an American blogger. Notice the title of post : Meritocracy. And note this:
...she was able to pay $20,000 for a college counselor who put her into contact with a publisher. In short, she was lucky enough to be able to pay for connections.
I will let this commenter balance that out:
Wait a damn minute - we have nothing to go on except the story and the money to say she or anyone else did not work hard. You don't know that she didn't and to assume she didn't because she has parents with money is - well, - prejudiced.

I don't know what happened except what I've read and the girl could not be more apologetic over the purported plagiarism.
But it still doesn't make a bee in my bonnet go away, a bee that sneaked in as I watcheda news segment on CNN-IBN about the student protests against reservation. One student had this to say, paraphrasing completely:
a person who gets into an medical course through the reservation quota will not be able to learn all that well, since he will not have the skills for it. So what kind of doctors will we produce with this policy of reservation?
Fair point. But the same argument could be made against the system of getting seats in private engineering and medical colleges based on paying power. So why is it not made so vigorously? And isn't it also true that the student who fails to measure up won't pass his exams and thus will not be able to practice?

On a different note, how many of these students who get subsidised education and free experience in government institutions end up serving in the villages where the real need is? And how many end up with fat practices in the cities or abroad? We already know where the IIM graduates end up. Who do the doctors serve?

Update: Read the other side of the story, strongly put, here. Why indeed?

24-Apr-2006

Human Trafficking

By US contractors in Iraq. Shoe is on the wrong foot I think. Via Juan Cole, who in fact calls it the revival of slavery.

Update: And that after their government and President lied to start a war on the same country, and hoodwinked their own people into supporting the war. If this is what democracy is in the greatest democracy in the world, god help us. Via TPM.

22-Apr-2006

Adivasis And Forests

Found this on the net - the website of a group called Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee. This group seems to be fighting for the adivasis' land rights. The site itself is a bit quirky requiring some working around/URL manipulation to get to where you want to go. But it gives an idea of the things happening in the area, mostly far away from the TV screens and newspaper headlines. They have a report on the Kalinga killings which recently spurted across the news horizons of the rest of the country. Factual, not very heavy on emotions, and eye-opening. It also touches on the forest protection and destruction issue and why it would not be welcome in some quarters that the Adivasis get legal ownership of their lands. It reflects on how well governments take care of forest lands. An excerpt:
Kalinga Nagar core zone comprises of 13,000 acres where the industries are situated. The remaining 17,000 acres are earmarked for the townships and civic amenities [pk: i.e.,a total of 121 sq km]. Sourrounding this is a greenbelt of dense forests spread over an additional area of 75 sq k.m.s. The flora includes sal, kurum, vandan, ashan and piasal. The forests of Nakasa, Natimara, Barsuli etc, all within ten kilometers of the project area, are also home to rich and diverse wildlife like leopard, deer, scaly ant-eater, python, cobra etc. This is also an elephant corridor zone as it comes within the larger Saranda Sal Forest area.

What is noteworthy is that the people in these forty Adivasi villages have been protecting this forest zone even prior to 1946. Their protection plan included what we call today ‘Community vigilant groups’. It is for this reason that the forest and wild animals stayed protected from forest mafia, poachers’ et al. Interestingly the practice of these community vigilant groups is older than our present day environmental NGO’s claiming to protect the forest.

The Bone of Contention
A known fact is that the first and last land survey was undertaken in 1928 under the then British Raj. That land survey did not include the Adivasi areas, thus, a majority of the Adivasi population in Orissa was never given land papers. Despite a Supreme Court ruling in favour of the Adivasi, the government has not moved a finger to grant papers to the Adivasis. The advantage of maintaining the status quo by the upper dominant caste and class is manifold. One such advantage is seen here in Duburi where only those who had land papers were given compensation in 1994. The rest of the land the government got for free.

The Tata Factor
The Tata Steel Ltd (TSL), a late-comer in the project, has been allotted 2400 acres in Kalinga Nagar, for the construction of a six million tonne plant. The land that the government purchased at the rate of Rs. 37,000/- per acre in 1994, was sold to the Tata Co. for Rs. 3,35,000/- thus making a net profit of Rs 715,200,000 and at the same time giving the Tata Company a savings of over Rs. 87,600,000 over the market price. The market price is between Rs. 5,00,000 to 7,00,000 per acre.

It was this dispute over compensation that was on the negotiation table till 2nd January and was the reason why the people had assembled to prevent the bull-dozers from destroying their houses and taking over their lands that fatal day.

There were other reasons for this dispute. The Government had paid only for those lands for which the people had ownership papers; amounting to 13,000 acres, For the remaining 17,000 acres, which were in part common land and in part lands belonging to the Adivasis --though the papers due to them by the Supreme court ruling had never materialized-- the government did not pay any money. Within the category of common lands comes forest land. Traditionally the Khunkhatidars also had large amounts of forest lands and hence the ownership of these forest lands, and the question as to whether they belonged to the Forest Department (Government) or to the Khunkhatidars, or how much belonged to each, had been in dispute. While this amounts to another staggering mathematical figure, in terms of blood, it has taken the lives of the twelve killed, injured dozens, and the trauma of the repression that has followed and the burden of collective memory is going to linger on.

In A Spot - 220406

The next one in the series, though it her Fifth Column in IE - not the usual On The Spot in DH - which I discuss here. She tackles the Naxalite problem taking some time out to bash the Rural Employment Guarantee Act(REGA) along the way. First, the latter:
On account of the deletrious influence of Leftist NGOs on the UPA Government, all we have had by way of rural development are madcap schemes like the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Thousands and thousands of crores will be spent on setting up a massive bureaucracy that seeks to provide a hundred days of employment a year to the destitute. A hundred days, if they can be provided, will continue to leave them destitute.

If those who invent these grandiose schemes travelled in rural India, they would have noticed that even those who have 200 days of employment a year are destitute. I have met whole families who live on less than Rs 10 a day when the breadwinner has 15 days of work a month.

It is not a 'Scheme'. It is an Act. There are differences between the two I believe. And nix on the deletrious effect of leftist NGOs on the UPA - the 100 day guarantee is part of the CMP based on which the UPA came to power. But why should keeping up electoral promises matter in this brave new world of rightist opinion-makers.

Now for some maths. How much would each of the families that she mentions earn in a year? 10*15*12= Rs 1800. How much does 100 days of work under the act give? Remember that the workers need to be given at least the minimum agricultural wage per day as per the act. That is around Rs 60. So, 100 * 60 = Rs 6000. More than three times what they would earn otherwise. If those who columnise their opinions weekly had a ready grasp of elementary mathematical calculations, we would get better informed reading material on weekends.

Then Ms Singh writes:
What we need in the Naxalite districts is investment in real development. Roads, schools, clean water, electricity, irrigation and above all jobs.
'Above all jobs'? Is she by any chance asking for employment for the rural people? Probably even a guarantee for a certain number of days of employment?`Like the Act under discussion here? No, that can't be. Must be she is asking for regular 9-5 jobs for everyone. And I'm not sure what kind of work she thinks will get done. Probably digging up a hole in the morning and filling it up in the afternoon following by the rustling of newly-minted notes before everyone says bye to each other? That need not necessarily be it as these folks mention:
Second, it must be remembered that such a programme does not involve an expenditure of resources for the sole purpose of creating employment. Rather, the idea is to use the workers productively in activities which will build or maintain assets in the countryside, or provide important social or economic services. So such expenditure will yield dividends not only in terms of higher levels of economic activity in the present but also through improving the conditions of production in rural areas. There are many such potential activities which can have important effects on supply conditions, productivity and sustainability of rural economic activities, in both agriculture and non-agriculture.

For example, constructing and maintaining roads and other connectivity (which has thus far been the most popular form of activity in such schemes) has direct and indirect effects in agricultural marketing and a whole range of other economic activities, besides generally improving the conditions of rural residents. But other activities, which are often far less captial-intensive, such as building and maintaining bundhs, minor irrigation works, clearing out and desilting ponds and rivers, also have very positive short run and long run effects on production conditions and can also improve the sustainability of cultivation patterns generally, implying important social gains.
It would be worthwhile for Ms Singh to read the thing in full.

The act is surely not a silver bullet, but it can't be all bad and needs to be given a chance.

Now to the Naxalite issue about which she is talking all along
If the Prime Minister were serious about dealing with our single biggest internal security challenge, he needs to put his money where his mouth is. Policemen in Naxalite districts need the sort of weapons that are used to protect VIPs in Delhi and they need to be trained along with the commandos responsible for VIP security.
I think it is clear. The Naxalite problem is not going to be solved by firepower. Else the US would be done in Iraq and subjugating Iran or even Syria by now. The police in the rural areas are always going to be outnumbered. And outnumbered, they are practically at the mercy of the Naxalites. Short of guarding each police chowki with one or two armoured tanks, I don't see how the policemen can be protected. And even the tanks will not guarantee anything.

So we move on to the socio-economic problem underlying the Naxalite problem. We've already seen how providing food in the mouths of the rural needy is not going to help. Next the lady notes that the tribals and adivasis are mostly the people being recruited by the Naxalites. But she does not think it would be a good idea to allow them to legally own the land that they live on. You might think it is a good idea - make them feel a little more like they belong and a little more secure, maybe even put the land to good use. But no, Tavleen Singh does not agree. She think the forests will vanish. This apprehension is ill-founded according to me, as I noted in this post. But the hypocrisy is killing. Mr Mittal can take 32 square kilometres (8000 acres) of land for his steel plant in Jharkhand - which has some of the best forest cover in the country - without harming the forests, but not the adivasis and dalits who have been there all along. Break please.

16-Apr-2006

The South As Foreign Country

From an opinion piece in The Telegraph:
There was bloodshed and loss of life as the inexplicable violence continued for nearly two days. The word “inexplicable” is used advisedly since the occasion was that of mourning. Sorrow-driven violence is not a common cultural phenomenon. Rajkumar had died of natural causes at a ripe old age. Yet there was a bizarre exhibition of popular anger. What were the people angry with? With death, the one thing that is certain in life? Did they expect that the matinee idol would never die? What triggered off the violence? These questions will continue to haunt sociologists and cultural anthropologists who study popular behaviour.
It was inevitable that sociologists and anthropologists were dragged into it. I am surprised that psychiatrists, psychoanalists, historians and others were not.

They need not be. The questions - at least the main question : What triggered off the violence? - can be equally well-addressed by the police and the authorities who were in charge of law and order. As I noted in this post, and as local opinion is stressing, the violence was most probably not the work of fans - at least not to a major extent. To the extent that it was - which could be said of the violence in and around Kanteerava Stadium where the body was kept for public viewing - it was possible to explain it by the ineptitude displayed by the authorities, as this report from DH notes, though troublemakers were probably at work there too. As for the rest, the latter were most likely to be blamed. Deccan Herald - Karnataka's daily - notes as much in this editorial:
Rajkumar held sway over the minds and hearts of the people of the state, and it was only natural that thousands of them turned up to pay their homage to him. The state government and the police should have anticipated the crowd control problems and deployed police personnel in sufficient strength.
...
It is a known fact that rowdy-sheeters and other anti-social elements take advantage of crowds to kill people, loot shops and houses, and set fire to vehicles and shops. As soon as the government received information about the death of Rajkumar, the police ought to have rounded up all rowdy-sheeters in Bangalore. But they did not as they failed to realise the gravity of the situation, though they have in the past — particularly during the period Rajkumar was a hostage of Veerappan — faced trouble from a section of fans and anti-social elements.
I'm not justifying violence by the fans - if it indeed occurred - whatever the pretext, but point it out as a possible explanation of what happened.

It is not surprising though that The Telegraph takes the view that it does. As it notes at the beginning of the article itself:
The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. Many north Indians feel that the statement would lose none of its significance, if the word “past” were to be substituted by “south”. Such prejudices have perhaps been fortified by what has happened in Bangalore in the aftermath of the death of the famous film star, Rajkumar.
In other words: those crazy southerners.

Dispensable Citizens?

From The Hindu:
Every time a rehabilitation policy is mooted by the state, it is in fact an admission that the process of development has got too lopsided and cannot do without a correction. But as should need no reiteration, it is not policy alone, but its practice that makes the difference. Those strident in their condemnation of the dam-affected resisters are demanding that they, the dam-affected, accept their status as dispensable citizens. There is no call for the state to perform according to standards that the state has itself set. There is instead an anger that the indefinite fast has prevented the wishing away of the non-performance on rehabilitation and misrepresentation in official documents. In other words, along with the dispensability of the displaced, impunity is being advocated when the state breaches the dictum of the law — that the state has itself made! This is not then merely about whether the dam should be constructed or not. It is about creating the dispensable citizen, condoning state inaction, and then blaming the victim.
More from The Hindu on the same here.

14-Apr-2006

State Honours

Raj Kumar was buried with full state honours but neither state nor honour was present. There were all of five or six policemen apparently playing the role of spectators, representing the state. The Deputy Chief Minister and some of his party colleagues scurried to and from the burial scene in undue haste. Not a word to the sons who were left quite alone. As for the gun salute it might have happened in Mysore for all one could discern in the commotion. Honour too was absent. What honour when the sons of the man had to cry and plead to be allowed to finish the burial rites before sundown. They were completely helpless. The crowd was thick and deep till the very edge of the pit.

As for the place where the actor's body was kept in state for public viewing earlier in the day - there was hardly any dignity or grace in that. It was a sordid, harsh and dispiriting scene. Only the line of people silently trailing past the barricades gave an indication that here was a man who was not ordinary. Surely this man who had earned the love of so many deserved more?

Once again the difference between the common people and the rest was shown up. The real fans - who had bought the tickets to their hero's movies these many days - were left outside the gates everywhere. If they were not following the cortege so closely they would have been far from the actual burial too. The politicians who were looking for photo-ops and to doing the right thing more than anything else - I saw Mr Deve Gowda even smile as he got out of his car - walked right in and out.

Why did the violence happen? I think there must be more than one reason. Miscreants who were not fans, fans who were angry, and poor management by the authorities.

There were people who were not fans in the crowd. They couldn't be fans - they were dancing into the cameras with wide grins. What kind of fans could they be? As to the people who caused the trouble - how could they be fans of the gentle star (as Deccan Herald put it somewhere)? They had to be rowdy elements waiting for such events to do their handiwork. And our current political culture thrives on these kind of people. Every political party cultivates them. And they all pay for the culture when they are in power. How many miscreants does it take to cause damage by throwing stones and setting vehicles ablaze?

Fans had probably sufficient reasons to feel angry. There was enough mismanagement going around. One has to look at a map of Bangalore to see how stupid the choice of place for public viewing was. Palace grounds would have been far nearer and more convenient from the hospital, and to the final resting place too. Maybe the police had other objections like difficulty in monitoring access, but with the size of the crowd, anyplace would have been a problem.

And the police exacerbate things. They needed to treat the people who came to the Kanteerava stadium with decency. They should have been informed and managed better. Hitting out indiscriminately with lathis was no way to handle the situation. Again dignity was lacking - it was beaten up with canes. And if it is true that many fans couldn't have a last glimpse of their hero, then that's one more reason for feeling aggrieved. But did angry fans do any damage? Maybe the police will confirm in the days ahead. I too like many others think they didn't.

NB: I was not at the scene, but at home watching the live TV coverage.

Populism

Works. I'd remarked on Friedman's flat-out confused rationale for the title of his book 'The World is Flat', here. However, the book deserved more apparently. It gets a 55-page review by a qualified economist here. Via Atrios who sets the scene up thus:
Ed Leamer (.pdf) has some fun reviewing Friedman's tripe for the Journal of Economic Literature. It's long and veers between snark and substance, so pick and choose the bits you like...
I'll give the conclusion here to save you the trouble of wading through some heavy waters:
Here are titles of three books. Based on the titles alone, which do you think would sell a lot of copies?
The World is Flat
The End of Poverty
In Defense of Globalization
Globalization and Its Discontents
The startling reality is that The World is Flat has been on the New York Times best-seller list forever and is ranked #1 on Amazon on February 21, 2006. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time is ranked number 515, which seems like a big number compared with the number 1, but Jagdish Bhagwati’s In Defense of Globalization is ranked 20,602, and Joseph Stiglitz’ Globalization and Its Discontents is ranked 52,196.

We economists have great ideas but not great ways of expressing ourselves. It starts with bad titles. This raises the philosophical question: When economists speak, but no one listens, did we say anything?

Thus I understand that it doesn’t much really matter what I think. The market has said that The World is Flat is a great book. But just for my own personal amusement, here comes the summary.

First of all, metaphorical titles as powerful as The World is Flat really matter. With that title, readers have their fears reinforced, needlessly. The debate about how to handle our economic relations with other countries has already been harmed enough by misleading metaphors. Those who favor high tariffs call it “protection” as if a wolf were lurking beyond our borders ready to devour our jobs. And those who favor low tariffs call it “free” trade as if paying a couple of more dollars for the shirts and jeans we buy at Wal-Mart amounted to a period of incarceration.

Other than the metaphorical mischief, this book is long on anecdotes, interpretations and insight. It’s an eye-opener methodologically because of the clear progress Friedman makes without benefit of the union card we call the Ph.D. in Economics. But he doesn’t get “there”, because, I think, he has no knowledge or interest in the vast amount of work that has been done by economists on these topics.

Friedman does get the policy response (education and infrastructure) right, though there isn’t much debate on this:
“And it requires a Great Society that commits our government to building the infrastructure, safety nets, and institutions that will help every American become more employable in an age when no one can be guaranteed lifetime employment” p. 277

“My vision is to put every American man or woman on a campus” p. 290
But when he calls this program “compassionate flatism” that is the flat that broke this camel’s back. Worse still, this nonsense metaphor is becoming altogether commonplace, filtering into classrooms and boardrooms. We should take better care of our language.

The final third of Friedman’s book is an insightful and lucid discussion of the stress points between the Muslim and the Judeo-Christian world. (You are free to object that I am not competent to review that material.)

But: Physically, culturally, and economically the world is not flat. Never has been, never will be. There may be vast flat plains inhabited by indistinguishable hoi polloi doing mundane tasks, but there will also be hills and mountains from which the favored will look down on the masses. Our most important gifts to our offspring are firm footholds on those hills and mountains, far from the flat part of the competitive landscape. Living in the United States helps a lot, and will continue to. But those footholds will increasingly require natural talent. Though personal pleasure is our real goal, as a byproduct, we provide our children highly loaded dice to roll at the genetic craps table. Beyond the all- important luck of the draw, it takes the kind of education that releases rather than constrains their natural talent. We send our children to good private schools and then on to UCLA. The rest is up to them.

I am sorry to say it that flat way. It’s not an apt metaphor, even though it is a powerful one.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master— that's all.'

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6

13-Apr-2006

Incompetence

On a scale that is difficult to imagine.

Update: OK the scale is not all that large, but the incompetence is still difficult to understand. Did no one expect it or have a plan in place for this?

Exit Of A Legend

Says DH. For the entire day today and yesterday the Kannada channels have been carrying nothing but programmes related to him. Lots of songs from his movies and such stuff - it still feels like they have touched extremely lightly on the topic. I couldn't get enough of it. Truly, every Kannadiga carries a bit of the actor in him somewhere.