22-Apr-2006

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.

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