Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kerala and BPL

Kerala and BPL.

Recently I read an article about poverty in Kerala. It argues that it is a major concern and warrant social and economic changes to eliminate it. Eliminating poverty is a mirage. It exist even in the richest society. It is a relative concept. Moreover there is another view about poverty in Kerala. A couple of decades ago I was introduced to Air vice Marshall K. A. Joseph in his coupe in the train journey from Ernakulam to Trivandrum. A forty-one day old strike in Aluva FACT was on. In our discussions the Marshall said, “Such a long strike will not happen in any other part of India. Kerala is God’s own country. Every inch of it is fertile and produce edible fruits, roots, leaves and meat. If none of these exist in your homestead, they are in the neighbor’s plot. Except destitute, none experience real hunger in Kerala. Staying power enables the Kerala strikers to continue endlessly”. Despite this view, poverty exists. Amelioration is imperative. Calculation of BPL (“below poverty line”) is necessary. But more than economic change, a change of the mind is the need. World can provide the needs of man, but not his greed.

Abject and Relative poverty
Poverty is a state of the mind. It is an experience of not having; not getting what you want. Basic needs of life like food, shelter and clothing are examples. Those who do not get income to purchase even these needs suffer abject poverty. They are few. All others, except abstinents, encounter relative poverty.

Physical needs are easily satisfied. The rest are psychological needs. Full satisfaction is impossible. Relative poverty applies to these demands. Consumption depends on the income (percentile income) of the individual vis-à-vis of his social group. A person with higher income than of others in a group can maintain a higher level of consumption and feel rich. If he moves his residence to a still higher income group locality, his consumption basket is relatively less than that of others. He feels poorer. He suffers relative poverty. Such poverty exist at all times and in all societies and countries; rich / poor. It is a mental attitude. To quote the Bible: “poor will always be there”.

Amelioration of conventional poverty.
Poverty is caused by low or no income. It is classified into Destitute, Conjectural and Mass poverty. Abject poverty of the destitute is more due to lack of love, care and no income. Their rehabilitation is effective in the hands of the NGOs than the State bureaucrats. Conjectural poverty arises due to inadvertent maladies like earth quakes, flood, war destruction etc. In this case massive transfer of resources from those who have to the victims can be arranged by the State through tax and non-tax sources. Here again servicing the aid will be better done and without corruption by philanthropic NGOs. Mass poverty is often due low economic development of the country / society. In this case, heavy investment by the Government on infrastructure, agriculture, industrial production and rural and urban employment schemes are warranted.

Those who suffer abject poverty in God’s own country (Kerala) are small in number. But Politicians want as many relative poverty sufferers as possible in the BPL category to pressurize administration for subsidized food distribution.

BPL and APL (“above poverty line”) are conceptual attempts to measure the number of poor who require anti-poverty help. Traditional calculation is by the minimum income to consume 2500 calorie of food per day. Those who have that income are APL and others, BPL. When India became independent more than 50 % of the population was in the BPL group. The Planning Commission of India claims that economic planning & growth reduced it to 28 % or around. But many argue that BPL calculation criteria must change to include good food, decent shelter, clothing, health care, education facilities, freedom of expression etc. If this is adopted, most of the population will come under the BPL category.
Central Government is only for Targeted Public Distribution of food to the BPL families, to reduce the cost of food subsidies. But Kerala insist on Universal Public Distribution: of subsidized food to all in the State. Kerala had this system for decades. .The State argues; if universal rationing is not possible, at least make the BPL criteria broader to include more families in.

Because of awareness of our fundamental right to employment, income and consumption, we all claim to have the right to get food and all needs at the lowest / subsidized prices. Though the State is deteriorating in agricultural & industrial productivity and production, we maintain very high consumption pattern including costly and sophisticated durable consumption items. Kerala is “the” market for even posh costly motor cars. Around Rs. 2000 crores / PM are brought in by our NRIs. It runs down and percolates to increase the income and consumption of all in the State. All of us, excepting the destitute, are APL. Claiming to be BPL is a political gimmick. If it is relative poverty, we are all in the BPL category. Eliminating this poverty is impossible.

Reforms in Governance

Reforms in Governance

Prof. Joseph K Alexander
Chairman’s remarks at the Regional Conference of IIPA
Kerala Regional Branch on 20th Oct. 2009

Governance pertains to policies and actions of State, market and civil society. The goal of reform of Governance is to raise the abilities of individual units in them. It aims at the increase of efficiency of economic and market systems, public institutions and democratization of the society through efficient LSG and NGOs. There is no stable pattern for these changes. Reforms warranted in Governance change with the fast changing situations. In India the reform agenda is basically to adopt what has been suggested by the various committees of the two ARC (Administrative Reforms Commission) reports. The theme paper of the 53rd Members Annual Conference prepared by Ms. Sujatha Singh points out that implementation of these recommendations were slow and by steps. Hence the reform “has failed to capture the Indian situation”. But I may be permitted to point out that the adoption of the reforms were ineffective because the implementing agencies are highly corrupt kleptomaniacs. They do not want any change in their fishing grounds and nets.

Context of Reforms
In India Governance situations changed with every change in politics, markets and the society. We had one type of Governance in the pre-independent period, another in the post- IInd War period, still another during the Indian Independence, and so on during Nehruvian economic planning, during Ms. Indira Gandhi’s Control-license Raj, during liberalization and privatization era beginning in 1991, millennium regime of 2000, and the new inclusive growth agenda of 2008 onwards. Each change demanded new reforms in Governance. Indian Governance all through had been contextual and dynamic. This contextual nature is true of all nations and all times.

Kerala Context
In Kerala this context has three elements.
1. Every five year general election alternatively empowers the UDF / LDF coalitions to change the reforms each previous Government envisaged / started to implement.

2. The LDF has a long range goal of ushering in a Marxian Socialist society. So their short term goal is strengthening the party by getting entrenched in public institutions, market structures and all social infrastructures. UDF is more interested in the present administration, economic and social goals. Because of conflictive politics of these two coalitions every five years, the new Government in power suppresses the reforms of the previous rule to introduce new reforms. Thus neither the former nor the latter reforms have time to take root. Chaos prevails...

3. The third element is the widespread corruption. The politician-mafia- bureaucrat-sun-rise finance and banking firms-goonda nexus make not only governance, but even life difficult.

Indian context and reforms
Indian reforms in Governance are based on the Two ARC Reports 1966-’70 and of 2005. In post independent period, reforms in Governance was recommended by Goplaswamy Iyengar (1949), AD Gorwala Committee (1951) and two Paul H Appleby reports in 1953 and 1956. IIPA and Administrative Reforms Commission were created in 1957 and 1964 respectively. The ARC created 20 study teams, 14 working groups and one task Force. They made 20 reports and 581 recommendations. The second ARC report (2005) was mainly for refurnishing the Personal Administration

Stability of tenure of civil service, right to information to foster transparency and to counter corruption, involvement of NGOs in Government programs, limiting the size of bureaucracy, decentralization of planning through the Panchayat Raj system, promoting use of IT, effective implementation of development programmes, single window clearance of investment proposals, HRD etc; have all been recommended

The theme paper
The theme paper points out that the recommendations regarding lateral entry into civil service at the middle and higher levels, introducing specialization and specialized experts into civil service, compressing the selection process of civil servants, downsizing their number, administrative accountability etc have not been implemented in toto . Most of them were initiated, but could not be implemented effectively. The”incremental approach” implying a step by step process of implementation of the reforms “fails to capture the Indian situation”

Reform in the State, market or civil society structures is not possible in a “kleptocracy” that exploits national wealth for its own benefits: short –run or long-run. The politicians and parties require funds and are “hand in gloves” with the mafia –goonda gangs. They oppose all transparency and accountability in the public actions and policies. They profess incessantly about impending reforms on all the platforms to hoodwink their ranks The Global Transparency International‘s barometer shows that political parties, legislators, police, judiciary, tax revenue departments are all corrupt. India is in the last ten groups of the most corrupt countries of the World. Reforms are impossible in such a corrupted chaotic political, social and economic arena. No reform in any of the structures is possible in “kleptocracy” that exploits national wealth for own benefits.