Arvind Kejriwal’s series of attacks reminds me of a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, where two weavers design a new attire for the emperor that, they tell the emperor, will be only visible to those who are honest and loyal. The emperor subsequently dons the ‘attire’ to test his subjects’ loyalty, much to the amusement of his citizenry. Arvind Kejriwal, like the child who laughed at the emperor and dared to shout that the emperor is actually parading naked, is ripping out the false masks from the faces of many such self-proclaimed political and corporate emperors and has dared to show their real faces to the world.

Arvind Kejriwal’s storm of lethal revelations against the alleged corrupt political parties, Congress and BJP, has upset the tricky equations between the government and industry and their nexus that has been regularly facilitated by the incumbent parties. He has set the tone that is becoming increasingly uncomfortable and scary for mainstream political parties, who could have earlier afforded to patch-up over such common vices. It all started with the most coveted Robert Vadra. For years now, people in media and everyone else with an idea of things around, had been whispering about his deals. And it’s not just about DLF, but about many other big, realty companies! However, in spite of almost all real-estate owners and politicians being conversant with the Vadra-DLF knot, none ever tried to question this fixture. Arvind had the courage to come out with it in public and with proof! He reiterated that DLF granted favours to Robert Vadra wherein Vadra used black money worth Rs 500 crore to purchase properties. In return, DLF gave an interest-free loan of Rs 65 crore to Vadra and Co. Moreover, numerous discounted residential flats were gifted to Vadra and Co. in Gurgaon, Haryana. Given the fact that Vadra is closely ‘related’ with Congress, the party’s powers-that-be in Haryana gave land meant for public utilities (and from the green belt) to DLF with easy clearances for an express-lane as well.

After Robert, Arvind went out to less significant exposés concerning Salman Khurshid and Nitin Gadkari – though strangely, while the Vadra case was buried by the media in a couple of days, and Khurshid’s in two more days, Nitin Gadkari’s relatively less consequential business deals are something the media seems to have taken an excessive liking for! While the other allegations concern misusing public money, Gadkari’s seem more of private business dealings. However, corruption is corruption. And the biggest storm that was unexpected in the corridors of crony capitalists came on October 31, 2012. In a press conference, the activist-turned-politician Kejriwal tagged the Reliance-politicians’ nexus as crony capitalism – again, this was something everyone was always speaking of – and pointed out how the entire political spectrum, not just Congress, extended undue favours to Reliance – of course, Congress in particular. All these parties are in fact – in Kejriwal’s articulation – in Mukesh Ambani’s pocket. The press release by Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption, published by many media houses, mentions, “RIL takes away more than 80% of profits and the government gets less than 20 per cent of profits.” Kejriwal also adds that Reliance gained Rs 1 lakh crore by plundering the country’s resources. He also accused Reliance of placing students in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas for their own benefits, and further accused RIL of selecting the Petroleum Minister.  Read more....

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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The day our railway minister was forced to resign, a train rammed into a van killing 16 people and injuring many more! What looked like a coincidence, is not in reality one! For had he resigned almost on any other day, a similar news would have been there in any case – such is the sorry state of Indian Railways. Out of the 33,000 odd railway crossings in India, a shameful 15,000 or so are unmanned, due to which about 33% of the accidents and a whopping 60-70% of the railway deaths happen!!! Yes, that is the morbid statistics! To man a railway crossing, all we require are two men on a twelve-hour shift each, which means a salary of 1.5 lac rupees per man, multiplied by 2 per crossing, multiplied by 15000 (number of unmanned crossings); and this equates to a mere 450 crore rupees per annum, an amount that our politicians mystically do not feel the need to budget, consequently killing thousands every year, an ignominious onus that our railway ministry must directly take. While we apparently do not have this amount of 450 crore rupees, our politicians have shamefully not hiked the rail fares for ten years at a stretch, while every rail passenger whose fare should have been hiked has got salary increases year on year as well as various pay commission windfalls. The ostensible reason forwarded to us is that the aam aadmi will get penalized. Frankly, the reason itself is hogwash. The man to whom an annual raise in railway fare would hurt – the real aam aadmi in India – unfortunately doesn’t travel long distance by train... He is at the most a short distance traveller. Without any argument, the hikes are a must and the lack of it is almost criminal, especially when we have such massive safety issues in the plying of trains.
 
If just inflation would have been adjusted into fares these ten long years – not having done even that, I repeat, is almost criminal – then the railways would have been richer by 25000 crore rupees per year! Compare that now to the meagre 450 crore rupees that is required to phenomenally reduce the 60-70% deaths which occur on railway crossings! The money thus earned would have not only taken care of all our safety related expenses but also the pathetic speed of growth of Indian Railways since the British left India (for comparison’s sake, China every year adds five times more new tracks than India).
 
In most of the budget shows that I attended this year, I was asked that if the solution was so simple, then why had the ministry not already increased the fares? My answer was that with money, comes the responsibility of spending it. Our politicians are literally so visionless and irresponsible, one worse than the other, that they have simply chosen to not undertake such a clearly straightforward solution. And of course, it helps their jaundiced political posturing of being ‘highly concerned’ about the aam aadmi; all this while actually murdering the aam aadmi in cold blood – a common trait of the Indian political class, top to bottom. They claim that 97% of Indians travel ‘lower class’. The fact is that 97% of railway seats are lower class. None of this actually means that the poor are traveling long distance via trains here in India.     Read More....

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My colleagues tell me that India changed decisively in 1982. I was in school so I don’t really remember the detailed newspaper headlines of those days. But I do know that the politics of Andhra Pradesh changed forever in 1982. Apparently, the then Chief Minister of AP T. Anjaiah wanted to pick up the slippers of Rajiv Gandhi. And history was made. Rajiv Gandhi was the anointed leader of Congress and somehow, fact or not, that gesture to please Rajiv Gandhi prompted a film star called NT Rama Rao to launch a movement and a party to reclaim Telugu pride. Rao and his Telugu Desam party swept the assembly elections in 1983.

Cut to about 30 years down the line and you see something dramatically different; and yet dramatically similar. Despite the huge hype that surrounded the Congress campaign led by Rahul Gandhi, it is Akhilesh Yadav of a regional outfit called Samajwadi Party who has won. In 1982, when Rajiv Gandhi took over the reins, Tamil Nadu was the only major state where the Congress party had been pushed to the sidelines as a fringe player dependent on outfits like AIADMK for votes and seats. In 2012, as Rahul Gandhi takes over the party, Congress has become a fringe player in almost one third of India.

Many political pundits and scholars are ascribing many reasons for this latest series of defeats confronting the Congress. Quite a few have gone on to say that the charisma of the Gandhi dynasty is irrevocably fading away. Some uncharitable analysts have even started questioning the credentials of the Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to lead the party during 2014 Lok Sabha elections. I personally think it is too simplistic to start drawing such conclusions every time an election happens. In 2009, when the Congress won more than 200 seats in Lok Sabha elections and about 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh, everyone hailed Rahul Gandhi as a miracle man. Now, with such heavy defeats in the assembly elections, the same sets of people are writing off Rahul Gandhi.

A better way would be to look at the undercurrents of change that have been sweeping across India since 1982; some very visible and noisy and some low profile and silent. These changes are what have made things more difficult for Rahul Gandhi than they were for his father Rajiv Gandhi in 1982. It is for Rahul Gandhi and his advisors to understand and interpret the significance of these changes if they want the Congress to perform well in 2014 and beyond. I would list 10 major changes that have transformed India between the Rajiv era of the Congress and the present Rahul era. A lot of these changes are interlinked and have reinforced each other, without a doubt making India a more mature democracy despite all its flaws and blemishes.
 
1. Everyone talks and writes about the miracle of Indian democracy; about how free and fair elections have always been a plus for the country. I personally don’t think Indian elections were always free and fair in the true sense of the term. Booth capturing and rigging were often the norm. In a state like West Bengal, rigging had been developed into a fine art. That was mainly because the Chief Election Commissioner of India and the Election Commission were often hesitant to challenge the power of money and muscle during elections. That was till a gentleman called T.N Seshan took over the Election Commission. It was T.N Seshan who actually started the process whereby the Election Commission became a truly independent body. Seshan ended up offending many political parties and even challenged many goons openly. So powerful was his impact that politicians actually tweaked the law to ensure India has three election commissioners at one time rather than one. But there is simply no doubt that a more independent and fearless election commission marks the difference between 1982 and 2012. The process has moved so far ahead that the commission now takes on even the media when it comes to the dirty practice of ‘paid news’.
 
2. Back in 1982, telephones were a luxury that only the rich or the powerful could afford. People had to book a trunk call and wait for hours for a conversation. And phone calls were terribly expensive. It often cost Rs 90 for a 3 minute telephone call between Mumbai and Delhi. But the communications revolution – many ascribe it to the original vision of Rajiv Gandhi – has completely changed India. Today, the country has more than 800 million mobile phone subscribers who are constantly interacting with each other not just through voice but also text, chat and many other ways. In just a few years, India will have more than 400 million active users of the internet. In contrast to the India of Rajiv Gandhi, today’s India is all about instant and continuous communication. Both good and bad news spread instantly and no political party can now claim a monopoly over communication channels. Till not too far back, Mulayam Singh Yadav was known for publicly asking for a ban on English and on computers. In these elections, his son Akhilesh Yadav actually promised computers and tablets to voters. That is the power of the communications revolution in India.
3. Along with the communications revolution, India has also witnessed an unprecedented revolution in media. Back in 1982, the whole of India was in a tizzy when Rajiv Gandhi announced the launch of colour televisions on the eve of the Asian Games. In 2012, more than 100 news channels are round-the-clock telecasting bad news for the Congress and analyzing the performance of Rahul Gandhi. There is no doubt that India has enjoyed a free media since 1947, but it is only the advent of electronic media and private news channels that has made a deep impact. No doubt, private news channels go overboard, but it is their relentless coverage of scams and scandals that has ensured that even Akhilesh Yadav publicly distances himself from an alleged bahubali like DP Yadav. You may recall that DP Yadav’s son has been convicted for the murder of Nitish Katara and no one can deny the role played by media in highlighting and following up this crime to its logical conclusion. Already, every major town in India has a local news channel and this process will deepen even further in the future.     Read More....

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The future of the inheritor, and more importantly, of India, depends on fighting corruption. Here is how Pranabda can use the Budget to tame the monster

February 28, 1958: “While we should always be prepared to reconsider the methods we adopt, should this become necessary, we have to strive with all our strength for our planned development by conserving all our resources, increasing production and trying to ensure progressively a more equitable distribution and to thus raise the standards of the great mass of our people,”

- Jawaharlal Nehru as Union Finance Minister

February 28, 1970: “It is generally accepted that social, economic and political stability is not possible without the growth of productive forces and the augmentation of national wealth. Also, that such growth and increase in wealth cannot be sustained without due regard to the welfare of the weaker sections of the community,”

- Indira Gandhi as Union Finance Minister

February 28, 1987: “Twenty nine years ago, presenting the country's Budget, Jawaharlal Nehru told this house [that...] we have to strive with all our strength for our planned development by conserving all our resources, increasing production and trying to ensure progressively a more equitable distribution and to thus raise the standards of the great mass of our people…Our principal objectives are the elimination of poverty and the building of a strong, modern, self reliant independent economy,”

- Rajiv Gandhi as Union Finance Minister

Some of you would be aware of how and why these three former prime ministers also had to don the hat of a Union Finance Minister. For those who haven't found time to check out this bit of deliciously ironical history, here is a brief recap. In 1958, the son-in-law of Nehru and Indira Gandhi's husband raised uncomfortable questions about the role of the then Finance Minister T.T Krishnamachari in what became the “Mundhra scam”. TTK, as he was popularly known, was forced to resign in February 1958 and Nehru had to temporarily take over as the Finance Minister. In 1969, the Congress party split and the then Union Finance Minister Morarji Desai quit the government. Desai was strongly opposed to the “socialist” vision being gradually adopted by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She preferred to take over the Finance portfolio after the exit of Desai. Her titanic tussle with Desai and its consequences resulted in the ‘license permit' and ‘inspector raj' era, issues that continue to haunt India till date. In 1987, V.P Singh, a loyal and trusted aide of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, was ready to present his third successive budget to the nation. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, for reasons future historians will be better able to explain, shifted Singh and chose to present the budget. Within a few weeks, the Bofors scam started tormenting him.

Many of you who have been waiting for my 12th successive Alternative Budget this time must be wondering why I have taken a historical detour even before talking about the proposals I have in mind this year. Many of you might even be wondering about the headline for this year's Alternative Budget: “A Budget for Rahul Gandhi”. I'll address the second issue first. One fine day in August 2010, out of nowhere, I got a call from the office of Rahul Gandhi informing me that he wanted to meet me. I was taken aback as I had made no such request to meet him. Despite my initial surprise, I decided to go and meet Rahul to see what he had in his mind. In the brief meeting we had, he kept asking me what I wanted from him and since I had gone with no expectations, I spoke to him about the Alternative Budgets that IIPM Think Tank comes out with every year. I didn't expect him to give it much of a thought but I was pleasantly surprised to see him quite interested in it and asking me several questions around it. The meeting ended with him requesting me to send a copy of my next Alternative Budget in time for his perusal. Come February 2011, I did that. However, there was no response from his office and the real budget hardly took note of my suggestions, which were all to do with changing the plight of the farmers in our country (http://www.thesundayindian.com/en/story/do-dooni-chaar-budget/12869/). So this time, keeping in mind that in any case, there is a very high probability of Rahul Gandhi becoming Prime Minister in 2014 (and since history repeats itself endlessly in India, I wouldn't be shocked to see Rahul Gandhi like his great grandfather, his grandmother and his father present a Union Budget in the future), I thought of addressing the budget directly to him; Rahul being young, I believe he has a higher probability of taking a note of it than Pranabda! Moreover, I am certain even Pranabda will be presenting this year's budget with Rahul Gandhi's future Prime Ministerial prospect in mind!

But it is my historical detour quoted at the start that I think holds more relevance for the future of India. The reasons I have quoted Nehru, Indira and Rajiv in their avatars as finance ministers are twofold. The first: there is no doubt that all three were passionate about India and did try their best in their own ways to at least minimize, if not eliminate poverty from India. No objective analyst can doubt their intentions. The second: the primary reason why all three largely failed in their efforts is because of corruption that started as a harmful disease in the Nehru era and now is a malignant cancer that is corroding the insides of India, even as Rahul Gandhi makes a pitch for his personal tryst with destiny. As Dr Pranab Mukherjee makes the final preparations to read his speech as Finance Minister on March 16, 2012, and as Rahul Gandhi gets ready to absorb the import of the verdict delivered by the voters of Uttar Pradesh, both surely must be aware of two things. Corruption and good governance will most definitely play a big role in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. And that it could well be a kind of a last chance for Dr Mukhrejee and the Gandhi scion to use the two remaining budgets before 2014 to send a loud and clear message to voters that the two (and Congress per se) actually walk the talk when it comes to curing India of corruption. On this hinges the political future of Rahul Gandhi. More importantly, on this hinges the future of India. Quite simply, India can no longer afford tall promises and noble intentions even as we march towards hell for the poor.

In 2009, when the UPA surprise, surprise stormed back to power and the Congress an even bigger surprise won more than 200 Lok Sabha seats for the first time since 1991, I presented my Alternative Budget with a headline that raised quite a few eyebrows. The headline was “Khao aur Khilao Budget”. My premise was simple: it is impossible to change a rotten system overnight in an electoral democracy and yet Dr Mukherjee should be able to implement many proposals that would make a huge difference to poverty, inequality, education, healthcare and governance “even if corruption continued, albeit on a lower scale”. That Alternative Budget surprise, surprise again was a huge ‘hit'; and many economists, analysts and bureaucrats, and even politicians, appreciated some of my ‘realistic' proposals. One such proposal went with the following headline: “A census, a national database and biometric cards for the Poor.” I further wrote, “The FM must allocate another Rs 2000 crore and rope in the Election Commission to provide the poor with biometric photo identity cards. Smart card technology is easily available... I estimate that at least 250 million Indians will get these smart cards and claim welfare scheme funds and resources. Knowing Indians, many undeserving people will sneak into this database while many deserving ones will get left out. But we are not talking about achieving perfection in this budget.” (For more details, log on to http://www.thesundayindian.com/en/story/arindam-chaudhuri-presents-the-khao-aur-khilao-budget/19/7719/)

I doubt if Dr Mukherjee and the former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani found time to read my Alternative Budget in 2009 in this magazine and our sister publication Business and Economy. And yet, I was delighted a few months later when UPA-2 actually announced the UIAD project that was all about biometric cards. I feel a little sad when I read newspaper reports about how vested interests are trying to stall, or even kill the UIAD project. And yet, it made me think that there are people in policy making who are genuinely thinking about tackling ‘leakages', which is a polite word for blatant, shameless and parasitic corruption. As with everything else in India, when it comes to corruption, there is a lot of despair; and a lot of hope. The very fact that biometric cards are now a reality for the poor in many districts of India makes me concentrate more on hope than despair.

But to give the devil her due, I have no choice but to highlight some statistics and studies that reveal how corruption must be a cause of despair for all well-meaning citizens of this country. The primary reason for a country being ranked very low on ‘the quality of life indicators' is not poverty or lack of resources but corruption and poor governance. Despite tall promises and about 65 Union budgets some presented by charismatic prime ministers India's ranking continues to be pathetic at just about 125. Not surprising because 400 million Indians are still illiterate, 750 million Indians lack access to basic sanitation and 1,000 million Indians spend their own family money on healthcare because the State has failed to act in that area. Look at the Transparency Index, or the Competitiveness Index or any other damn index and you will realize that India has a pathetic record of taking care of its poor and underprivileged. And it continues to do so despite so many social welfare programmes launched by this UPA government since 2004 when it came to power. The astonishing thing is that Indians still appear to be largely optimistic when we see results of global surveys. And then I realize those survey guys probably never went to slums or villages where farmers were committing suicide.

There is another way to look at how corruption is corroding our innards. Back in the 1980s, Rajiv Gandhi said that about 85% of the money meant for social welfare schemes was eaten away by corruption. If anything, despite RTI and the rise of social activism, media activism and judicial activism, corruption has only gotten worse. One interesting data here. Together, the Centre and all the states have spent close to Rs 20 lakh crore on education since the UPA came to power. This includes plan and non plan expenditures. Assume that Rajiv Gandhi was exaggerating and only 50% of the funds get ‘diverted', you still have a figure of close to Rs 10 lakh crores siphoned away in the name of education. Add health, irrigation, rural electrification, roadways et al and you can well imagine the extent of corruption in India. And almost all of it could have been used to lift the desperately poor above the poverty line. Forget Swiss Banks and black money. I honestly think we in the media should start an audit of expenditures on these schemes meant for the poor and prove how much was actually ‘diverted'. I know activists and the media are already doing it. But no positive outcome seems to come out despite judicial intervention. That brings me close to my proposals this year in my Alternative Budget.

But before I start presenting my proposals, let me share something that we all know. Corruption is flourishing in India because the corrupt are more likely get away with it. I have nothing personal against the former Telecom Minister Sukh Ram who has been convicted again and again on charges of corruption. But the case has dragged on for so long that he is now in his late eighties. I felt troubled about the future of India when I read in a paper that the 96 year old Sheila Kaul a former Congress minister who faces corruption charges was summoned to appear in court despite her lawyer arguing about her age and health. I think Indians are so fed up with corruption and the system that encourages it that they might think that people in their late eighties and nineties are getting just desserts. The simple reason why corruption flourishes in India is that our judicial system is completely broken down and paralysed. We get occasional glimpses of what the judiciary can do like in the cases of Priyadarshani Matto, Jessica Lal, the 2G scam and many others. But they are not even a drop in the ocean.

So what can Pranabda do if he presents a budget for Rahul Gandhi?

Well, he should tackle the key issue of corruption that has rattled the government this year, in particular during the Anna Hazare movement and the Ramdev fiasco! Yes, as of now, both the issues have been managed, but the truth is that it won't be long before more agitations rock the country if it is not tackled properly. Thus, this budget keeps tackling corruption as its top priority! The biggest sufferers of corruption are the poor as the high and mighty use corruption to their benefit.

Here are my suggestions for this year's Alternative Budget.

Key resource allocations:
Transform the judiciary
The Lokpal has been given its silent burial with a completely manipulative and flawed bill. Though the Lokpal bill in its ideal best had the power to make a big impact to deter corruption, I never believed that this was the first priority when it came to tackling corruption. The first priority as I also told Arvind Kejrival during one of our interactions has to be necessarily a massive focus on judicial reforms. Unfortunately, most people don't understand its real relevance and those who do are sitting in power and thus keeping it dysfunctional so that the corrupt can make merry! If Rahul Gandhi is really keen to change this country and make an impact in the field of reducing corruption, he has to awaken the sleeping and completely dysfunctional judiciary of this country!

I was truly shocked when a colleague pointed out that less than 1% is allocated by the Central and State budgets every year for the judiciary. In the Ninth Five Year Plan, the government set aside Rs 385 crore for the judiciary. That works out to 0.078% of total plan expenditure. In the tenth Five year Plan, the allocation was increased to Rs 700 crores; about 0.071% of total plan expenditure. In the Eleventh Five Year Plan which is in progress, the allocation was ‘generously' raised to Rs 1470 crore. As a percentage of total plan expenditure, things haven't improved at all. These figures are so laughably small that I marvel at how the judiciary functions at all!

All this, while new laws, amendments to existing laws, a massive increase in corruption and the rise of activism have led to more and more cases piling up even as old cases continue to languish. As I stated earlier, and have often stated in the past, the only way to reduce corruption in India is to make the judiciary more effective. Till the corrupt remain convinced that they can either escape punishment or delay it indefinitely, corruption will continue to increase. The one and only solution for corruption is a functional judicial system. Corruption and greed are globally prevalent, yet it touches far less lives in the USA than in India simply because the American judicial system is functional and ours is dysfunctional. In America, they have ten times more judges per million people than in India. If we are to try and achieve such standards we need to have about 100,000 more judges. It sounds huge but is surely achievable in a span of five years. And to have 20,000 additional judges per year, we have to budget for an additional amount of approximately Rs.6,000 crores per year, assuming that the expenses around a judge and his office assistants put together is definitely not more than Rs.30,00,000 per year.

So if I were Pranabda, I would use the 2012 Budget to announce that Rs 6,000 crores have been allocated for the judiciary in the coming fiscal, with a commitment to increase it to Rs 10,000 crores in the next fiscal. India desperately needs such a big ticket and transformational move. The budget must unveil a concrete plan whereby the Law Ministry works with Supreme Court and High Court judges to draw up firstly a concrete blueprint to “quadruple” the number of judges and courts before the general elections in 2014; and secondly, to draw up a blueprint that will compel litigants, lawyers and judges to commit to a time frame to settle cases. First, this will send a huge message to voters that the government actually means business. Second, it will actually transform governance in India. If those facing corruption charges know that they could be convicted in less than a year and their property confiscated and auctioned as it has started happening in some isolated cases the incentives for corruption will vastly diminish, if not disappear altogether. This is far more important than making noise about a Lokpal. This is very doable. No progress was made for almost two decades in Bihar when it came to tackling corruption cases. Then Chief Minister Nitish Kumar set up fast track courts and lo and behold, the corrupt actually started getting convicted quickly.

These massive allocations for the judiciary will ensure that ‘fast track' courts do not remain exceptions but become the norm in Indian judiciary.

Focus on education and healthcare
For close to a decade, I have been repeating the simple fact that without education and healthcare, there is just no way that India can ever hope or dream of catching up with China. It is a disgrace that public expenditure on health and education at less than 2% of GDP is less than the share taken away by myriad subsidies and exemptions. The only way out is a massive increase in allocations for schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and National Rural health Mission. But as I have often pointed out, merely allotting more money without improving governance and reducing corruption will not help. For a more detailed perusal of my proposals, do read my 2010 Alternative Budget that went with the headline “A Budget for Three Idiots” (http://www.thesundayindian.com/article.php?category_id=28&article_id=637). The recommendations I have made in that proposal are even more relevant today.     Read More....

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I have very fond memories of a great patriotic politician of India (very few such men can be found amongst today’s politicians), Vasant Sathe. Apart from his very intelligent, practical and radical views on the tax structure, I remember how he always compared Korea to India to show how a small nation could surge ahead so fast while we kept cheating our countrymen. When I went to Korea recently, I couldn’t but help feel the same; I even wrote about this a few weeks ago in one of my editorials. In the week gone by, I had the opportunity to sit with a gentleman who is a consultant to a company called Electrosteel Steels Limited. He told me the most amazing story of a venture – for setting up a steel plant – by one Mr. Kejriwal near Bokaro on about 1500 acres of land. It is a steel plant being set up with a capacity of 2.2 million tonnes. Hearing the fascinating story (I’ll explain later on why I found it fascinating) of this plant made me remember Mr. Sathe again. Amongst various things, steel was of special interest to him – as should be to any politician with vision, for after the Stone and Bronze Age, it was the Iron Age that was decisive for building the comparative advantage for nations. And it was during the Industrial Revolution when the entire world saw and realised the power and economies that this metal could create. With the invention of steel, everythingchanged further. Today, almost all industries ranging from automobiles to defence use steel and related products extensively. Steel has been one commodity that to a large extent has been pivotal for economic development and social prosperity, and thus has been a key ingredient in the nation’s future plans. Mr. Sathe would always compare the Indian productivity to Korean productivity to explain the rot in the Indian system – and then, of course, he would invariably talk about China too. So today I thought I’ll dig a little deeper into some facts and figures about this key aspect symbolizing a nation’s development.

A recent Wall Street Journal report foretells decisive growth in China and India’s steel industry for 2012. The details are very interesting. India’s position in steel production is meek and lagging, mainly on account of government control, bureaucratic hurdles and red-tapism, coinciding with poor planning, unprofessional functioning, and poor productivity. Not just Asian countries like South Korea, but even countries like Malaysia have productivity standards much better than India’s. A research report titled “Indian Steel Industry: Outlook to 2012” predicts that Indian crude steel production will grow at a CAGR of 10% during 2010-2013. Still, India’s average consumption of finished steel is significantly less than that of its neighbours. Not only is India’s annual steel production capacity, in absolute numbers, far less than what nations like China and South Korea have; but the per capita consumption is also at a rock-bottom figure. A time-series analysis indicates that both India and China started their tryst with steel production approximately during the same time. Just after Independence, India’s and China’s annual steel production were at the same level. However, by the end of 1990, where the per capita steel consumption in China increased by 65 kg and touched a figure of 160 kg, India’s per capita consumption languished at 29 kg (an increase of just 7 kg per capita) by the end of 2003. As per the latest ASSOCHAM report, the per capita consumption of steel in India is only 35.5 kg per capita per year compared to 220 kg in China and 950 kg in South Korea.

The same goes for production too. China’s steel production increased by 105 million tonnes while that of India increased by just 7 million tonnes! As per the World Steel Association, India’s annual production of steel in 2010 was merely 66.8 million tonnes compared to China’s 626.7 million tonnes and Korea’s 58.5 million tonnes. Unlike India, which saw an increase in steel production by a shameful figure of 13.3 million tonnes, the Chinese steel production grew at a whopping 131.8 million tonnes in a span of just four years ending 2010. Putting this number in a different perspective, India’s population in 2010 was 17 per cent of the global population while the corresponding steel production was merely 4.5 per cent of global steel production. The same was not true for China and Korea. China’s contribution to global steel production in 2010 was more than 44 per cent and Korea’s was 4.13 per cent in spite of their population being 20 per cent and less than 1 per cent of the world population respectively.

Steel production capacity and consumption capacity of a nation (especially per capita), as I said earlier, speak volumes about any nation’s fundamentals. Both production and consumption has a direct correlation with infrastructure development. The steel industry, by any measure, forms the very foundation of almost all manufacturing units and acts as a backbone for industrial development. With India growing demographically, and the nation relying heavily on steel imports, it is imperative for our policy makers to increase steel production by leaps. However, our archaic and non-liberal industrial policies did not allow many steel plants to come up. Barring Tata Steel (that produced 23.5 Million tonnes in 2010) and SAIL (13.6 Mt in 2010), there are literally no big names in steel production. On the contrary, China and Korea both allowed an array of steel plants to mushroom in order to meet the growing demand and facilitate their hunger of infrastructural development. South Korea has two large companies namely Hyundai INI Steel and POSCO, which respectively produced 12.9 and 35.4 million tonnes of steel in the previous year; still, China’s more than 10 large steel plants seem to be far ahead in the race. Chinese steel plants like Hebei Iron and Steel (produced 52.9 million tonnes in 2010), Baosteel Group (37.0), Wuhan Iron and Steel (36.6), Jiangsu Shagang (30.1), Shougang (25.8), Shandong Iron and Steel Group (23.2), Ansteel (22.1), Benxi Steel (22.1), Maanshan Iron and Steel Company (15.4) and Valin Steel Group (15.1) are standing as stalwarts in the global steel sector. Going by these numbers, China’s biggest steel plant is twice as big as India’s biggest steel plant.

Most of India’s steel plants – that too, mind you, could be set up thanks to the then USSR which benevolently came and virtually donated most of the plants to us around fifty odd years back – are labour intensive and over a million people are employed in the Indian steel industry either directly or indirectly. However, this number has no correlation when measured against labour productivity. This huge number does not reap the desired results as the average labour productivity in the Indian steel industry is very low at 144 tonnes per worker per year. The productivity at India’s two biggest steel plants is more horrifying, with SAIL having a labour productivity of 75 tonnes per man per year while Tata Steel with has a labour productivity of 100 tonnes per man per year. This is against POSCO’s (Korea) labour productivity, which stands at a mind boggling 1345 tonnes per man per year. This simply means that a single Korean worker produces 10 times more steel than an Indian worker! No wonder then that Mr. Sathe used to be so much in awe of Korea. In the same light, India’s labour productivity in the steel industry has increased from 11 per cent to 16 per cent (during 2002-2008) while that of China has increased from 12 per cent to 23 per cent. China’s steel industry enjoys low employment cost (labour cost being $1.5 per hour) and equally low operational cost (low cost of energy, equipment and transport). According to studies, cost of incepting a steel plant in China is just 60 per cent the cost of starting a plant in Europe. Steel companies in India have to pay a huge interest on capital apart from managing high costs of electricity and transport. Overall, as per estimates, the cost of capital in India is 14 per cent per year compared to 5-6 per cent in China and 6 per cent in South Korea. The average energy consumption in India is 2 million kilocalories per tonne more than the global standard of 4 million kilocalories per tonne, which is a crying example of how outdated and inefficient our steel plants are!     Read More....

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Amongst the many critical predicaments that the Indian economy suffers from, corruption has been one of the biggest monsters, and thankfully the most talked about in recent days. Needless to say, corruption has corroded every delivery system and has made it completely dysfunctional. The entire Indian public life is riddled with overriding rates of corruption – from the Adarsh land scam to Commonwealth Games misappropriations to the 2G spectrum scam – the list here has been endless, and the magnitude, obscene. In fact, India’s public life was never clean – the infamous Bofors scandal, Harshad Mehta’s nexus with senior politicians and Ketan Parekh’s stock market manipulation – all had their own perilous impact on the economy! It requires no empirical study or statistical survey to exhibit that we comfortably are the top performers in all corruption related global indices.

Take for instance, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) where India’s rank has been slipping consistently – languishing at the 95th position now with a score of 3.1 (on a scale of 10), a sizable 23 ranks down from 2007! We are far behind China that stands at 75th position with a score of 3.6. CPI score is not only about corruption but is more about the way corruption has got institutionalised in our system. Also, it is a fact that India’s score could have been better had it not been battered with the monstrous 2G spectrum scam. Interestingly, all the least corrupt countries like New Zealand, Denmark and Finland with 9.5, 9.4, and 9.4 scores respectively are not just socially developed but also economically progressive. And that’s why these are those nations that experience very few cases of crime, corruption and other forms of social malaise – unlike India.

The thumb-rule that set the pattern is that the developed countries mostly have high CPI scores, whereas at the bottom of the table are the countries mired by civil strife and oppressive regimes; and in-between are the emerging economies as well as former communist blocks. There is also a direct correlation between CPI rankings and Human Development Index (barring some aberration like Greece, which, in spite of being a developed country is ranked below China at number 80; and South Korea, which is ranked 12th in HDI and is 43 in CPI). Most of the African as well as Asian nations have a combination of low CPI and low HDI scores and most of the European and North American countries have the opposite; thus reflecting a direct bearing between the two indices! On hindsight, it may appear that there is no impact of corruption on GDP growth and investments. China and India, both scored quite low on CPI, yet have been riding on decent economic growth and FDI inflow. Vietnam and Indonesia are even lower in ranks in CPI (2.9 and 3.0 respectively) are recipient of quantum investments with their economy kicking!

Another case in point of disconnect between GDP growth and corruption is Brazil with a score of 3.8 and Russia appallingly with 2.4, who are at the bottom half of the draw! However, there is an interesting catch here, particularly, with respect to India. We have an increasing income inequality with a dubious distinction of possessing the highest number of poor in the world. An OECD report reveals that the people belonging to the top 10 per cent of our income group are 12 times richer than the bottom 10 per cent. And this is increasing as the difference 20 years ago was only 6 times, that is, before the beginning of our magic potion of liberalization! Gini Coefficient another notable measure to evaluate inequality, is on a rise too – it has increased from 0.32 in 2000 to more than 0.37 now! There is no secret in the fact that the income inequality assuages the chances of employment to many, lowers purchasing power for consumption expenditure, halts the access to borrowing, and hinders the ability to save and invest! For the uninitiated, CPI also takes into account various parameters that have a higher social impact. India fares badly on almost all parameters considered under CPI – viz. bribery, extortion, nepotism, patronage, graft, embezzlement. The 2G spectrum scam, CWG scandal, cash-for-vote bribery case have set infamous benchmarks on all these parameters and surely are the reasons for such poor showing in the index.

More alarmingly, as India develops, there is an ascent of illicit money being stashed in foreign shores as well. There is no doubt that due to this corruption plaguing India, the fruits of development are certainly not reaching the desperately poorer sections of the society – a fact quite evident from the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. World Bank too has drawn a poor picture of India’s achievements in curbing corruption! The report is one on Governance Indicators, where India has fared quite poorly and is below the half level on most parameters. In the parameter ‘Rule of Law and Control of Corruption’, which directly addresses corruption related issues like crime, tax evasion, black markets, and judicial independence – India has scored a lowly 56th percentile! That said, India’s low score is quite expected and obvious on this particular scale. India is probably the worst performer globally with respect to tax evasion as a humungous amount of black money gets stashed abroad (we top the global list with more than $1 trillion of Indian black money floating around the world). Added to that, the efficacy of the Indian judiciary has been in question too as even such a corrupt nation like ours can still hardly boast of any political or business leader who has ever been sentenced to long years of imprisonment.

Shamelessly, leaders like Kanimozhi and many others who were arrested on corruption charges are now roaming scot free. And a few who are still behind bars are leading a luxurious life inside the prison with all luxuries at their disposal. This speaks volumes on the credibility of the so-called ‘Rule of Law’. Such lousy rules of law are the vital motivating factors for our political and business class to adhere to such corrupt practices.

Another research and advocacy organization, the Global Financial Integrity (GFI), released a report called ‘The Drivers and Dynamics of Illicit Financial Flows from India: 1948-2008’. The report alluded to some jaw dropping facts! As a direct result of black money stashed abroad, India has lost a humungous sum. Tax evasion, bribery and kickbacks, cases of crime and other forms of corruption – all are listed between 1948 and 2008! The 2G spectrum is a classic case of a royal kickback scam by A Raja and it is intriguing how our system managed it to keep it off-the-hook, more so as this was done during the Bofors era. Notwithstanding, in our gigantic corruption saga, the present valuation of this illegal capital flight is more than double the US external debt! Even at the corporate level, the private sector always preferred overseas financial centers – the share of which (in terms of deposits), went up from 36.4 per cent in 1995 to 54.2 per cent in 2009.

Because India was positioned as a nation-state post Independence, corruption developed a strong foothold in Indian politics. Moreover, given the series of scams that have come to limelight in the last one year, it is tempting to assert that Indians are by nature immoral and are liable to be corrupted easily. However, researches have shown that Indians are as prone to become corrupt as their peers in other developing nations of Asia. But one thing that sets Indians apart is their willingness to tolerate such corrupt measures. This is evident from the amount of bribes the common man in India pays for availing of even the basic services in his day to day life. From getting a service in the hospital to lodging an FIR or getting a driving license, every service requires a common man to pay bribe for getting the work done without much bureaucracy. Almost all the public services like the Public Distribution System (PDS), hospitals, schools, water supply, are corrupt from head to toe. As per the India Corruption Study 2010 by CMS, rural households of 12 surveyed states have paid an amount close to Rs 4700 million as bribes during the last one year. Critically, the most affected people by these corrupt practices in public services are those from socio-economically weaker sections of the society, particularly in rural areas.     Read More....

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When I went to China a decade back, what I saw hit me very hard. I felt that if all of us in Delhi were to work 24x7 for 25 years, it would still be tough to convert Delhi into Beijing. That’s the China I was expecting to see when I went there again last month. What I saw instead was an extra 25 years of growth in the last 10 years!!! If ten years back, there were gigantic roads but less cars, this time the roads were filled with American cars; brands which American companies haven’t even cared to launch in India! If the last time I saw high-rise buildings, then this time I saw ten times more of them! If the last time I was amazed with Beijing, then this time I realized that we couldn’t even become Guangzhou if we worked 24x7 for the next 50 years. I believe that every Indian politician must have a visit to China as a mandatory part of his induction process into the Parliament (especially the Communists of India who have also so shamefully cheated their respective states year after year), so that they are firstly aware of how they and their predecessors have cheated this country and secondly to know where a country can reach in no time!

They say now that the Chinese economy has caught up with the American economy. In our book The Great Indian Dream, we had written ten years back about the same concept; and today I write that the Chinese economy has left the American economy far behind. Their products are so undervalued that no kind of calculation can show the real value of their humongous economy! And come to think of it, even a few decades back, China was seen with lot of scepticism owing to their political structure and a gargantuan population which was increasing by the day! But when we look at the nation today we realize that it took China just a few years’ time to give this huge population a purchasing power and lifestyle that even many in the West are deprived of and to create an unfathomable miracle! What China did and is doing now is beyond the imagination of many nations; they created this gigantic economy by systematically planning at every micro level – and most importantly, taking its citizen along this growth path! Today, an average Chinese living in Beijing, or Shanghai is almost as well off as an average American living in New York or an average British living in London! So what exactly did China do?

Amongst a host of other things, China’s opening up of its Iron Curtain and freeing its economy from the shackles of central control in the late 1970s while still retaining its commitment to the poor literally brought about the miracle. Unlike in India, their very carefully planned liberalization allowed the nation to experience rapid strides in growth and above all lifted more than 500 million people out of poverty! Millions of peasants were granted freedom from the massive poverty by being allowed to follow their dreams. This freedom and shackle-free life led to rapid development in the� manufacturing and service sectors in the last 20 years! All this came as a celebration of new hope for Chinese masses and a new beginning of entrepreneurial freedom! The new spirit and the new mission were well supported by increasing investments in infrastructure, education and various other social sectors that symbolized the Chinese rise in world forums and made China one of the most sought-after investment destinations. The freedom from poverty in turn also helped develop the agricultural sector – as the policy of ‘farmers can make their own economic decision’ led to millions of farmers’ poverty cycle being alleviated! The rural household income doubled from 343.4 RMB ($55) in 1978 to 735.7 RMB in 2003. Between 1990 and 2005 the average per capita growth of Chinese economy was a staggering 8.7 per cent (highest among major economies)! The World Bank’s stipulated poverty line of $1 a day in Purchasing Power Parity corresponds to around 2,836 RMB per year (as per 2007 estimate)! As per this definition, China’s proportion of population below poverty line was 64 per cent in 1981; this dropped to an unbelievable 10 per cent by 2004 (India still has more than 40% of its population languishing below the poverty line as per purchasing power parity)! That’s Chinese poverty eradication – an exemplary and remarkable performance which is often quoted as a miracle – and an inspiration and case study for all developing countries across the globe.


The poverty alleviation programs undertaken by the authorities in the last three decades have contoured the modern China that is sparkling with confidence. Today, every Chinese is free to travel to any city to try and make a living there (Of course, cities do have resident permits; holders of such permits get subsidies in health facilities etc). Yet, one cannot find a single, real, poor person in the cities. No beggars, no slums and nobody sleeping on the streets! When poor can migrate freely, cities are bound to have slums if real poverty exists. In China, people come to cities for a better life and not because they were dying in the villages. The programs for poverty alleviation in China are carried out in 592 key counties over and above 74 counties in Tibet. In the distribution of prosperity, the Central and Western counties were the weakest links always. To address the economic gap, the central authorities from 1986 issued subsidized loans to the poor people – that was augmented from 1.05 billion RMB in 1986 to 5.5 billion RMB in 1996! Similarly, the “Food for Work” scheme was another flagship program in China where government spent 33.6 billion RMB between 1986 and 1997. Unlike other parts of the world where most of such programs are littered with corruption, the Chinese were successful in creating productive assets like roads, bridges, dams and other infrastructures across the nation. In the agricultural sector, reforms in agricultural taxes and other fees were implemented to relieve the farmers. In 2000, all the fees were abolished and replaced with a single slab agricultural tax – and later on in March 2004, amidst fear of WTO repercussions, the central government decided to eliminate the agricultural tax completely within the next 5 years. In the same year, more agricultural subsidies were introduced, which was followed by increased spending on rural infrastructure amounting to $25 billion!      Read More....

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I was too young then to really remember it all; but I have heard from many people that the mass protests generated by the arrest of Anna Hazare are similar to the uprising called Total Revolution led by the late Jaiprakash Narayan in the early 1970s. In fact, it was the Total Revolution and the chaos that followed – and a historic blunder by Indira Gandhi – that led to the imposition of the Emergency in India in 1975. Many people are comparing today’s situation to the Emergency days.

The people of India are so fed up and so disgusted with corruption and our rotten and corrupt system that the wave of protests we see is hardly surprising. I have often publicly called India not a democracy but a demonocracy where crooked politicians and their criminal cohorts are openly plundering the nation; well aware that a dysfunctional judicial system will allow them to get away. In almost all cases, they have actually got away and have hence acquired the arrogance and swagger of pirates who know they are above and beyond the law. To that extent, the waves of protests, demonstrations, candle lit vigils and passionate slogans that are being witnessed across the nation were inevitable. And there is little doubt that the simplicity and stark clarity of the message being delivered by Anna Hazare has convinced thousands and thousands of Indians that Anna Hazare is a modern day messiah. I still remember the Jantar Mantar fast of April when even I was moved to write very strongly in favour of Anna Hazare and even bring out a special supplement on the power of civil society protests. I still think that there is enormous power and truth in the anti-corruption message that Anna Hazare is delivering.


And yet, I must confess that I do find some things a little disturbing. I know, passions and emotions are running so high at the moment that I run the risk of being vilified as a government stooge if I dare criticize Anna Hazare and his methods (Anyone who has been reading my editorials and columns over the years will, I am sure, laugh at the suggestion that I am a pro-establishment man!) . But just as I have often gone against the tide and slammed the government for many policies and actions, I feel strongly enough about this issue to point out to all passionate and emotionally charged Indians some basic home truths about this controversy.

Across India, people young and old are lambasting the government for being arrogant as well as adamant. Often rightly, they are accusing the government of not even bothering to listen to other viewpoints. There is no doubt that some highly irresponsible and uncalled for statements by senior leaders of the ruling alliance have strengthened this perception and further fuelled anger amongst people already fed up with corruption. And yet, if the government is guilty of being adamant and arrogant, is not Anna Hazare guilty of being the same? Anna Hazare and his supporters accuse the government of being intolerant and insensitive because it is refusing to accept their version of the Lok Pal Bill. But are they not displaying similar intolerance and insensitivity when they routinely brand anyone who expresses doubts about their version of the Lok Pal Bill as a traitor and a stooge? How can Anna and his team declare so confidently that it is only their version of the Lok Pal Bill that is perfect and no one else can say anything critical about it? If the government is hiding behind the fig leaf of a ‘popular mandate’ and the supreme authority of the Parliament, isn’t Team Anna guilty of hiding behind the fig leaf of sanctimoniousness? I fully support the right of Anna and his team to criticize the ham-handed manner in which the government is treating the Lok Pal Bill. But I also fully support the right of any Indian to criticize the draft prepared by Team Anna. Surely, not blindly agreeing to whatever Anna says doesn’t make a traitor out of an Indian? Quite frankly, over the last few months, both the government and Team Anna have been guilty of being intolerant, inflexible and insensitive. So many thousands of Indians are genuinely angry because some Congress leaders have publicly abused Anna and his team and accused them of being corrupt. But what has Team Anna been doing since April, if not publicly abusing the Prime Minister, the Parliament, Indian elections and even Indian democracy? And yes, I do agree that many should be abused in the government; but at the end of the day, there has to be a democratic way to it. It can’t be imposed through the dictatorial will of one group just because they are able to rake up popular frenzy. There is a Constitution; there is a court; there is an elected Parliament, and things have to happen as per its guidelines. Anna must protest. But he can’t be adamant about imposing it. Protests have their own effect and change does happen. But it can’t happen without the support of our Constitution and democratic machinery.