Monday, 31 March 2014

Economic Recovery: Policy Imperative for Job Upturn in India

Photo Source: The Economic Times
The impending 16th Lok Sabha election is going to be one of the most promising and extravagant events in Indian political history costing its exchequer about Rs 3,500 crores, excluding the expenses on security and individual political parties. The post-election scenario therefore legitimately awaits a new phase of  Indian political-economy. It beckons the hope of millions to find ways for economic recovery and job upturn, especially for the growing youth population in India, when present demographic profile is almost divided into two halves, the youth and the rest, a large part of which needs immediate attention for productive economic engagement.
According to National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), in 2011-12 unemployment rate (ratio of total unemployed to total laboure force) in usual status is nearly 2 percent at all-India level with about 2 percent in rural areas (for both male and female) and about 3 percent in urban area (3 percent for males and 5 percent for female). Thus with estimated 40 percent population belong to labour force as per the NSSO, India has a little high about 80 lakhs unemployed. The youth unemployment scenario is even worse, and according to Labour Bureaue estimates in 2013 about 4.7 percent is the youth unemployment rate in India with 4.4 percent in rural area and 5.7 percent in urban area. The all-India Youth Labour Force Participation is 50.9 percent with 52.8 percent in rural sector and 46.1 percent in urban sector. Amongst them, female LFPR is significantly lower (22.6 percent) as compared to male (76.6 percent) under the usual principal status approach. For 15-29 years age group, Labour Force Participation Rate and Unemployment Rate under the usual principal status approach is estimated to be 39.5 per cent and 13.3 per cent respectively. 

Such alarming situation is primarily for poor sectoral economic performance in India. For example, job creation in 2013 is worst affected with the manufacturing sector being the worst hit by the slowdown and projects being stuck due to lack of clearance and approval. Thus Indian companies have hit a three-year slump as slowing economy persists where a large number of development projects remain stalled despite the government trying its best to get them moving amidst efforts to accelerate investment and get growth back on track. The decline in hiring in 2013 was visible in sectors such as automobiles, capital goods, tyres, shipping, paper, construction, power generation and retail in line. Similar is the situation even in service sector, where job has declined by 31 percent by 2012, mostly from IT, telecom, financial services and hospitality services. A drop in GDP percentage from about 9 percent to about 4.5 percent from 2011 to 2013 had alarmingly taken away about 30 lakhs jobs from Indian market.

Despite persistent attempts by the UPA government to face such challenge through several centrally sponsored schemes like Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana  for urban  India, and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Sampoorna Gramin Rojgar Yojana, Swarna Jayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojona for rural India, joblessness, especially amongst the youths remains a glaring issue. There possibly needs a much robust approach and planning where job creation needs to feature as a prime element in any development policy in India. It is being argued that non-farm job creation and productivity growth are fundamentals with more labour-intensive manufacturing, construction and service units. There are four major areas, where India can depend in the next phase of change, viz., IT, telecom, healthcare, infrastructure and retail. High-value-added manufacturing sector and increasing non-farm sectors, reformed labour laws in informal sector and raising shares of organized enterprises, linking skill-development prograrrme to all centrally sponsored schemes are the needs of the hour. Along such line of reform measures, India needs to deploy public investment to create ‘job creation engines’ like industrial clusters, tourism circuits and food-processing parks to expand the options for poorest citizens of the country.     
Lastly a congenial relation between industry and government is extremely important. According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute (2014), ‘India’s leadership can hit the reset button and redefine this relationship for a new era. Rather than taking a prescriptive approach that tightly manages industry, policy makers can adopt a new mindset-one focused on competitive market environment that allows business to thrive. By sweeping away arcane regulation and antiquated procedures, India can build a more efficient engine of job creation. Combining a bold reform agenda with forward-thinking investment in job creation engines of the future could generate opportunities for millions of Indians to obtain better jobs, attain a better livelihood, and reach the next rung on the economic ladder’ 

Rakhee Bhattacharya  


Press Note, Key Indicators of Employment and Unemployment in India, 2011-12, Press Information Bureau, GOI at

Press Note, Third Annual Employment & Unemployment Survey Report, 2012-13, Labour Bureau, GOI at

Report, Indian Labour Journal, No. 12, Volume 54, December 2013

Report, The Economic Times, 04.10.2013

Report, ‘From Poverty to Empowerment: India Imperatives for Jobs, Growth and Effective Basic Services’, McKinsey Global Institute, 2014

Friday, 28 March 2014

Designing Gender Friendly Cities

Photo Source: openIDEO
An Academic Congress on Understanding Gender was held in Lady Shri Ram College from March 5-7, 2014 and it was occasion to not only learn and debate ideas of gender, violence and societal norms and pressures but equally important, an arena to unlearn frequently propagated myths about women’s safety.
Safe City Dialogues by Shikha Trivedy of NDTV, a short documentary which captured the urgent need for city plans to have a gendered perspective cracked wide open a number of these long cherished and often invoked myths.
It began by questioning whether gentrification made cities safer. In the 1990’s there were many mills in operation within the city of Bombay. These mills employed a large number of women. It was the presence of these migrant, often lower class and caste women returning home from the late shift on the local trains late at night that normalized seeing women of all classes out and about in the city even very late at night. Far from the often invoked maxim that the only way to keep women safe in big bad cities is to have them safely home during daylight hours, the story of the women mill workers is proof that the only way to make a city women friendly, is to have them as a constant presence in all public spaces at all times. When the mills closed, these women disappeared from city making all women more susceptible to becoming victims of crimes. 
Though the mills closed, the abandoned factories remained in varying stages of decay. Abandoned buildings and areas are breeding grounds for the mushrooming of criminal and undesirable elements. A failure to repurpose these spaces make them hunting grounds for committing crimes against women without anyone on the street noticing.  The documentary recounts the case of a woman photo journalist who was raped in one of these abandoned mills and no one could hear her screams on the roads outside. 

Equally imperiled are the low income women relocated to distant colonies more akin to high-rise slums with poor sanitary facilities and unknown neighbours and neighbourhoods. Their harsher realities include fearing letting their daughters out of the house even for school and a fear of going to the dimly if at all lit, voyeur prone public washrooms at night. Young men travel freely in the narrow alleys between these colonies, while the young women remain trapped inside their homes to emerge only to be the object of harassment.

When cities are planned without keeping in mind the needs of different genders, they become more dangerous instead of safer for women. Equally dangerous are measures that give you a veneer of security without any actual safety. Higher gates and walls immediately give off the illusion of fortification and therefore safety but the reality is chilling. Where once a woman had many options of escaping danger running through the open maidans of Bombay, she must now skirt around their tall boundary walls and often meet with high gates. Thus the security measure has actually reduced her chances of making an escape.

We have to start a dialogue in which women are an integral part not only of the vision of a city but are also consulted in the making of this vision. An article by Clare Foran recounts the successes that city administrators in Vienna have had by designing laws that consciously try to benefit men and women equally. The goal of “Gender  main-streaming” or a “Fair Shared City” policies as they now prefer have in on instance made it possible for public parks to be shared equally by both boys and girls where once their utilization by girls was falling.

Our vision must shift from one designed to keep out the undesirables to one which aims to attract more and more desirables. The need is for better not more policing, more toilets, more public transport, more night shelters at major transport hubs. Gender sensitive improvements to infrastructure make a city more livable and an equally accessible space for all its citizens.

By Gayatri Verma

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Status of Reforms in APMC Act

Photo Source: The Indian Express
Over the years Indian economy has changed both in terms of its structure and outlook. The sectoral changes have become broader and continue to expand in terms of output generations. More than half of India’s population still relies on agriculture as its main source of income for their living. During the last decade, there has been a record production of foodgrains in the country.
In the so called reform era, the outlook of industry and services sector have been seen with considerable attention to re-structure or to move away from traditional way of governing them. At the same time, the agriculture sector is continued to be seen from outside of any attempt to initiate or unleash the potential structural reforms. More than a decade ago, Dr.Y.V.Reddy said that “There is some merit in the argument that the reform process has bypassed agriculture so far and that this is best illustrated by the co-existence of segmented and overregulated domestic markets with liberalised export–import regime in agricultural commodities.” This he said in 2001 and we are now in 2014. More than a decade has been bypassed yet again and this situation still continues.
The time has come now that some of the extremely crucial aspects of the agriculture sector have to be recognized and need to be addressed systemically. Dr. Reddy stressed that “the agenda for reforms virtually encompasses a thorough change in mindset and overhaul of legal and institutional mechanisms to enable a growing, healthy and efficient agriculture sector.” The issues and challenges faced by the Indian agriculture marketing are enormous and needs changes through institutional reforms. The domestic market regulations in agriculture is an important one such issue which merits for structural reforms. To be more specific, there is an urgency to re-boot the State’s institutional delivery mechanism for completing the reforms already initiated in the Model Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (Development and Regulation) (APMC) Act, 2003. The APMC Act was designed to focus on protecting farmers from the vagaries of the market, mainly to ensure remunerative prices for the farmers.
The present agriculture marketing regulatory mechanism involves licensing and control on marketing, storage; creation of facilitating centres in the form of regulated markets; encouraging co-operative marketing; etc. The key issues are information asymmetry, lack of transparency in price discovery and collusive behaviour among distribution agents are common problems in our agricultural markets which have prevented competition to existing licensees. One of the main issues is that there is a large difference between the prices at retail level and those at wholesale level due to multiple intermediaries and high taxes ranging from 13% to 15.5% advalorem apart from other Market Charges which need to be rationalized.
In fact, there is a classic case, the delisting of some of the essential (perishable) commodities which are at present part of the APMC Act needs to be removed. The Act makes it mandatory for farmers to sell their produce only to licensed merchants at mandis set up by state agriculture marketing boards. According to a recent report by ICRIER on the food processing industry, about 15% to 25% of the total agriculture produce sold through the APMC route gets wasted due to multiple intermediaries and poor quality of mandi infrastructure.
In order to bring structural and institutional reforms in the agriculture sector the model Agricultural Produce Marketing (Development and Regulation) (APMC) Act was passed in the Parliament in 2003; the Act’s Rule has been implemented since 2007. The Model Act, inter-alia, provides for direct marketing, contract farming, establishment of markets in private and cooperative sectors, etc. Agriculture market reforms at the State level essentially provide farmers an alternative competitive marketing channel for transaction of their agricultural produce at remunerative prices.
Hence, all the State/UT governments have been urged to bring amendments/reforms in their own APMC Acts. The process of market reforms has been initiated by several states through either amendments or completely repealing the Act. So far, 16 States (Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand) have amended their respective APMC Acts. Bihar has repealed its APMC Act in 2006. Other States have either done reforms partially (MP, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Punjab & Delhi) or initiated administrative actions (UP, J&K, and WB. etc.). So far, 9 States have amended their APMC Rules in line with the Union government.
Seven Congress-ruled States have amended their respective APMC Act in line with the model Act of the Union government. On 27th December, 2013, the Vice-President of Congress Party had discussed the possibility of bringing urgent reforms in the APMC Act with the 12 Congress-ruled States including Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala and Mizoram. The specific reforms- it seems- they all agreed was delisting of fruits and vegetables from the APMC Act. By January 15, 2014, 5 Congress-ruled States (Uttarakhand, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Haryana) have delisted the two items (fruits and vegetables) from the APMC Act. According to Vice-President the delisting will eliminate these licensed merchants or middlemen who raise the prices for profits.
According to ICRIER Professor Arpita Mukerjee, the “Delisting of fruit and vegetables from the APMC Act is a positive step as only 7 per cent of the total fruit and vegetables sold are through the mandis. Even though organised retailers could buy directly from the farmers, yet they had to pay the mandi charge. The delisting will benefit organised retailers as also food processing firms.”
However, even after all the initiatives being taken, there have been various issues which have been quite persistent in the history. It is only hoped that the issues get addressed in coming years.
B.Chandrasekaran and Shruti Issar

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Gender Knowledge as important as General Knowledge

The Academic Congress on Understanding Gender held at Lady Shri Ram College for Women from March 5-7, 2014 proved that in today’s age “gender knowledge” is as important as general knowledge. The three day event probed into Questions of Justice and Freedom and gave a gendered analysis of the present context. The Congress brought together experts and activist in an attempt to have an enriching discussion around women’s issues and included the interconnected themes of law, media, voice, marginalization, sexuality and the rise of the free-spirited woman in an era of backlash and conflicting choices. What set the LSR event apart from the norm was that gender was located within the larger context of rights and freedom for all aimed at humanizing women. The following snippets give a glimpse of Day 2 (March 6) of the event:

The morning session included a panel discussion on Gender and Marginalized Voices supported by UN Women. Gopal Guru, Anand Patwardhan and Vimal Thorat led a discussion on the intersection between gender, caste and religion. The question of dalit politics and caste were discussed. The speakers clarified that while gender is linked to caste, the women’s movement has not contributed substantially to the caste debates in India that emerged in the post-Mandal era. It was also pointed out that in the current scenario; violence against women (VAW) in rural India and violence against dalit/ Northeastern women tends to get less attention as compared to VAW in urban India. In this context the role of media and selective reporting was debated.

The panel discussion was followed by a conversation with women who exemplify empowerment and breaking the glass ceiling.  

The first speaker was Baby Haldar who narrated her inspiring life story. Baby works as a domestic worker and is an author, whose autobiography Aalo Aandhari describes her harsh life growing up and as a domestic worker and has been translated into several languages.

Baby’s struggle began at a very young age. She was raised by an abusive father: an ex-serviceman and driver and her step-mother in West Bengal and was only 12, when her father married her off to a man 14 years older than her. Finally in 1999, at the age of 25, after years of domestic violence, she left her husband and came to Delhi with her children. Urvashi Butalia, who Baby considers to be her mentor, told the audience that when a woman like Baby decides to speak up, her story will invariably give many others courage and start a revolution of courage and strength.

Sunita, India’s first female auto driver and the two cab drivers from Sakha (Saroj, Lalita) shared how a woman driving on the streets reassures people- women, children, families, whereas, a man doing the same would give rise to fear in certain circumstances and yet women do not take up similar occupations. They hope that their work will inspire more women to challenge the norm and step out of their homes. Meenu Vadhera, Director of Sakha cabs shared how mobility is a very important tool in the struggle for women’s empowerment.

The afternoon session began with a Lecture by Mary E. John from CWDS. Ms. John spoke on ‘Gendering Violence: Rethinking Sexuality and Violence’. She traced the discourse on gender violence and outlined how while the movement on VAW began in the 1970s, it wasn’t till the 1990s that the language of sexuality emerged. She said that the 2000’s saw a very rapid shift as women now articulated sexuality through means such as the ‘pink chaddi campaign’ and ‘slut walk’ which not only challenged gender stereotypes but also led to a backlash.

She said that the gang rape of Nirbhaya was a ‘genuine event’ that marked another shift in the gender discourse. Although, several cases in the past like Mathura rape case, Ramiza B. case, Bhanwari Devi case had also led to protest and outrage, what was different about Nirbhaya was that the protests didn’t originate only from the women’s group and were not restricted to only women. The rape also changed the direction of the discourse as the ire of the public turned towards the state and ‘demanded’ better laws and safer cities. She said that the placards she read during the protest had slogans such as ‘Meri skirt se uchi meri awaaz’, ‘my dress is not a yes’ carried by both men and women and was an indication of the change being brought on by the event.

What she found discomforting about the December rape is that the incident has reinforced the false stereotype of the danger lying outside the house. She showed with the help of NCRB data that in more than 97% of the cases, the victim is known to the accused. She said that it was in this context that the backlash of violence against women was disturbing and needs to be challenged. The advancing of women’s hostel deadlines, canceling night shifts for female employees, parents refusing to let their daughters to go out after dark are just some of the obvious ways in which the backlash works. More subtle ways exist and impact our daily life, making women fearful, breeding mistrust and straining relationships between the sexes.

The discussion led to a debate about gender roles and how while women are now juggling work within and outside the house, the roles of men continue to be static. The rising expectations from women often lead to them having to make a choice between two worlds and the need to challenge this stereotype.

The session also included the screening of ‘Safe City Dialogues’ by Shikha Trivedi from NDTV. Safe City Dialogues is a short documentary which captures the urgent need for city plans to have a gendered perspective. It looked at the lives of young women in slums of Mumbai and how they struggle for access to basic sanitation. The slums are poorly lit, suffer due to a shortage of public washrooms and other amenities and the streets are congested along with poor garbage and human/ animal waste disposal. The documentary explored how women become victims of both, poor planning and violence against women. The documentary recorded lives of young women living in these slums and questioned whether their voice was ever taken into consideration while planning cities? It raised questions such as ‘are technological and safety measures the solution to build a safe society or do we need to initiate a dialogue to heighten gender sensitivity’? 

The day concluded with an interaction with Bhanwari Devi from Rajasthan. Bhanwari Devi worked as a ‘Sathin’ in Rajasthan and was part of the Women's Development Project (WDP) run by the Government of Rajasthan. She belongs to the ‘kumhar’ (potter) caste and her village is dominated by the upper caste Gujjar community. Her training as a Sathin enabled her to raise her voice and take a stand against child marriage happening in a rich Gujjar family in her village in the early 1990s.

Bhanwari narrated how despite her protest, the marriage of the two girl children did take place, with the police attending the wedding celebrations.  Yet, the men from the Gujjar community felt insulted and in a bid to take ‘revenge’, gang raped her. Bhanwari then had to struggle to get herself examined medically in order to register a FIR. Yet, Bhanwari refused to give up. She fought for her justice and continues to do so. Her case at the moment is pending with the High Court.

Ms. Kavita Srivastava translated Bhanwri’s narrative for the audience. Speaking of Bhanwari’s struggle, she said that the reason why Bhanwari’s initial FIR was not entertained initially was because of patriarchy. She said that the police, medical examiners, Magistrate and all others in authority did not believe Bhanwari because they bought into the patriarchal stereotypes of:

1)       Old woman are not raped
2)       Old men do not rape
3)       Upper caste men would not want to have physical relations with a low caste woman

It is this thinking that got challenged when Bhanwari refused to stay quiet about her rape. She decided to persist for justice and continues to do so, despite all the obstacles that have come her way. While the accused were released on bail, Bhanwari’s struggle led to the Vishakha Judgement which became the foundation for the Sexual Harassment Act passed in 2013.

Bhanwari’s struggle, according to Ms. Srivastava shows that people need to stop looking at women’s bodies in the framework of shame and honour. If women continue to think that way, they will feel victimized, but if they decide to step out of the mould they will identify themselves, as Bhanwari does, as a survivor. This concluded the final session of the second day of the Gender Congress.

The overall theme of the “Genderknowledge” held at LSR made the audience pause and reflect upon why gender is so important today. It highlighted that gender doesn’t only concern women; rather questions of women’s safety, greater mobility, freedom of occupation, the struggle for rights are reflection of our society and therefore concern us all. As the day concluded, questions regarding what is and what is not acceptable to women today, gender roles, family as a unit of safety and many others sprang up, leading to an internal debate and change of thought, both for the audience and the participants.

Divashri Mathur

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Defining India’s NRMB

Calling Indian democracy as a simply vote making drama does not serve enough beyond a point and it’s too naïve if any one does it more than twice in an unprecedented situation like where India is now! For mulling over an idea that will set a new paradigm shift for constructive public discourse, it is necessary to define a new phrase for developmental polity which will encompass sentiments of crores of fellow citizens. In the past, the defining moment has never been taken as granted and there is no exception either now especially when the general elections are due. In a vast country like India-whether you like it or not-the dynamic transitions of various phrases of developmental polity is an extremely interesting phenomena to understand the disjunctions that exist between people and polity and social, economic and cultural narratives in between them.

The fountainhead of any new phrase of polity has to encompass the realities of the living conditions of citizens and common man of that country. The new phrase has to deal with the three pillars: political, economic and social dimensions of the citizens and common man’s life and aspirations which have dynamically shifted upwards most recently and first time since the independence. How far the new phrase of polity captures and reflects the hearts and minds of the citizens and common man actually helps in shaping up of the ultimate aims of another path breaking milestone in the history of developmental polity. In fact, who does it better ultimately reaps the fruits of the winning elections and transforming the country.

In the era of Jawaharlal Nehru, the hard currency of polity was to instill the faith of democratic form of governance and sent strong messages across world. During Indira Gandhi’s period, the focal point of polity was to establish social dimension of developmental polity- Garibi Hatao and nationalization of banks etc. Thereafter, the country did not see any credible trend setter in the developmental polity phrases due to the very nature of fragmented polity. The 80s and 90s had become pre- and post reform periods typically linked with connecting Indian economy to the world economy. The first decade of 21st century did witness some new phrases of developmental polity but the phrase used in the first half of the decade (Shining India) did not gain much attraction as compared to the phrase of the second half (Inclusive Growth).  Hence, India is again at the cross road of the world to make its position debunked and pave new path.

 Against this background, it is really delighting that the time has come to see another trend setter yet excitingly new phrase of developmental polity. The Indian National Congress seems to be pondering over the possibility of coining a new phrase for developmental polity. After carefully studying the politico, economic and social dimensions of the Indian society, the party has decided to take up the term called “Not rich, not-middle class, not BPL” or NRMB as a key strategy for the upcoming elections.

India is home for nearly 122 crore people. The NRMB categories consist about 70 crore people. 70 crore estimate seems to be based on the assumption of per person per month minimum earning of Rs.1,000 as the threshold for poverty which is in line with the official poverty line which is around Rs.960 a month. Further, those who earn between Rs.1,000 to Rs.15,000 are the main junk of the population covered under 70 crore NRMB segment. The BPL population is pegged at 36 crore and the middle class, assuming Rs.1 lakh per person per month as a cut off, is around 16 crore.

The middle class benefits most of its needs directly from liberalisation and is not affected by any shocks like economic, social and political in nature at any point of time in a year. Therefore, the Congress’s key target seems to be the NRMB segments which are just above the poverty line but way below the middle class and not rich certainly. About 34 NRMB segments have been identified including daily wagers, painters, construction workers, carpenters, farm labourers, domestic workers, street vendors, railway porters, fishermen, security guards, weavers, plantation workers, dabbawalas, etc. to give attention for understanding their problems and issues and solve them in coming years.

Most of the NRMB segments are increasingly becoming more and more vulnerable in different parts of the country and nobody seems to be working with them to lift them out of their misery. In fact, most of these segments are facing varied difficulties in terms of lifting their life beyond the BPL level because their voices are not taken into consideration in public policy decision making process. Indeed, these segments are what development experts call union-less people thereby voices-less community. Thus, the time has come for this segment to raise their voice and move upward in the society to live a meaningful life.



Thursday, 13 March 2014

Education in India – the road ahead

Photo Source:
The ‘directive principles of state policy’ of the Indian Constitution, formulated in 1950 stated that “All states shall endeavour to provide within 10 years of commencement of constitution free and compulsory education to children till they reach the age of 14 years.” All states therefore had the primary responsibility of improving literacy rate and elementary education, whereas the centre dealt mainly with higher education. In 1976, education became a concurrent subject i.e. a joint responsibility of state and centre.

The concept of a National System of Education implies that, up to a given level, all students, irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex, have access to education of a comparable quality. This has sought to be achieved by successive governments in India. In achieving this aim, the guiding forces are the National Policy on Education documents of 1968, and 1986 under the Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, and most recently by the Right to Education Act which came into force in 2009.

 The 1968 policy was the first significant and major step in education in post-independence India. “It aimed to promote national progress, a sense of common citizenship and culture, and to strengthen national integration.” The emphasis was on the need to radically overhaul and reconstruct the education system, with a focus on quality improvement. Yet, it was noticed that there were problems with the policy at the level of implementation – with “problems of access, quality, quantity, utility and financial outlay.”

The 1986 policy sought to address the lacunae observed in the 1968 policy by focussing on education for women, for the marginalised sections, minorities, the differently abled and also adult education. The policy defined and recommended Universal Elementary Education (UEE) embodying the concepts of universal access, universal retention and universal attainment. In order to address the widening class distinctions, and social segregation, NPE also recommended Common School System, where "children from different social classes and groups come together under common public school and thus promote the emergence of an egalitarian and integrated society”.

In 1993, in a PIL ‘Unnikrishnan versus state of Andhra Pradesh’, the Supreme court of India ruled that, “Education is a fundamental right that follows from the Right to life in Article 21 of the Constitution”. However, there was no legislative follow up from this for many years, primarily due to a volatile political situation at home in the following few years. In 2002, the 86th Constitutional Amendment of India added Article 21A stating that, “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age 6 to 14 years in such as a way as the State may, by law, determine”. This led to the formulation of the Right to Education Act, which was passed by the UPA Government and became a law in 2009.

Today, the results of the Right to Education Act and allied education policies like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the mid day meal scheme are there for all to see. More and more children are now going to school, literacy rates are rising. The provision of seats for the EWS category has ensured that students from the economically deprived sections are not deprived of the benefits of education. Yet, we notice that gaps do remain – not only at implementation level, but recent figures have also pointed out how dropout rates are increasing in the post ‘compulsory’ period, how the mid day meal scheme is being manipulated etc. The recent mid day meal tragedy in Bihar is just a case in point of problems with implementation.

Today, as we have a new generation of youngsters, the education system in this country needs a drastic overhaul. There have been a number of attempts to streamline and review the CBSE in keeping with the times, but it has also often been seen that students scoring impossibly high marks in the CBSE often have no real grounding in the concepts. Students with nearly 100 marks in English often cannot string together a paragraph of correct English. Education in India needs to focus less on rote learning, and ‘keywords’ and more on concepts and processes. Similarly, the higher education system too needs an overhaul. The recent shift by Delhi University to a Four Year Undergraduate Program has been controversial. This new system, along with the move to a semester based system, rather than an annual system does have its benefits, which however, have become eclipsed due to an apparent lack of proper planning. For instance, how useful would a basic Foundation course in English be for a student already pursuing an Honours degree in the subject? Or a course in Maths for someone who has had no contact with the subject since Class VIII? The focus in India needs to shift to the higher education system – radical changes are the need of the hour, but these need to be well thought out and then implemented. Education needs to be equitable. Students need to feel that they are gaining something from the system that will empower them in the future. More skill development and vocational courses, employment generation opportunities need to be provided by the education system. A number of these ideas have been articulated in the 12th Plan for Education, but it is upto the people of this country, especially the youth, to ensure that implementation does not fail. These are the challenges and opportunities facing Indian education today. 

Madhumita Chakraborty

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Integrated Action Plan: An overarching development initiative

Photo Source: kracktivist
The Integrated Action Plan is entering the fourth year of its existence this year. It is a plan which has caused a lot of infighting; however, it was seen as a hopeful start to a new strategy to counter Left Wing Extremism in the country. Has it achieved what it set out to? What are the points of divergence? Where lies the problem and what can be the solutions to make it a more judicious and effective plan by the Central government? These are some questions that this article seeks to answer.
Since it was first presented in 2010, the IAP has been extended to 88 districts. The initial 33 districts were part of the 83 Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected districts identified under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The LWE districts coming under the IAP were those wherein more than 20 per cent of the total number police stations in the district saw incidents of naxal violence.
To begin with, IAP for 60 identified tribal and backward districts was implemented with a block grant of Rs.25 crore and Rs.30 crore per district during 2010-11 and 2011-12 respectively, for which the funds were to be placed at the disposal of the Committee headed by the District Collector (DC) assisted by the Superintendent of Police (SP) of the district and the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO).
Its basic fallacy is that it follows a top-down approach, which, in a democratic set-up is rather unsustainable. The voice of the people for which the IAP is intended is not heard while the onus of making the policy rests with the bureaucracy. Neither the people at ground level, nor their representatives, are a part of the consultations on the implementation of policies under the plan. Therefore, the vision with which the policy was initiated is more or less defeated.
This allows for pilferages in the system which, as was observed during a field trip to some of the states with districts falling under the IAP, increases the gap between allocation of funds and implementation thereof. Moreover, because the IAP was primarily initiated to address the governance deficit in LWE states, putting other districts in states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, where the problem is not acute, takes away from the purpose of the plan. A better way of guaranteeing that the most needy districts get the benefit of this policy would be to establish a graded system of aid ie: Grade A districts which need the most attention can be granted more funds while Grade B districts which are relatively free from violence can be granted a lesser amount of aid under this plan.

Another recommendation for addressing the trust deficit that the government faces is allowing greater role for Gram Sabha in consultations. As is the case now, the bureaucracy is seen as the enemy by the locals in these areas. The Gram Sabha comprises each member of the village and involving them in the decision making process would ensure a more democratic system of aid dispensation.
For greater accountability, a proper grievance redressal mechanism needs to be put in place. This can only happen with greater transparency in the form of plan outlay and implementation record. A model that can be replicated for this is how the transparency in the Right to Information Act was followed in Rajasthan where the law and guidelines were put up on the walls of the villages so that everyone can be made aware of their rights.

Development can only happen when the government’s agenda matches with that of the people. It is not difficult if the right intent exists. All it needs is a more democratic process of decision making and transparent means of accountable implementation. 

Medha Chaturvedi


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Wake-up Call for Indian Economy: Policy Initiatives in Manufacturing Sector

Photo Credit: Rediff.Com
The interim budget of 2014 has made a series of significant policy announcements for India’s manufacturing sector, which would act as wake-up calls for its existing sluggish economy. It would wave all export related taxes on manufacturing sector and has announced 8 National Investment and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZ) along with Delhi-Mumbai Corridor. Three more additional industrial corridors like Bangalore-Chennai, Bangalore-Mumbai and Kolkata-Amritsar will be taken up along with the clearance of 296 projects worth of Rs 6,60,000 crores. It has reduced exercise duties in automobile sector to give a boost in production. Such positive policy steps are certainly encouraging to revive India’s investment ambience, especially in its manufacturing sector, which has seen a mere 1 percent growth in 2012-13 (as against 9.2% in service sector) having cascading effects on jobs, income, export and overall economic security of the country.

Manufacturing sector was not in forefront during India’s economic policy reforms in 1991. Rather India’s immense growth of 9 percent was largely driven by its service sector (sharing 58% of GDP). IT and ITES popularly known as ‘sunshine sector’ has made enormous contribution to India’s GDP growth and its skilled human capital has received world-wise acclamation. It has truly transformed India’s economic image, helping to reshape its conventional, traditional economy into a market driven, competitive ‘knowledge economy’. This high-skill sector provides 25 lakhs jobs with multiplier effect on future generation and has created a Nouveau riche Class in India with very high purchasing power. But such economic boom has neglected and sometimes marginalized many more lakhs in semi-skill, low-skill and no-skill category, creating huge economic disparity and a scenario of ‘jobless growth’. It is being argued by many scholars that such a situation has emerged because India has almost skipped its second stage of development, which ought to happen through industrialization and manufacturing, and which alone could create mass employment to this large section of population and could check such unmanageable disparity in the economy. Country therefore with 61 percent of working population of 15-59 years, and with additional about 200 million to enter job market in next 15 years necessarily needs to create opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, mostly for semi-skilled and less-skilled workers. Sheer neglect of manufacturing sector also has affected India’s merchandise trade balance, and China whose manufacturing shares 34 percent of its GDP could easily grab this space in the world market. India’s share of manufacturing sector in GDP was stagnated at around 16 percent for last two decades.

Such rising challenges have forced India to revisit its policy initiative for manufacturing sector. The government has been  stressing the needs to increase manufacturing output on a number of occasions and in 2004, UPA I has set up a National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC) with the objective to suggest ways to increase manufacturing competitiveness and to improve its share in GDP. Finally in 2011, UPA II has managed to implement country’s much needed National Manufacturing Policy. The policy vigorously envisages 25 percent share in national GDP and creation of additional 100 million jobs by 2022. It was initiated with an idea of having a robust manufacturing sector that can help to create jobs in mass scale and be one of strong pillars for economic growth in a sustainable way. The existing manufacturing capacity in India is not optimum and is heavily dependent on Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) which employs over 100 million people in around 4 million units across the country and contributes 45 percent to the total manufacturing output with 40 percent of country’s export. The current interim budget 2014 has notified Public Procurement Policy to establish technology and common facility centers and to launch Khadi-Mark, which is again a policy step to promote further the MSME in India.    

For expanding manufacturing sector per se, India needs to increase its supply chain through diversification, infrastructure management, flexible labour law, transparency in land acquisition and collaborations at various levels extending to multinationals. It is being argued that there exists ample scope for the manufacturing sector to return to high growth trajectory. The sharp depreciation of currency coupled with pick-up in growth revival of global economies in recent months has beckoned optimism to Indian manufacturing exporters. Thus sector like textile, petrochemicals can find more space now. But most importantly the roadmap for manufacturing sector needs cautious policy planning for a balanced growth with emphasis on various regions of the country. Multiple manufacturing sectors along with diversity, more cross-regional industrial corridors and region-specific endowments and interests needs to be promoted, as the potentials of mountainous Northeast India cannot be the same as coastal West of India. This can enhance productivity with more growth poles in laggard region and can restrain undue concentration of industrial expansion in advance regions, preventing another fresh challenge of core-periphery landscape in Indian economy.


1.      Economy Matter, Volume 19, No. 1, 2014, CII

2.      Economic Survey, 2012-13, GOI   

3.      India’s Continuing Manufacturing Drought, The Wall Street Journal, February 2014

Rakhee Bhattacharya