Friday, September 30, 2011

Rs 33 and you are rich --Doctor wrong diagnosis and worse wrong medicine

Is it possible that we can ever find the easy way to define poverty? Is poverty about lack of ability or is it of lack of opportunities? Can we quantify poverty and is there a magic number that encapsulates the poverty debate?

Well the planning commission of India is of the opinion that poverty is the lack of cash to be exact of Rs 32/-. Well the planning commission can be so exact because they use a measure that is erroneously based on a price index set up in the 1970s which they interpreted wrongly. In essence the commission is perpetuating an error and even worse believing it. Ever heard of the doctor who made an error in diagnosis and even after knowing that it was an error ended up giving the wrong medicine because he was not ready to check his assumptions . Well the same is the case here.

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Open letter against Rs 32 as artificial poverty barrier

New Delhi: An open letter from the Right to food Campaigners to Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission.
September 29th, 2011
Dear Mr Ahluwalia,
While you were abroad deliberating on global matters, the Planning Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court claiming that the "poverty line of Rs 25 and Rs 32 (rural and urban areas respectively) ensures the adequacy of private expenditure on food, health and education". The affidavit could not have come at a worse time when food inflation was pushing poor households to the wall even as 60 million tonnes of grain are piling in FCI godowns implying that the government itself is hoarding grain to increase food prices.
The affidavit filed by the Planning Commission in the Supreme Court skirted the two major issues that were raised by the highest court in the country: why there should be a poverty line that determines the BPL "caps" and, a request by the Bench to the Planning Commission to re-consider the poverty line. That the affidavit chose to skirt these two major issues, and chose instead to repeat the stand taken by the Planning Commission in its last affidavit in May 2011 is, we believe, an affront to the poor of this country and also the Supreme Court.
Subsequently, you have gone on defensively to say that the poverty line has no relationship to food subsidy. Yet, all central government allocations for programmes such as PDS, pensions etc are made based on these poverty ratios. Further, after drawing a ridiculously low poverty line you suggest caps on the BPL category as well as a 41 per cent cap on food subsidy which is a contradiction in terms. Perhaps you may explain to the lay public that is spending astronomical amounts on food and health care, what this poverty line is then relevant for, if not subsidies for basic needs.
Your public defense of the affidavit being "factually correct" needs to be examined against some other facts such as India being home to the largest number of hungry people, people without the advantage of education, and the highest maternal and infant mortality deaths in the world. It is also "factually correct" that India is ranked 67th out of 88 countries ranked by IFPRI in the Global Hunger Index and that nearly half of India's children remain under-nourished, twice as many as in sub-Saharan Africa. It also needs to be checked against the fact that the Planning Commission itself has admitted that households at this poverty line are getting 20 per cent less food than they require as per the government's own norms. After years of terming the IMF and the World Bank as the sources of all knowledge for how this country's economy is to be run, you have, we believe misinterpreted the FAO to suggest that the poor need less food than what the Indian government norms state.
Mr Ahluwalia, perhaps you need to reflect more on the fact that during your stewardship of the Planning Commission, India has fallen further behind neighboring and poorer (in terms of per capita income) Bangladesh, in terms of most of the human development indicators.
If Rs 25 for rural areas and 32 for urban areas per capita expenditure was "adequate" then it is not clear to us that why Planning Commission members are paid up to one hundred and fifteen times the amount (not counting the perks of free housing and health care and numerous other benefits that is enjoyed by you and members of the Planning Commission).
We believe that this affidavit is a document, no less historically significant than the "India Shining" campaign that brought the downfall of a previous regime, because it reflected arrogance and contempt for the poor comparable to the views held by the Planning Commission.
Even as we write to you, over the next twenty four hours, close to 3,000 Indian children will die of malnutrition related illness. The current 'revolution' in agriculture has led to nation-wide agrarian distress, and will see 47 farmers committing suicide in India in the next 24 hours. Further, despite your repeated prediction over the last two years on inflation (particularly food inflation) going down, the expertise of the Planning Commission even on that front has been proved wrong. Despite the indisputable intellectual resources at its command the Planning Commission seems to require a reality check; perhaps spending more time in the villages and slums of this country would have achieved that.
The right to food campaign challenges you and all the members of the Planning Commission to live on Rs 25 / Rs 32, a day till such time that you are able to explain to the public in simple words the basis of the statement that this amount is normatively "adequate". If it cannot be explained then the affidavit should be withdrawn or else you should resign.
The Steering group of the Right to Food Campaign:
Anjali Bhardwaj, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People's Right to Information), Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), Anuradha Talwar, Gautam Modi and Madhuri Krishnaswamy (New Trade Union Initiative), Arun Gupta and Radha Holla (Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India), Arundhati Dhuru and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of People’s Movements), Asha Mishra and Vinod Raina (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti), Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network), G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Kavita Srivastava and Binayak Sen (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Lali Dhakar, Sarawasti Singh, Shilpa Dey and Radha Raghwal (National Forum for Single Women’s Rights), Mira Shiva and Vandana Prasad (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan), Paul Divakar and Asha Kowtal (National Campaign for
Dalit Human Rights), Prahlad Ray and Anand Malakar (Rashtriya Viklang Manch), Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers), Jean Dr├Ęze and VB Rawat (Former Support group to the Campaign), Harsh Mander.
Representatives of Right to Food (State campaigns):
Veena Shatrugna, M Kodandram and Rama Melkote(Andhra Pradesh), Saito Basumaatary and Sunil Kaul (Assam), Rupesh (Bihar), Gangabhai and Sameer Garg (Chhattisgarh), Sejal Dand and Sumitra Thakkar (Gujarat), Abhay Kumar and Clifton (Karnataka), Balram, Gurjeet Singh and James Herenj (Jharkhand), Sachin Jain (Madhya Pradesh), Mukta Srivastava and Suresh Sawant (Maharashtra), Tarun Bharatiya (Meghalaya), Chingmak Chang (Nagaland) Bidyut Mohanty and Raj Kishore Mishra, Vidhya Das (Orissa), Ashok Khandelwal, Bhanwar Singh and Vijay Lakshmi (Rajasthan), V Suresh (Tamil Nadu), Arundhati Dhuru and Bindu Singh (Uttar Pradesh)
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Monday, September 5, 2011

Big Science or Navel Gazing Nanoscience

I am writing this price in the beginning of the second decade of the 21st Century AD. This piece has been in my mind for some time and I decided to give it a structure before writing . The immediate provocation is the fact that a planet made of crystalline carbon also called Diamond planet has been found near a neutron star in a far away galaxy by our space scientists. My fried asked me if we could take a dumpster and an JCB to it. The other friend remarked if dragging it away with a rocket would do fine.
Well this got me thinking on the following lines. We do not have supersonic aircraft in the civilian sector.The Concorde project scrapped long ago and all the planes just wreckage. NASA has let go of it Shuttle programme and there are no projects to go to moon or mars. Big science with its Saturn rockets, advanced Shuttles seem to be in the line for the breaking ball. What is the attitude that makes Big science seem unnecessary while the latest app in your phone is just too good to be true. It even trims your nose hair.Wow.
The root of this poor attitude seems to lie among policy makers who are not having cold war era contests of bigger and longer, farther and stronger. No Soviets just a bunch of mid income countries struck among declining infrastructure. The outsourced programme of NASA to depend on the workhorse Soyuz and the recent report of a Soyuz falling from the sky are contrasting enough-- efficient budgeting against effective way to reach space.
Beyond the ideas of policy makers, we as individuals are becoming more and more insular and more apt to gaze at our navels in a hypnotic glance. Newer technology is making us insulated from each other not just from society. A whole generation fitted into the tiny and tinier screens of portable music, portable telephones and portable computers. People showing off at the Mall cafes but forgetting that the other person has his own screen. A large gargantuan argus headed monster following friends on the screen but ignoring the immediate surroundings. The friends and people on the internet seem more closer than those next to us, furthering the isolation.
At the heart of this situation is a change in our attitude from Big Social goals to narrow individual achievements. We do not want the Big science that created modern day civilization. Science is an accretive process and we have developed by using old theories and it was a slow process to modern day miracles. The miracles of Chloroform seem tired in todays days of local and specific anaesthesia. The miracle of innoculation seems outdated in the modern day of class 5 antibiotics. But in the movement of science there is accretion leading to todays advancements. We just cannot stop building rockets if we intend to get to Mars or Jupiter in  the next 100 or 200 years. We cannot dump technology and expect to build a next generation Saturn Rocket to take us to Mars or even worse face a situation like the movie Armageddon showed of a rogue meteor out to get to earth.
The computing device has changed a lot from the Charles Babbage mechanical calculator to modern day tablet handhelds. With such advancement we should invest more in science that produces the concepts called computers. However we are more concerned with apps that show the nearest movie hall,reminder pads, free audio,free ebooks which are taking us away from the idea of science as a tool of betterment and to the view that technology that relates to our emotions is better.
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