Monday, January 31, 2011

Failure of the Group Specific Equity Policy: - the case of the Scheduled Tribes

An opportunity to get a ring side view and observe, assess and evaluate public polices is rare. I was fortunate, as a member of a Committee to assess the situation in Andhra Pradesh, visited many tribal and primitive communities during 2010. Overall, close to 9% of India’s population are the STs, over 700 - highly diverse communities are notified under Article 342 of the constitution of India; of these 75 are ‘primitive tribal groups (PTGs)’.

Consider a village in Vijanagaram district with two distinct tribes living side-by-side - Kondavara, a non-primitive tribe and Savara, a primitive tribe. The Kondavara reported some cultivation rights over half an acre to three acres of rain fed land on the hilly terrain but with no clear land title. Fortunately all 81 households were covered under the MG-NREGS with Rs.100 as wage, and worked on land improvement on their plantations in a cooperative basis. It was common to find Kondavara’s seek wage employment in the nearby plains as well and also participated in market exchange.

Whereas the Savara being a PTG were under the control of ‘integrated tribal development authority’ ITDA. They were provided with employment on daily fixed wages to work in the forest, but only for limited number of days in a year. According to the Savara’s the MG-NREGS wages offered worked out to be less than Rs. 20 per day and therefore they were disillusioned this work offer. The private wage this community got in the village was as low as Rs. 70 for males and Rs. 40 for females. They rear small ruminants and cattle. Savara’s rarely traveled to outside areas and their marriage linkages were found to be within a 10 Kms range and amongst their own tribe. Although some land on the hills was assigned to them, they did not report a clear ownership and land was unfit for cultivation of cereals.

A contrasting differentiation of these communities was physical location of their living quarters. The non-primitive tribes occupied a street horizontally with relatively better housing. The Savara’s, on the other hand lived in homes built vertically, climbing up on the rocky terrain towards the hills. This street was full of rocks exposed due to the rain water gushing vertically through the street. It was not easy to climb up to homes on the higher end even for well built men let alone women and children. There was hardly a dwelling which looked neat and tidy as was the case in the horizontal street.

Another visit was to a tribal village cluster in Prakasam district - a resettlement of the Chenchu’s, Yerakala and Sugali, all primitive tribe from within the forest; and the other a cluster of non-primitive communities. The ITDA could provide one acre of land to about half of the resettled primitive families and also semi-finished single room residential quarters, but without a kitchen and toilet in them. The resettlement had drinking water facility and also electricity. Men undertook bamboo cutting and honey collection under the government program, women also collected minor forest produce such as medicinal herbs and roots. This settlement was serviced by a Girjan Society (GCC) which purchased the forest produce for a predetermined price, and were also covered under the PDS. We also found girls and boys educated and trained to become teachers but with without any jobs.

The neighborhood settlement was occupied by non-primitive inhabitants living there since long. This settlement was bereft of facilities and services available to the resettlement. Women from this settlement were not allowed to collect the minor forest produce therefore they were in basket making; while men ventured getting bamboo on the sly from the forest. Most of men were reported to be under lockup for having taken bamboo from the forest. Neither the state government agencies nor the ITDA have covered this settlement for the provisioning of welfare schemes, nor were programs such as the MG-NREGA and SHG. To my understanding this bunch of 23 households had in fact no identity and lived a highly vulnerable and deprived life.

The above examples present highly contrasting scenarios. The primitive tribes in spite of the presence of ITDA were found to be extremely vulnerable compared with the non-primitive groups in first example; where as in the latter case it was the non-primitive group which was found to be at the verge of penury. The origin of such differentiation is due to policy as well implimentative shortcomings with respect to the primitive and non-primitive tribes residing in the same location. How, why and who make these sharper differentiation between the communities and for what purpose is not very clear. However, in the first example, the freedom and choice that the non-primitive group had, so as to travel and visit the plain areas for work and market appears to have empowered them. In the second example, since the primitive groups were resettled from within the forest they were showered with a number of benefits while the original dwellers in the same location were left to fend for themselves and in fact found to be victimized.

Overall, the ST areas suffer from provisioning of basic services such as education, health and employment. Even the ST hostels for girls were found not having running water and the adolescent girls were seen using brooks and streams nearby for their daily routine, bathing and washing. While qualified girls and boys belonging to primitive tribes remain unemployed, all government functionaries including the teachers were non-STs commuting from plain areas on work. They were seen travelling on a daily basis to the work place on their ultramodern expensive motorcycles; and many inaccessible locations are bereft of institutions and personnel.

It is important to state that these are the areas covered under the ‘Schedule 5’ policy established in 1950 which is directly overseen by the Governor of the state with the help of the ‘tribal advisory councils.’ The STs are easy to identify and live in clusters of their own and policies to effect group equity should be easy to implement. But the reality is otherwise; it gives an impression that government is running an enterprise, with bonded PTGs which can be subject to ‘bonded labor laws’. It also appears, in the name of protecting these communities; opportunities are denied for them to access the fruits of the modern development.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Poverty a Mystery in the Land of the Poor!

A number of controversies are raging concurrently on size and nature of poverty and the ongoing unprecedented (food) inflation is adding fuel to this fury.
The official poverty estimate has gone through change due to change in methodology and cut offs for the second time in last 12 years or so. Be aware, therefore, it not now easy to compare poverty estimates over time and therefore all are in dark as to how many of we Indians are poor and who are they? Should one continue with the original definitions of poverty and methodology set in mid-1970s, there would not be many poor left in India! Therefore, the recent revision of the poverty line aligned with the urban levels of consumption is the saving grace; and rural poverty is estimated to be about 37.2% for the year 2004-5. The official poverty line is the rupee value which can purchase the minimum benchmarked amount of calories needed for sustenance which is in fact higher for rural and lower for urban areas. However, the anomaly is that it takes relatively more amount of rupees to buy the same amount of calories in urban area possibly due to price difference. It is not clear if any adjustments for these differences are made in the new poverty line suggested by Tendulkar Committee. Yet when the food intake (which is the primary basis for fixing the poverty line) and associated calories are measured using the same data source (NSSO) up to 70% of the population is estimated to be vulnerable and in a number states such as Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and so on this proportion can be as high as 90%. Thus it is not only difficult but impossible to understand the objective criteria used to benchmark the poverty estimates without an empirical multi-vulnerability analysis.
A as a matter of routine the state governments in association with the national ministry of rural development undertake ‘below poverty line’ (BPL) surveys at about 5 years of interval to identify deserving households for service delivery. Earlier these surveys used a list of 13 characteristics which highlight vulnerability and arrived at estimates comparable to those based on calorie intake deficiencies.
Currently, efforts are on through a committee to refine these variables using the ‘exclusionary’ and ‘inclusionary’ criteria. This refinement seems necessary firstly to remove the deficiency of the13 variable surveys and secondly to arrive at a compromise level of poverty estimates between the official national and state estimates. While a refinement in this method is essential what is debatable is the subjective elements inherent in identifying a set of variables for exclusion and another set for inclusion. Further score values are assigned to the variables of inclusion with little empirical basis however. Unlike in the past now the local level functionaries have to grapple with not one but two lists, one of exclusion and another of inclusion and then assigned scores, all at the local level. Further, during direct questioning for the sake of BPL identification will be highly politicised, contentious and problematic. For example, it will not be easy to find out who are the income tax payers are as this information not public knowledge; similarly identifying ‘person owning a fire arm’ will be as difficult as facing one who owns it. It is argued that many of the variables listed including the two mentioned above are not expected to be statistically significant and therefore empirically irrelevant relevant should the identification of the variables is undertaken using time tested and transparent methods. The subjective variable scoring scheme will be politically not acceptable either.
There is another factors relevant in this methodology is capping of poverty level, arbitrarily at 50% level. As is well known a cap at the policy level is always taken forward upto the block, panchayat and even village levels and thus whole communities will be at risk of being eliminated from being identified as the poor; not because of any defect but just by a sheer application of quota and the overriding execution of local community level politics which can easily exclude the marginal groups such as the SCs, STs, Muslims and other minorities. The proposed methods also ignore the fact that the variation in poverty extends upto the village and even sub-village levels due to unique residential pattern in which the marginalized are forced to live in peripheral locations around the village. Often such localities are entirely excluded from the ambit of program implementation on various pretexts by the local functionaries and supportive political system.
Is it possible to put forth an empirical methods which can identify dispassionately using location (geographic identity) specific factors that can be used a check list. A larger survey data can be used to identify a list of factors and this list can be used as a check list during the village level surveys. This method removes subjectivity at another level; at the level of identifying the target household. Since the check list is predetermined at say each district or taluka level, the identification errors will be minimal.
A multi-vulnerability identification exercise for rural India provides the following list of variables which exhibit source of opulence or vulnerability accordingly. These variables are empirically identified as the dominant factors with various degree of vulnerability. Using this as a check list one can with a high degree of certainty and in a dispassionate manner estimate a value to each household, and also arrange in an order of priority. Thus all such households within in a defined area can be stacked one over another depending upon the total severity of vulnerability and thus easy to identify who of the two households deserve social services, a very important attribute if limited resources are to be distributed. This kind of assigning of intensity of vulnerability is impossible in the method currently being considered. However, the alternate empirical approach in fact helps in placing a given household at an appropriate location in the ‘economic ladder’ and helps clearly identify who are the at the bottom, middle and at the top end of the economic wellbeing. Thus it eliminates an important defect in present system of categorising households only in two groups namely the poor and the rich.
The functionaries, therefore, can prepare location specific common list for practically all such programs which are intend to help the deprived and poor households, and programs can be aligned with commonly accepted benchmarks in terms of the quantum of services either in cash or in kind. In fact one can also conceive a gradation of such services depending upon the severity of the household as expressed in the value of vulnerability estimated in this method. Given a baseline survey, such as the NSSO, the NFHS and Human Development Surveys, it is easy to give the list of these variables upto the district and even lower administrative levels.
Exclusionary Attributes:
HH who receive income from regular salaried and organised sector employment;
Residential Living Density – more than 0.5 room per person (excluding kitchen)
HH Owning any of these items : – tube well, electric/diesel pump / tractor / biogas plant
HH owing a diesel / petrol driven vehicles such as car, motor cycle, scooter
HH who owns a Refrigerator or Colour Television

Inclusionary Attributes:
Household Head not educated upto 8th standard
SCs, STs and BC-Muslim households
HHs not using LPG, Kerosene, Cooking coal for cooking
Households having MG-NREGA job cards
HH with a sick person as indicated in a pre-approved list

Download GOI Committee Reports

Government of India Committee Reports:
On Andhra Pradesh:
On Muslims in India:

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Economic Paradigm and National Integration

The paradigm of economic and social development in India has evolved from the socialistic pattern to the one of openness and private-public partnership. Ideologically socialistic performance of the government soon after the Independence ensured that private corporate and other vested interest could not appropriate national resources such that the masses could have been adversely affected. Although the trigger happy economic evangelists do abuse the older economic system, what should be recognized at the time of the Independence, fresh with the influence of Gandhian thought and preaching, there could not have been any other choice to socialistic thought, at that time promoting a sense of equality although the sense of ownership was non-existent; excepting the relief that the Government has control over them, and that they are safe and not looted. The Nehurivian concerns therefore during the first few decades after Independence in my view were not only relevant but necessary.

However, a reminiscence of the process of development in India, invokes a considerable amount of satisfaction that India indeed has gone through a process of transformation from the license raj to opening up towards promoting private initiatives to exploit resources, in a way at the right time although such a change was forced upon due to the technocratic and purely fiscal prudence. Thus the recognition and promotion of the private initiative in development as a policy response to fast growth is commendable. Yet it is necessary to ponder upon as what kind of lopsided development and growth can occur should the government begin to absolve the role of the ‘trustee’ of the national and natural resources, while the private sector engulfed with the forces of free economy and competition penetrates to such economic dominions which were thus far insulated from exploitation, mostly due to lack of demand and largely due to lack of investments which governments could not bring.

Therefore, the economic process which are private but in principle endorsed by the public systems which also claim to be the so called ‘inclusive’ can damage the very fabric of nation hood and nation building. The economy and markets must operate and indeed promote the concept of nation hood and promote national integration, while making profits through exploiting local natural and human resources and adding value to the GDP.
Two pronged policies for growth and national interest are suggested, (a) an inclusive economic penetration and (b) a social framework which promotes equity and participation.

1. Integration inernally not outwardly: It is common to find that in the name of national integration one finds mass movements of people from mainstream areas in India to the periphery. This can happen in organized manner such as through government employment, movement of security forces to peripheral states; or this can happen due to market forces where both people and products penetrate into the periphery regions such as hill areas, north eastern states and so on.

Development orientation must ensure that the people and products from the periphery find a place in the mainland public, private and market spaces. This approach will not only bring progress in the deprived peripheral areas but also a high degree of national integration.

2. Identify and Cherish Cultural Values: Another strong mechanism through which national integration can take place is by identifying (cataloging) and promoting through recognition and appreciation social values, customs and practices from amongst the deprived and peripheral geographic areas and communities which can do beneficial to the mainland geography and communities. Such an approach may even be necessary to address a number of MDG goals such as child bearing and raring practices, gender relations (for example widow remarriage, woman’s inheritance and ownership rights and so on),

3. Promotion of Multiple Language Education: It is essential that along with the national and regional languages, mother tongue and international languages such as English are promoted through formal schooling. Currently there is hardly any importance give to provide primary education in mother tongue. Besides, access to English language is not found in publically provided schools and taking advantage this is done of private schooling but at a high cost and that too for a poor quality education. This anomaly in medium of instructions must be eliminated on an urgent basis. Arguments such as children will be burdened with too many languages are not adequate enough; to deny primary education in mother tongue and also English (other foreign languages) education.

4. Fund Translation of Literature in a New Language: Another strategy which can bind the nation together is to undertake massive efforts, to translate major compendiums of socio-cultural, historical and literary value into to multiple languages. This should not be from only one or two languages, rather from all other languages (including peripheral) to mainstream languages. This will be an excellent way to promote mutual respect to pluralistic value systems which prevail in India.