Monday, August 30, 2010

Big League India! Should we Celebrate?

Yes and NO !
The world is jubilant after a recovery, albeit meek, from the global gloom of economic meltdown of 2008-10 rivaling only the depression of the 1930’s. This recovery seems to have occurred by resilient growth in China and India and large bailout and economic restructuring packages offered by the US and European economies. While China has pushed down Japan to take second place next only to the US, India has also found a place in the top ten or trillion dollar economies and poised to take 5th position much before 2030.

India indeed has come a long way to create a niche for itself in the global economic space. The world foresee a demographic advantage that India can harness, given young age structure and a fast and consistent pace of income growth in GDP which is propelling shifts in consumption classes generating huge domestic demand for practically all types of modern goods and services. The markets for such products in the west are close to saturation and at the most meager. The investors world over, look into India as the power house to manufacture and export goods and services at cost effective contracts as well. There is also an expectation that India during the next 20-30 years will continue to provide trained manpower to the firms and business in the western world due to its relatively higher fertility levels and larger young age population.

There are credible predictions of large shifts in consumption behavior from the basic necessities to discretionary items and services. Indians are now being recognized as being the “maharajas of the technological type across the world”! Yet the fallacy of the growing economy gets highlighted only when one looks in to disparities of income. Although as measured by Gini coefficients the disparity of income/ consumption in India is about one half the level of China; it is interesting to watch the income disparities across the emerging markets during the next decade or so especially in India and China.

India produces close to 200 million tons of food grains including pulses and is self-sufficient so far as agricultural output is concerned. Yet one finds extremely high levels of malnutrition amongst the children and even the expectant and lactating mothers in India. The puzzling fact is that the level of malnourishment is even more than a number of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa which is so well known as the poorest part of the world.

The demographic dividends are expected out of labour supply potential that India has over other emerging economics of the world. However, it is also important to note that India’s population will also generates domestic demand in such a way that a substantial labour and skill pool is required to sustain domestic markets thus thrusting a considerable pressure on the global demand for labour either through fewer leaving India for other greener pastures; or though increase in exports of manufactured goods and services.

Both India and China are already facing shortage in a number of high skilled professions. The income growth is fueling air travel, while capital is aplenty to purchase/lease carriers both are facing serious shortage of aircraft pilots. Similarly, physicians, doctors, surgeons will be short of demand in both the economics especially when medical tourism is booming already in India. India so well known in having supplied software engineers all over the world will itself face serious shortage at home. While India is not at the verge of declining workforce as is the case with China; India has huge demerit in having a low educated and unskilled manpower which will be of hardly any use in the growing sectors of the economy. This means it is surely meant to increase wage bills not far from now in which case the labour and wage advantage that India had in the globalizing competitive environment will be lost, thus exposing the economy to risk of stagnation. Growing mismatch between the type of education skilled manpower that these countries have and the demand in the markets by the newly established companies and industries are going to cause a serious challenge within the next decade or so.

The structure of global competitive economy is such that India was the seventh largest in terms of volume of output at the time of its Independence; but in spite of the apparent high growth trajectory it is no where closer to that ranking presently. However, at the beginning of the 21st century the world is taking India seriously, mostly due to the imminent demographic advantage that this country is demonstrating to the world. India has always been a brain trust and exporter of highly educated manpower especially to the western world and to undertake business to countries such as the south-east Asia. Besides, considerable number of skilled (even at lower levels) labour force was attracted towards the west Asian economies right from the 1970s and this trend not yet reversed. While it would be fare that India would made all efforts to ensure that the newly developed production and distribution markets are sustained using the available labour and skills; it would be somewhat over ambitious to say that the Indian labour force will indeed be available to meet the requirement of the outside economies. On the contrary however, a noticeable number of professionals are returning back to India to seek employment in high growth sectors such as the Information Technology, Research and Development in pharmaceuticals and medicine and other high technology sectors. India needs large investments in education and technological training so as to skill growing labour force and meet the expectations at least partially.

India has many puzzles and dualisms: for example the debates over ‘India’ versus ‘Bharat’ or the urban rural divide; the unorganized versus organized workforce; continuance of abject poverty and hunger when the growth rates are best in the world; and issues revolving around social and income poverty. These debates will be explored in the subsequent chunks of articles to follow.

Four Years after Sachar? Are Muslims better off in India?

An article published in OUTLOOK INDIA Magazine, Special Independice day Issue, 23rd August 2010.

The Lamb's Share

It is essential to begin this essay by emphasizing the fact that the minorities including the Muslims maintain aspirations and seek opportunities for development similar to any other community in India. Yet an empirical review suggests Muslims lagging practically in all spheres of development including education, employment, income and assets and so on. There are some efforts from both the centre and state governments to overcome deprivation amongst the Muslims across India, but a quick review of outcomes suggest little improvements. There is a need for durable changes, firstly a recognition that deprivation amongst the minorities /
Muslims exists due to systemic causes which can be set right only through broad based public policy initiatives, not entirely through special purpose vehicles such as the minority/Muslim oriented programs; rather assisting them to strive to access their share within the mainstream line ministries, departments and programs.

India through the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment has made a strong socio-political statement of its arrival as a matured democracy, championing multi-layer decentralized governance, sharing substantial powers and national pool of resources with the States. Further, the enduring cannons of governance and economic development are grounded in principals of socialism, inclusiveness and secularism and fully conscious of regional imbalance given a large expanse of the Indian nation. India probably is a rare example of pluralism, with multi-dimensional cultural and social groupings, language, race, region and not the least religion; in short rich in diversity.

Like other main communities of India, the Muslims should be able to pursue social, economic and educational aspirations within the frame and support of government provided infrastructure, opportunities and political awakening. Thus one expect ‘diversity’ - the diversity natural to our population should get reflected in the public spheres such as in educational institutions, public and organized sector employment, political system and governance structures at all levels. Yet, in spite of the fact that practically all social, educational and economic spheres of living are governed, regulated and implemented by the States; one would find substantial (often unacceptable level) differences between varied social groups and across states. Such differentials are prominent in spite of special constitutional provisions bestowed upon the minorities since the Independence.

Over 150 million citizens, just about 14% of all Indians profess Islam as their religion and reside across all parts of India. Muslims are the largest (80%) of all identified minorities of India. They reside in substantial numbers and proportions in states such as Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, UP and Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra and so on. There are examples and best practices found within India. Consider the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, all have devised policies favoring Muslims at two levels. (a) Along with all others, the Muslims have relatively better access to quality mass education (both elementary and higher level) and employment; and (b) given the history of relative deprivation of the Muslims the state policy have extended the benefit of reservations in a certain measure of fractional-proportions linked to their size and share in population. Such quotas are enabling the Muslim girls and boys to catch up with their peers amongst the Hindus and Christians, both in education and employment. Similar provisions will enable Muslims to participate even in the political spaces; and Andhra Pradesh has made a beginning by promoting a system of ‘co-option’ or ‘nomination’ system to the Mandals (sub-taluka), Zila Parishads and Municipalities/Naga Panchayets (AP Panchayat Act 2006).

Thus maintaining diversity in public spheres is essential. When this does not happen naturally, it has to be made to happen through government intervention. Legislation can be one way; and the mechanism is to remind the government and the institutions that ensuring diversity is their responsibility; the state should have done it in the first place. Diversity can be assured in India by offering incentives/credits to government departments, institutions, universities, panchayats, PSU and so on.

Another mechanism is to provide institutional access to any one of the citizens (including religious minorities) to ensure ‘Equity’ in public sphere. An ‘Equal Opportunity Commission’ will go a long way both to ensure diversity as a key state objective, and it can also function as an institution to enforce redressal.

The national government has made some efforts during the past 3-4 years to address various aspects of Muslim deprivation. Broadly under the revised 15-point programme, a special investment program in about 100 minority (includes substantial Christian and Muslim populations) concentration districts (MCD); exclusive scholarships are announced for the first time to cover minorities both in elementary and higher levels of education. The RBI is consistently sending memos to the public sector banks to increase funding to the applicants from the minorities and so on. However, a review of all the above programs suggest, that the MCD program has not even made presence in many states such as West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Gujarat. The overall utilization is less than 20% of the total funds earmarked to this program since inception. Similarly the scholarship program although very popular is able to cover only a fraction of total applicants; and it appears that the public sector banks have not even taken a note of the repeated requests make by the RBI which is a matter to utmost concern.

The larger malice of exclusion has to be fought unitedly by all ‘regular-line departments’ and Ministries at the national and State levels. It also needs collaboration and partnership with civil society and private institutional structures. How will a separate Ministry ensure the implementation of more than 300 programs that aim to alleviate poverty and improve human development which will promote inclusiveness of the excluded, whether they be Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Muslims?

In the absence of any time-line, program-specific implementative strategy and clarity with respect to monitoring tools and mechanisms, no results will be forthcoming. It is important to mention that a flat policy of earmarking 15 per cent of budgetary allocations to favor the minorities is not implementable. Rather, the service delivery procedures must use population shares at the “program specified operational levels” such as the district, taluka and block levels so as to ensure maximum coverage and provide a sense of equity. The early euphoria and expectations are dying out. The UPA -1 took many initiatives to dissect and diagnose the problem, and UPA -2 must ensure that inclusive policies are actually implemented before the people at large become disappointed. I only hope this does not lead to frustration.

How will Caste Census affect the Muslims in India?

Published as an editorial article in the Indian Express, 23rd August, 2010

Casting the Caste Net

The GoM under Shri Pranab Mukherjee’s chairmanship has approved collecting Caste information in Census 2011. Although Muslims are considered a casteless community, it is a diverse society and practically all are experiencing deep levels of deprivation in various social, educational and economic facets of life. In the following I discuss alternatives for collecting caste data and also highlight implications to the Muslim community within the context of inclusive development agenda of the UPA government.

Open ended question method: Given a large number of castes and caste like identities in India; whatever ‘caste name’ the informants’ report can be filled-in and codified later. A pre-coded list of castes that enumerators normally carry to ascertain the SC/ST identity will continue; and for all others it can be open ended caste reporting. Such a method will reveal the actual numbers, but from these numbers it is not possible to declare a particular caste as backward or forward. The information on socio, economic and educational indicators which will be collected in the Census 2011may not be adequate to compute the backwardness or forwardness of castes. The Muslim community will participate in this process of data collection of the open ended caste identities along with all other community groups in India. But it appears that such an open method will not be used in the 2011 census operation although the demand of cast collection of data is of this nature.

Matching of reported caste with the pre-coded Caste/Class Lists: As mentioned above the SCs and STs are so identified using a pre-coded list which is matched at the time of census taking itself. Thus, only two coded categories are extracted from the Census which are used to estimate the SCs and STs for any geographic or administrative area. Now since the demand for the caste census has been made mostly by the castes which can be grouped as the OBCs (other backward classes); it is but expected that similar procedure is used to collect the share of OBCs in the 2011 census.
Unlike in case for the SCs/STs for whom the respective lists are being compiled and updated since last six censuses in Independent India; the case for OBCs is to be undertaken for the first time in 2011. The most likely benchmark will be a list of OBCs from the Mandal Commission. It is puzzling to note that as per the Mandal Commission, ‘OBC list’ is considered a ‘class category with little sociological, cultural or economic basis to designate as such. Besides, the OBC list was prepared almost 30 years ago and that too in the absence of any dependable data. The communities were identified using some sketchy data from 1931 census of India and in many cases even by the Mandal Commission’s own view are ‘best guesses’. I am of the opinion that using the OBC list during the 2011 census to identify the size and share of OBC will be highly problematic, and it will make devising inclusive policies difficult both at the national and state level.

The Mandal Commission has guessed the percentages of both the Hindu and non-Hindu OBCs based on assumptions. For example, one notices wide variation in identifying the ‘castes’ and their shares to qualify as OBCs both in State and Central lists. For example, in case of Muslims, while almost all Muslims in Kerala are listed as OBCs, almost none (very small proportion) in West Bengal are listed as such in the Mandal Commission document. About 40% of Muslims are counted as the OBCs in Uttar Pradesh and such OBCs in Karnataka are about 5-7%. The OBC listing for the Muslims for all the respective states is just ‘guestimates’ and are not true estimates. Using such lists will do more harm to the cause of Muslims especially because a large number or proportion of Muslims will be counted as those belonging to the ‘high castes/class’ and therefore will be excluded from any scheme of affirmative action (for example, if government considers implementation of Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations or other similar inclusive policies).

It could be seen from the statement below that only about 25% of all Hindus are considered as the High Castes or socio-economically better offs; whereas, about 50% of Muslims are classified as High Castes or socio-economically better offs. This is because none from the Muslims are classified under the SCs/STs category and all such Muslims with the SC / ST identity are actually listed as the High Castes/Class which is unacceptable. This is a serious anomaly in estimates of OBCs by Mandal commission in case of Muslim community.

Mandal Commission Caste/Class Classification and Proportions of
Hindus and Muslims in India
Religion SCs+STs OBCs All Others (High Caste/Class)
Hindus 23 52 25
Muslims 0 52 48
Source: Extracts from the Mandal Commission

In view of these facts it is essential that correct estimates with respect to (a) ‘SCs/STs type Muslims’, (b) ‘OBC Muslims’ and (c) ‘all other Muslims’ are undertaken with care and sensitivity. Even if the SC/ST type of Muslims are not so listed due to certain procedural hurdles even when legally and constitutionally appropriate; such Muslims must be listed as OBCs in which case upto 80% of all Muslims will be so classified. Note that, practically all Muslims in India are converts and hardly any original Muslims who migrated from out of erstwhile Indian territory now reside in India. Further, it is historically documented that most of those converted to Islam belong to low castes such as the dalits and the tribes. The ‘Sachar Committee’ (2006) on status of Muslims in India has also clearly revealed the distressing socio-economic and educational conditions of Muslims of India.

I will be almost impossible to prepare a list of Muslim caste/class for classifying them as Muslim-OBCs. Therefore, I suggest that ‘list of exclusion’ can be prepared so as to determine the social forwardness or backwardness of a large section of Muslims in India. Such list of exclusion can be prepared for each state separately after consultations with the state level Muslim intellectuals and religious bodies. Thus, once a list of exclusion is prepared, all other Muslims who do not match with the list of exclusion can be identified as the “Muslim OBCs”.

Given the UPA governments resolve to ensure inclusive development of India, it is necessary a serious anomaly with respect to identification of the Muslims OBCs is removed before the conduct of the 2011 census, lest the discrimination so far faced by the Muslims continue for ever after.

[A rejoinder to this article can be found in this link:]