Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The phenomenon called 'Singur'

The phenomenon called 'Singur' that’s happening presently in West Bengal, as all sensible people (astonishingly, so many of them!) are saying, is truly grimacing. I hope this *Honourable Lady* will be saluted for ages for giving our state such a brilliant setback in economy. And, just see, what an intellect she is manifesting celebrating “ma-mati-manusher joy”/ “people’s victory” because Tata has bidden goodbyes to us all. Even Narendra Modi’s letters and the disparagement all over the world over this issue wouldn’t aggrieve her. Oh, yes, all the greatest of greatest Economists and their greatest of greatest theories are absolute trash and all of these have actually been formulated as a part of the Big Plot called the pro-CPM-fanaticism!

Well, the question is not about taking any one of the sides right now. Even our *Honourable ruling party*, with thousands of divisions and collisions of opinions amidst it's own members, isn’t on the side of a “pure” economic development. Why at all start the construction of the project when a section of the people were so much unwilling right from the beginning? How much an increase to the vote bank could they have gained from this single portion of the state? Or why not change the name of the party altogether to something like “People’s Welfare Party” or so? Which part of India is still following the ideologies of pure communism/socialism? Or, perhaps, defining themselves as “Communist Party of India”, they are emphasizing this is how exactly communism runs in India, are they??

The worst of all things is this that the old man on whose land the factory now stands, neither gets back his land nor a placement in the industry for his son. Sorry, whose victory is this? Did you say “people’s”?? Amidst the political jugglery, a wonderful boost to the State’s economy is held back. A brilliant prospect of Bengal’s industrial development and redemption of the vast magnitude of the state’s educated and disguised unemployment is pulled to a stop. I expect a long way has to be traveled before the people of West Bengal understand that industry is necessary for agriculture to become an industry – for farmers to live like entrepreneurs. That acres of picturesque farm-lands are also available (in abundance, at that) in Scotland and Wales, but a handful of manpower is complemented by sophisticated machinery and technology there. And, for that to happen here, labour from agriculture has to be absorbed in industries; industries are required in turn to produce equipments, infrastructure and national income; so that, ultimately, both efficiency and productivity in agriculture get a boost.

Contentment is a great virtue. But, where nescience, political exploitation and illiteracy are sewed in, it’s dangerous. (A simple example: coming here for the vacations to a remote town in Orissa, where my father is posted presently, I’ve tried a little deal to pursue the village children over here to come for learning the basic alphabets and the numerals. But, on asking repeatedly the few children in the near vicinity, most of them were aghast by the aspect that they’d have to cut short their playing and wandering hours. A little girl even asked me, “Aap shaadi nahin karengi, didi?”. They couldn’t really see the point in studying the basic alphabets and the numerals. So much so, that they’ve stopped visiting me now and I’m still not having any luck with them… To think that I had actually got enthusiastic students in Bihar and West Bengal! But, this is the condition in most of the rural and tribal areas of our country.) Indian rural people have become far too habituated and contented with the lack of electricity and amenities; paucity and kachcha roads; to understand what industries can bring them. Or as Andre Beteille says, in the 13th October issue of The Telegraph, that Bengalis are far too influenced by the Marxist ideas like the capitalist-worker conflict, the class war etc. as have been preached by the leftist government for the last 30 years, that any sort of logic supporting the LPG policy infuriates a large portion of the local population even now.

Dislodgment of people and occupation has also happened in the past whenever constructions of large-scale and medium-scale industries have been undertaken in several parts of India. Thousands of people have suffered even then – no elevation by any kind of development has reached the grass-root levels whatsoever. (In fact, as a child, I’ve myself witnessed the distress of the poor villagers due to the thermal power project at Kahalgaon, Bihar..) As to what really should be done to avoid such situations of chaos in people’s lives and in the state’s order, I’ll quote one of my dear old bondhu-dadas, Kaushik-da, who has reasoned brilliantly on a comprehensive land-mapping exercise where-by the administration and the authorities should:
“a) make a land inventory of the principal food /non-food/cash-crop producing areas
b) identify the areas, mouza wise or by any comparative index, which are very fertile/productive/value (commercial) –generating ,terming it as A** , 'very fertile' and gradually drilling down to lands of progressively lower value quotients, terming the least of such fertile land as say F**, (Fallow) and arriving at an updated on-line position of the same ,
c) inventorise areas having high rural incomes and categorizing them on the basis of their degree of marketability of produce
d) enumerate areas where large , contiguous land fronts are available and make a productivity-mapping of these areas
e) map out the demographic density of these various land parcels (with differing fertility/productivity) and gauge the socio-economic dispositions of its inhabitants (family -totally/partially- dependent on agriculture/or enjoying alternate source of income etc) ,
f) delineate the land areas which are located proximate to sources of water, power., communication etc and make a stratification of such areas in terms of high/medium/low productivity etc.”

Following this process, Kaushik-da (yes, given a chance, I’d have published his complete write-up, but for his protests) reasons:
“Then, of course, the process of land acquisition/leasing from Government/private hands, the issue of valuation of such land parcels, displacement/rehabilitation- social and economic/ options of gainful employment- (after adequate training or otherwise) ----and the options of profitability share etc – needs to be discussed threadbare and comprehensively. General Guidelines and Policy Principles may need to be sounded out regarding if the investor needs to negotiate with the landowner/tenant/associated user directly or allows the Government to function as the major intermediary and the detailed process there-of needs to be ideated and debated. This can be arrived at by the principal political parties, with agriculturists, economists, social planners, land-revenue experts, providing the much need technical/scientific/statistical/normative and empirical data base.

For instance, there have been a large number of project-evictees, 'ecological refugees', dispossessed and displaced, sequel to the slew of thermal and hydro power and other capital projects taken up in the past who have failed to receive any kind of worthwhile social and economic rehabilitation packages, despite lofty promises made by the project/government authorities. Can we have a detailed empirical data bank of such instances and factor into the legitimate expectations of these hapless dispossessed (who received paltry recompenses which were, in most cases frittered away in no time in absence of any worthwhile and commensurate employment packages!! ) Mohd Yunus can give us interesting leads here!”

I’ll add to Kaushik-da’s suggestions, that all these demarcations and discussions must be made known to the public by an impartial body in the media. Possibly, all the land-delineations have also been worked out by the agriculture and the industry departments (I mean, the efficient bureaucrats are always at work, see), but the data should be made known to the general public. Else, without the understanding of why a particular land is selected for the erection of an industry, or without simply the knowledge of the data, we can't help people in preparing themselves and making up their minds for the new development. Also, in that way, things will be transparent and administration will be easier.

Anyway, students of ICSE and CBSE boards have read enough of Civics, Economics and Geography to understand what’s happening in their country. What do our dear old ministers and leaders think they are doing out there? Did they believe Hirok Raja-r Mogojdholai-er jontro is applicable here??


Sayan Datta said...

I am not qualified in the least bit to comment here, Sayantani. I am sure you would understand that for a layman like me, it is a difficult task to realize the nuances of the economical implications of either industry or agriculture, especially given that my only source of knowledge on topics such as these are stray newspaper reports and what I get to see on television (which often seem to me to be biased either this way or that, which is why I find it hard to trust their authenticity and never take them for their word, and I have never had the occasion of finding out situations on the ground first hand). City bred as I am, I do understand the importance of industry (at least as much as any other commoner), though I find it extremely difficult (and I will make no qualms in accepting it) to realize the emotional attachment villagers have to their land, at least in any appreciable measure. Perhaps our freedom struggle and the immense popularity it gained countrywide, was more from an attachment to land (worshipped in our country as Dharti-maata or Mother Earth) than to any idea of 'freedom' as such. Little did I know that this attachment could take such voluminous proportions and that politicians could use it as a means to their own selfish end.
A friend and former room mate, who hails from a village (and a rather remote one) did try to give me a peek into the mind of the average villager, and this is what I learned from him - The villager will trade his land for absolutely nothing! No amount of persuasion or compensation can induce him to change his mind. When I tried to tell him how unreasonable and utterly futile such inflexibility and obstinacy is.... his smiling response was - "Well, I understand Sayan, but try reasoning with them." You know, there's a saying in Assamese which translates to "If there is rice in your own house, then why go looking for it elsewhere?", and I am sure you know, the Assamese are not known for making extravagant voyages (the live happily cocooned in their own shell).
As for poor villagers being obstinate and unwilling to live a better life, let me just say that I have had the occasion to teach a few of them, and I can tell (out of a little experience, if not anything else)that you are by and large right.
Lastly, I would request Sayantani and other readers to consider the fact that the above comes from a humble layman. So you don't really need to attach much importance to it.
Sayan da.

Sayantani said...

Dear Sayan-da,

No problem, Sayan-da :). I'm a layman as much as you are. Though being a fresh student in Economics, I'm sure that my professors would have liked to read it coming more from an Economist (darn me! I'm not yet an Economist! But, what I mean is this that I could have atleast made the write-up sound more Economics) rather than a daily newspaper-reader. It is important, I expect, in this context atleast, that we understand the necessity of industrialisation just as laymen before being anything else. And, I'm also glad that I've a few (if not many) fellowmen who are also trying to follow the "each one teach one" policy in the littlest possible way..

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Twenty years ago I was already doubtful whether I knew much about economics and related social issues: now I am sure I know virtually nothing at all! (Amartya Sen knew, for instance, that staying on in India as an economics professor would be a bad idea).

I wish that I knew that Mamata is a fool, and that our CM genuinely understands what is good for the people of Bengal (which people?) and is honestly trying all he can to get if for them.

Kaushik said...

On the contrary, Sayan has raised an issue very relevantly and forcefully and it’s worth a take at a very deeper level, yes!

In the following, I’m just thinking aloud, blabbering so to say, taking the permissive indulgence of Sayantani and all her blog readers for their quiet sufferance.

• As has been opined in quite a few articles by liberal left-minded intellectuals, land has continued to be an important emotive issue dominating the cultural, linguistic, literary and political mindscape of people in Eastern region of the country, particularly Bengal. The causes of peasants’ movements, realisation of the inalienable rights of the cultivators/tenants vis-à-vis the landlords, extension of the rights of ownership of the basic means of production to the ultimate tiller with the gradual marginalization of the intermediaries, (“Jomi Jar Langol Tar”), concepts of “Bhumi-Lakshmi” in Bengali folk-lore, the impassioned calls of “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan”, even such literary couplets coined by Sadhak Ramprasad as far back as in the early eighteenth century “ Emon manab jomin roilo potit, abad korle pholto shona” , have always helped fire the people’s fancy about the sanctity and the ‘absolute non-negotiability’ of land , being held passionately close to one’s livelihood and destiny.

• Even the etymological significance of the words “Krishti” (as brilliantly explained in “Krishti, Culture, Sanskriti” by late Prof Nisith Ranjan Ray ) and “Prokorshoban” (meaning ‘highly cultured /cultivated’ ) and progressive drilling down of the word to “Karshan”, “Krishi”, as suggestive of ‘cultivation’/ ‘agriculture’, being the bed-rock of all cultures, are all pointers to the basic ‘physiocratic’ paradigm of agricultural supremacy (over all other sectors being regarded as ‘sterile’) -reigning supreme in our ethos, binding ourselves in a medieval charm; which, incidentally, was also idealized by the thinking sections of the European intelligentsia and plebeians alike, in the early seventeenth century, before the ushering of mercantile and industrial capitalism, preceding the Industrial Revolution.

• Alongside, the pejorative of “exploitative”, “dirty” getting invariably associated in the Marxist lexicon to anything and almost everything that one had to do with ‘capital’ -- being held inimical to the goal of eventual proleterisation of the state, [to simplify the matter a bit, being fed by concepts moving along the linear causal cycle, viz., capital growth solely coming in the form of “dissociation” between the ‘means of production’ owning entrepreneurs and ‘labour’ owning producer → leading to production of commodities and their sale at progressively higher prices vis-à-vis the costs (since the capitalists being always close to the markets and means of production could influence the prices at their will), → the differences being appropriated by the capitalists as “surplus value”, the building block of capital accumulation→ thereby depriving the labourers anything beyond their minimum wages, deemed barely adequate to just sustain them in the production cycle], unbridled militancy and entrenched trade unionism ensured gradual flight of capital from Bengal and the connect between ‘industry’ and’ agriculture’ as complementary pillars of development rather than “competitive rivals” got snapped gradually, almost irrevocably. In the heady days of the Naxalite movements (or the land-related agitations centering Telengana), misty-eyed admiration was reserved for the revolutionary firebrands but scarcely anyone, including the educated elite, rued the flight of capital or on its relentless onslaught, flagrantly perpetrated by a desperate and a volatile (an extremely talented lot, though) section of a burgeoning political class.

• The absence of commensurate growth of other manufacturing/tertiary sectors in the economy which could also have been the alternate source and sustenance of livelihood of a vast sections of populace and absorb the “disproportionate spillage” of population on land, invariably turned the public attention on agriculture- the messiah, the very epitome of our economic existence!

• This was exploited politically by all the parties to the hilt. Also remember, the large scale migration of the hapless refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan, in search of land and livelihood (most of them, owning tracts of land as ‘landlords’, were forced to settle here as vagrants and were derisively referred to as ‘Lords’- having been stripped of their ‘lands’) also provided the proverbial grist to the electoral mill of the mainstream political parties, on the either side of the ideological divide, to rule the roost!

• Decentralization of decision making through the rural Panchayats and land reforms the Left Government undertook in the late 70s and the early 80s (for which it could justifiably stake credit) also consolidated the rural/quasi-urban agricultural/primary sector which constituted one of the most stable and secure rural vote banks , helping the party in governance to ‘up its ante’ at the successive hustings (even at the cost of unabashed negligence of other issues - health and education and infrastructure- to name just a few!) and it was simply a case of status quo ante – an applecart carefully built and too vital to be unsettled so easily.

• Without going into statistical nitpickings, may we just ponder at the broad points. Just look at this scenario- the contribution of agriculture and other primary activities (in value terms) to the GDP which was around 55-58% during independence, had gradually come down to a mere 20% or there-abouts, while, the percentage of population, directly/indirectly dependent on agriculture/primary activities to sustain their sources of livelihood, still continues to be as high as 60% - so the unmistakable message here is that with continuous fragmentation of land, (and largely limited technological gains having trickled down to the agricultural sector since the First Agro-revolution of the late 60s), its marginal productivity /value generation is continually on the decline ; hence, there is an urgent necessity to seamlessly transfer the excess pressure of this population on land (which Dr Sen refers to as “surplus labour in disguised employment”) to rapidly generating industries.

• In fact, between the ‘ed’ and ‘ing’ following the word ‘develop’ falls the looming shadow- in the countries belonging to the former bracket, the contribution of agriculture/primary activity to the generation of National Income has progressively shrunk to the tune of 2-5% while for the latter, it is still as high as 25-30%. This economic transition (i.e relative diminution of the agricultural sector vis-à-vis the secondary and services sector as the principal value generator) is a must if a country aims to net a growth rate of say 10%, since the Incremental-Capital-Output- Ratio would always be high for Manufacturing/industrial sector –the virtual “engine for growth”.

• Now, the Government after decades of detached dementia has suddenly turned around and wants to erase its Rip-Van-Winkle inertia at one go -- as if in a desperate trial, it wants to make amends for its cussedness and insularity -- and wants to put the industrial bandwagon firmly placed on the developmental agenda of the state---- but alas, its ideas are being gorged up by the very monster it had created and nurtured all these years, having been zealously appropriated now by its principal adversary sitting on the other side of the political fence !!

• And a dead end has been reached! Now, where does the twain meet?

Love & Regards,
Kaushik Chatterjee

srean said...

The discussion brings out another important point: the almost total content freeness of our media. Print media in particular, television isnt even worth considering (mumbai attack footage mixed with sensationalized music as if its a chase sequence in a film)

Hardly ever do I find a reporter doing a good job of reporting, digging out the facts and analyzing them. Even if I leave out the issue of what to report on, (objects of singular attention are celebrity, and cricket) there is much more to reporting than quoting the claims and counter-claims by the authorities/politicians and their ilk.

I am sure many choose to become a journalist with some sense of idealism and love for the subject. But dont know what happens to them. Thankfully few blogs and bloggers are there giving us the news and a few exceptional newspapers.