Late Night Edition

Headlines: 

Government on Wednesday claimed in the Rajya Sabha that over three crore families had benefited from the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) programme and Rs 8,000 crore had been transferred to the accounts of the beneficiaries. 

Lok Capital LLC, an India focused microfinance venture capital fund, has raised its fund size by about 80 per cent to $ 22 million from $14.5 million (as of November 2007). The investors in this final close is not known.  Lok Capital has already invested a total of $3 million in two MFIs – Janalakshmi in Bangalore and Spandana (alongwith JM Financial) in Hyderabad.

Google has launched a dedicated portal of Google services for non-profit organizations. Google for Non-Profits offers “a one-stop shop for tools to help advance your organization’s mission in a smart, cost-efficient way.” This site includes ideas and tutorials on ways Google tools can be used to promote non-profits, raise money and operate more efficiently.

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Development’s Double-Edged Sword

In a largely critical piece on India’s development titled On the Road to Disaster in India in the World Politics Review, Parag Khanna paints a picture which questions the country’s rising status. Moreover, Khanna charges the government with a lack of planning that is leading to haphazard development.

To get straight to the punchline:

For all the good news about India, there is one fact its leaders cannot transcend no matter which deity they pray to: A country is an organism, not a Lego set. Zones of development and zones of depletion cannot be kept separated. It is a race between the two to engulf the other, and in India the outcome is far from certain.

Is Khanna’s critique accurate? Despite all the innovation and development in India, will the government’s actions (or lack of) negate any progress?

Farmer Suicides Continue

As an update to a previous post, “Seeds of Discontent,” InfoChange India reports that despite the recent government loan waiver package for poor farmers with less than 2 hectares of land, farmer suicides continue:

 Even as the UPA government works out the nitty-gritty of the Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver for farmers, announced in its 2008 Union budget, farmers in Vidarbha and other parts of Maharashtra and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh continue to end their lives.

 Vidarbha remains a grim statistic, with 24 farmers from the region reported to have committed suicide since February 29.  Elsewhere in Maharashtra, eight farmers killed themselves.  In Andhra Pradesh, adjoining Vidarbha, 38 farmers have ended their lives since the loan waiver was announced, according to state revenue department figures. 

The government claims there is no connection between the loan waivers and recent suicides, but local community members in these regions differ –

 A young farmer Jayarami Reddy (35) of Marrikunta village in Kurnool district and his wife Saraswati committed suicide three days after the loan waiver announcement when they realised they did not qualify for it.

 Satyanarayan Reddy of Kodur village, Krishna district, had 4 acres of land and his loans from private moneylenders totalled Rs 2 lakh. The local moneylender succeeded in getting him arrested, resulting in two months’ rigorous imprisonment for the farmer. After his release, his creditors threatened to send his wife to jail. This proved too much for the 45-year-old farmer who committed suicide on March 9. 

The land size stipulation in the government waiver remains a point of contention for critics.  For more information, go here.

A “Renewal” for India’s Disabled

As mentioned in a previous post entitled, “Treating More than Diarrhea,” the condition of  India’s mentally and physically disabled population, in terms of the provision of basic amenities or medical services, is dismal.  As per official data, India has 21 million disabled people, but non-government agencies are less conservative in their estimate, and place the figure at 60 million.  Even though the rights of the disabled are protected by the Persons with Disabilities Act (1995), India lags behind in providing such services as, for example, wheelchair-friendly buildings.    

In an effort to ameliorate this problem, the Indian government has recently launched a groundbreaking national interactive disability web portal.  The site is named Punarbhava, which means “renewed being”, and has the aim of serving as an information/resource platform for people with disabilities, as well as those who work with them.  According to an article posted on Yahoo, the website features the following:

 The portal is categorized mainly into three segments: the first segment will be a National Disability Register that will give statistical information on the disabled population in India. The second segment of the portal covers the resources, which include available online courses, catalogues knowledge repository of audio, video and Braille files in Indian languages, books related to disability and news magazine. The third segment is proposed to have Grievance Redressal mechanism through Web Court. In future, this will redress the complaints related to Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, National Trust, and Rehabilitation Council of India . It also proposes to provide transaction assistance. 

Even though Puranbhava is only the first step, the provision of services through the government potentially has the effect of ushering in a more “inclusive” era of rights, services, and provisions for the disabled population.  The hope is that through official, government-sponsored programs, cultural and social norms regarding disabilities will also begin to change.

Reclaiming the Land

As brought to our attention by InfoChangeIndia, the phenomenon of urban migration is a multidimensional issue, with social and economic repercussions, both for rural and urban India. As described in an article entitled, “This Land is Ours!”, as a result of urban migration, women in rural communities are undergoing changes in terms of their roles within the family structure:

The village [Narsenahall, Karnataka] is part of a nationwide trend in agriculture, which over the last few years has seen huge changes. While more and more men are migrating to urban areas and large industrialised farms looking for paid work, women stay in the village and are increasingly taking over cultivating the land. According to estimates by Bina Agarwal, an academic researching and writing about women and land rights, almost half of the land in India is now farmed by women. The changes mean that in the rural areas the vast majority of women — around 85% — are now farmers.

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Caged by the Public Sector

Over the past three years, the Indian economy has surged at an average rate of 9% per year, thereby bolstering India’s image as a formidable economic force on the global stage.  However, in order to sustain both economic growth and human development, the Economist, in its latest issue entitled, “What’s Holding India Back?”, contends that India must institute and enforce significant reforms in its bloated public sector.  Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s commitment to “administrative reform – at every level”, including the formation of a commission to look into the matter, even P. Chidambaram, India’s Finance Minister, admits that for the most part, the commission’s deliberations have been “academic.”  In an article entitled “India’s Civil Service: Battling the Babu Raj”, the Economist contends that this trend threatens to stifle economic growth:

 Some economists see India’s malfunctioning public sector as its biggest obstacle to growth. Lant Pritchett, of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, calls it “one of the world’s top ten biggest problems—of the order of AIDS and climate change”. 

There is a very human dimension to this issue, as bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption takes a bite into government schemes intended for the poor.  In fact, the impact of India’s recently proposed development spending schemes, termed “inclusive growth” by the government, are expected to be diluted by gross inefficiencies in the public sector.  In a separate article entitled, “What’s Holding India Back?” the Economist informs readers of the following:

 In his budget, Mr Chidambaram duly handed out extra money to a long list of worthy schemes, from school meals to rural road-building. But as he himself conceded, outlays and outcomes are not the same thing. Standing between the two is an administrative machine corroded by apathy and corruption. The government’s subsidies fail to reach the poor, its schools fail to teach them and its rural clinics fail to treat them. 

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Midday Newsfeed

Headlines from around the town:

To mark the International Women’s Day, Indian anti-poverty network Wada Na Todo Abhiyan has released a report highlighting the recommendations of the Women’s Tribunal Against Poverty held in October last year. The charter against poverty reinforces the demand for women’s access to power, resources and services.

Quite a few debates are currently raging in the disability rights movement. Special schools or inclusive education, community based rehabilitation or institutionalised rehabilitation, job reservations or none

Google is adding more and more mapping tiles for India. India is now getting digitized and we are seeing new google mashups for India… Currently the site covers new construction projects for Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Pune, Gurgaon and Noida.

Government of India has an online Grievance forum. The govt. wants people to use this tool to highlight the problems they faced while dealing with Government officials or departments like Passport Office, Electricity board, BSNL/MTNL, Railways etc.