Development in the ICU: Swagato Sarkar

Guest post by SWAGATO SARKAR

Montek Singh Ahluwalia (MSA) has taken over the English news channels [okay, perhaps not all, but two “exclusive” interviews to Headlines Today and CNN-IBN’s FTN (F stands for ‘Face’, btw)] tonight to shoot back at his opponents and detractors, the likes of Roys, Drezes, Aiyars. The discourse had three parts: the sermon, gloss and proto-penance, and the affirmation of the revealed Truth.

The Planning of Commission of the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic of India is not a Stalinist Planning Commission. It has the solemn duty of finding India’s rightful place in the world at the average rate of 8% per year. But India is a poor country [exclusive news which cannot be shared at Davos]. The GDP has to enlarge. Market is what will make it happen. But market has limits. Hence, welfare. But MSA is not happy that the Growth-Decline story did not work out as he would have wished. But that is no reason to be anti-Growth [now go to the first line of the para and read it all over again.]

The “poverty line” – worldwide – is a reference line to measure the performance of the Economy and the effect of Growth: are people rising/ floating above or sinking below it? The Tendulkar Committee was constituted to do such a task and it has produced one such fineline. It is “factual” and therefore the affidavit cannot be withdrawn from the Supreme Court. The PlanComm has been misrepresented by the media, mischievously, because per person per day is just not the right math. It is monthly; there’s no point in making the money look small. What will you do next – break it into hourly amount of Rs. 1.20 [MSA’s figure]? [Don’t get ideas about making a demandfor a minimum hourly wage, à laEurope, which has sunk anyway]. The inclusive growth one day will bring everybody up. The gravy train has arrived and one by one all the children of Mother India will come out of the waiting-room of history and board it. Tribals are a problem, because they all live in forests [how will the train go there without clearing the forests?]

Now, what does it mean to have a reference line? Or more precisely, what does it mean to be poor in India? The answer [or kahani main twist no.1]: the “rock bottom level below which a family cannot live.”Welcome to the ICU of compassionate Darwinians. You will be given a drip to survive. Then run in the market to prove your fitness.

MSA is not against PDS. “Keep it there”, he says. Use it as a channel for distributing foodgrains at the normal price (so, kahani main twist no.2, it’s no longer “fair price”? What is the difference between “normal” and “fair”?); transfer cash to subsidise the poor families directly, i.e., (kahani main twist no.3) convert the ‘entitlement holder, rights bearing citizens’ into enthusiastic consumer: when our beloved poor has money in the pocket and choice on her mind, why the hell would she go to a ration-shop? A quantitatively determined poor should wake up to take note of quality and apply choice in the market. Jago Grahak, Jago. (MSA has already argued that in case of education in his EPW article). This twist no.3 is going to be the tune to which the 12th Plan’s social sector outlay would be set: importation of the über-successful public-private partnership model in the social sector, which some enterprising entrepreneurs think would convert them into government-supported social-entrepreneurs.

But things are not that simple in India, mind it. The materialist, Marxist [or are they Hegelian?] Indian media have always believed that conflict is the motor of history, measured in TRP. Field Rahulji and Jairam Ramesh against MSA; spice up the intra-UPA battle. The guardians of the Nation are no less in the game; following the Public Relations edict, “when you can’t convince, confuse”, they declared: GoI has/will “delink the poverty line fromentitlements.”

At last, the moment of reckoning has arrived: the poor is now twice-born: first with a perfect slim figure in MSA’s order of things, and then adoring the “not-passed-by-the-socio-economic criteria” robe in GoI’s unending drama of rural development. But the rights-wallahs and Prosenjit Bose are not amused; they bring out the “creamy-layer” argument: whip off the rich, just have a Universal espresso welfare state.

….. This piece ends here abruptly, because this cutting up the population business will continue …. the logic of calculation may be logical, but can it be ethical? ….Poverty is like fairness cream, keep (arguing/) applying with a hope of becoming Shahrukh Khan one day; but Shahrukh will soon need and sell anti-wrinkle cream, then?

5 thoughts on “Development in the ICU: Swagato Sarkar”

  1. The Rs 32/26 line is an improvement on the earlier BPL/APL line which till a few years ago was a little below RS 10/14. The Tendulkar Committee has hiked the percentage of poor from 22% of the population (the Planning Commission’s figure) to 32%, so another 120 million people will benefit. But where is the money to dish out to the poor? If we take the 32% figure then you need to support 385 million people. If we assume an average support of Rs15 per capita per day in terms of food grains or cash transfers and clean drinking water, then the annual outgo is a whopping Rs 2,10,787 crores which is nearly 2.5% of the GDP. There is no way the government can spend this kind of money without getting into a debt trap. Please also remember that we need to hike health spending from 1 to 3% of GDP. One of the main reasons that poverty is self-perpetuating is the lack of primary health care. So lets get real. You need to be able to cough up the money first and then deliver the goods before being overly critical of any poverty line. The fact is that hundreds of millions of people in this country are surviving on less that Rs 32/26 a day. Why the rage now?


    1. you are right -hundred of millions of people in this country are surviving on less than 32/26 a day ie mere survival .Is this what we yearned for all these years of toil and hardship. We are raged because our valiant lot fought for democracy but what we got is plutocracy-dont we have the right to be raged in a country ruled by corporates and bureaucrats .Here is my reply to your thoughts;

      1 the new poverty line is certainly an improvement but it is so because the earlier one was too low to be considered.These underevaluation has caused millions what is due to them and left them relish there entire life in poverty and distress. Should we repeat those mistakes again or try to be more reasonable.

      2 these two lakh odd crores is easily gettable if our governments show some more accountability and responsibility in unearthing black money,strict tax collection,progressive taxation ,etc etc.No developing nation is immune to international debts and so is India . If we can make things straight internally then we can easily get over these debts after all most of our money is spend to take care of the vulnerable.

      3 If we think of accumulating money and then spending , it will be the most dreaded thing we do to our fellow men and to our nation that will end up in mass graves and pain and agony from which we cannot revert

      The problem is planning commission has been deduced to be mere economic planning and nothing more. They are completely delinked from ground realities as their figures suggests. What we need is a an efficient socio economic plan to take our nation to the level that is rightfully hers


      1. Thank you for your considered comment. I am in complete agreement with each of your points. Yes, it is good to be outraged. Activists have been pointing out the pathetic state of our human development indicators for years, yet we continue to follow the path of growth in GDP terms to eradicate poverty (the so called ‘trickle-down’ effect). Bangladesh has had considerably lower infant and maternal mortality rates than India for several years. An indicator of the poor and pathetic state of our public health system. Besides the 2 lakh crores required for food, water and sanitation, a similar amount is required to be spent on health. Yes, the money can be raised by simply collecting the revenue foregone to corporates and individual taxpayers. But, does any government have the will to do so? In the
        current assessment year, further concessions have been made to taxpayers for no valid reason. Our tax rates are not high. Finally, do not all of us who read and write on such forums also contribute to the perpetuation of poverty by underpaying domestic help?


  2. Statistics do not make life. India is a rising ‘super power’. So – the statistics shoud agree with this concept or myth of ‘super power’. So the many statistics of above message of PN. GDP is a myth – who has seen GDP? Just like – trading of commodities or trading of shares. Sell and buy without really having anything. At the end of the day – a illusory world where – one has become rich or poor – without having really owned anything. Clean water – do not brand water – the water sources in India – the clean sources are good enough to cater to the whole of population plus generations to come. Do not make this source of life a commercial proposition. Let people – not your planners, who want everytihing to branded – decide how they should use and conserve this source of life. You will be flabbergasted – by the innovative intelligence of my brothers and sisters – for you the BPL/ APL statistics – and your outlay on this source of life called water will be – 0.1% of what your planning Bahadurs want to publisize – as subsidy. Becoz this subsidy goes to your planning commission friends who want to brand eveyrthing in life.


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