Indian Railways

28/02/2010

It is said that for the last 7 to 8 years, railway passenger fares have not increased. This is not necessarily efficiency. This is not an achievement to be proud of. In the last 7 to 8 years, prices of inputs, steel, raw materials, consumable stores, diesel & other fuels and wages have gone up, some by 100%.  The passenger fares should also have gone up. By not raising the fares, the Railways has forgone a huge amount with the result that developmental works could not be undertaken as much as possible.

The Railway Minister has repeatedly mentioned in her speech that due to financial constraints several works could not be undertaken. Had the fares been increased even by just 10%, (there is justification to increase by higher percentage), Railways could have earned nearly Rs.10,000 crores (Rs.100 billion) more in the last 7 years, which would have enable it to undertake expansion projects. There is need to install escalators, to cross the lines and this could have been undertaken with the additional revenues.

The train fare in 1970 from Chennai to New Delhi used to be around Rs.60 and it has now gone up to around Rs.600, i.e. 10 times in 40 years. During the same period, per capita income in India has gone up by more than 100 times.

Government of India has invested a huge amount in Railways. If revalued, the value of Railways assets – land, buildings, machinery, rails, rolling stock, consumables etc. would be a minimum Rs.1,000,000 crores. Government’s investment in the Railways would be even more than this as for several years, Railways have been incurring loss. At 10% of the investment, Railways should pay dividend of more than Rs.100,000 crores to the Government but it pays only around Rs.66,00 crores. Even after more than 150 years, it is seeking budgetary support from General Revenues. These do not show efficiency.

Thus there is no reason for the Railways for not increasing the fares.

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Amendments to the Constitution of India

28/02/2010

During the leadership of the former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, the constitution was amended to describe India as a “… Socialist, Secular …” country. The word “socialist” remains in the constitution, though the country has not followed socialism for at least the last 20 years. Thus there is no need to retain this word in the constitution.

Amendments to the constitution become frequent, even if not necessary, when the ruling party has two-thirds majority in parliament. This is one of the reasons as to why the central government should preferably be a coalition of many parties. Big majority for a single party could lead to dictatorial tendencies on the part of its party leader.

Of course, the constitution is not sacrosanct and in fact, it needs to be amended for purposes such as the following:

  1. To divide states into smaller ones for administrative efficiencies
  2. To include languages such as Gond, Kurukh and Bhil in the 8th schedule with a view to preserve and promote these languages spoken by substantial numbers of people
  3. To transfer some subjects from the central and concurrent lists to the state list
  4. To prescribe the number of times one can hold the high offices of the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Chief Minister
  5. To restrict the government from putting money in cash or in kind directly into the pockets of individuals, by way of  imposing a ceiling or some other way, in order that the ruling party does not resort to such welfare schemes with a view to win future elections
  6. Opening branch courts of Supreme Court and High Courts to minimize the inconvenience to litigants
  7. Making regional languages as High Court languages
  8. Raising the age for voting to 25 as at the age of 18, one is not in a position to to decide on the merits of different ideologies, or the suitability of different contestants  (the original age was 21)

Developing countries should undertake more research

21/02/2010

While the entire people of the world benefits from research, major research is undertaken mostly by the US and other developed countries. According to the Government of India, at present India spends less than 1% of its GDP on research and development in the field of science and technology. According to UNESCO, China spends around 1.5%., Japan 3.4%, South Korea 3.5%, Singapore 2.6% and Finland 3.7%. The US spends around 3% of its GDP.

Developing countries, particularly large ones such as China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria should feel that it is in their interest also to engage in research and try to spend at least 2% of their GDP on research. India and China being large countries with large economies, should take initiative in this case.

Similarly a larger number of scientists should engage in both scientific and industrial research. In the year 2006, it was announced in the Parliament of India that there were only 120 (0.012% of  population) active scientists per million of population in India, as compared to 2,691 per million of population in United Kingdom i.e. 0.26% of the population. According to UNESCO, there were about 7.1 million researchers in the world which works out to a little over 0.1% of global population. Developing countries have only 2.7 million or 0.05% of population in research while developed countries have 4.4 million or 0.5% of the population.

Paucity of funds should not be a reason for such low number of scientists in developing countries. Scientific and industrial research should be given top priority.

The world will be a much better place to live, if all developing countries particularly the large one, encourage at least 0.2% of the population and 2% of their GDPs  for research and development.

This is one way of changing the world order.


Land deals in Africa

17/02/2010

It is good to know that a number of foreign corporates and individuals are showing interest in farming in Africa. Africa has been dependent on other countries for food for several decades. Land in Africa is not exploited much. If, for 2 to 3 decades, land is leased to foreign corporates/individuals, Africa can become self-sufficient or even surplus in food grains. But in some quarters, serious concern is shown on African land being used by foreigners to “sever” Africans from their cultural and socio-economic attachments to past, present and future. In this connection,  it may be mentioned that this takes place not only by land alienation but also  by:

  1. Globalization of  the economy and
  2. Religious conversions.

Both of these are widely prevalent on the continent.

By including suitable safeguards in the land deals, such as those below, Africa can gain from increased land productivity.

  1. Defining a maximum number of years  for  which the land could be leased with options for lease extentions
  2. Requiring land to be returned to its original owner after the lease with all agricultural implements/equipment  free of cost
  3. Limiting the number of foreign workers on the land
  4. Requiring foreigners to first satisfy domestic needs of their produce and then exporting the surplus
  5. Limiting the number of land deals per year
  6. Specifying the crops to be cultivated, land development to be undertaken and the irrigation facilities to be created
  7. Other conditions similar to “Build, Operate and Transfer” mode in infrastructure projects

With prudent policies, land deals would be a great boon to Africa.


Enhancing efficiency in Government Service

16/02/2010

There is large scale unemployment among the educated people of India. A few state governments have introduced unemployment allowance. Therefore natural expectation is all government offices and educational institutes have more than adequate staff. But this is not the case. Most of the offices have a large number of vacancies.  In the central and a few state governments there is ban on creation of posts as well as filling up of vacancies in certain posts. The successive pay commissions have been recommending staff reduction. The result is that there is a heavy shortage of staff leading to enormous delays. Not only the delays. Sometimes no action is taken on many communications which are just filed even without acknowledging. This is one of the causes for corruption. The customers who do not get services even after reminders tend to think of bribing.

The central government has come to adopt a system of promotion of staff on the basis of seniority against the earlier system of promotion “on the basis of merit’. There is no motivation for the staff to work.

 If the government service is to be efficient, at least something similar to the following steps should be taken

  1. all vacancies should be filled in and additional posts should be created  by looking at the pending papers and after conducting work studie

       2. promotions should be made on the basis of merit and not on seniority

        3.discipline should be enforced at all costs

         4.posts should be filled up by those possessing minimum required qualification.             higher           qualified persons should be avoided as they would not be suitable from the points of willingness to work, perceived low level of salary vis a vis their qualification etc.

        5.officers should avoid doing work of juniors and concentrate on important matters

         6.avoidable and unnecessary work should not be taken up as it would divert      concentration from important work

         7.senior officers in stead of doing most of the work, should train train junior officers to do the work and take work from them

       8.There should be more number of posts than at present at the junior level.

       9.The talent at junior level at present is underutilized. Steps should be taken to utilize fully the talent at all levels.


Globalization of Agriculture in Africa

06/02/2010

Africa is the country where the arable land utilized for cultivation is very low- less than 10%. This is much less than the land utilized in Asia and Europe. Similarly, the irrigation potential of all the rivers including Congo, Nile and Zambezi rivers are much less exploited compared to the rivers in other continents. Consequently, a large number of African countries are in severe food crisis not only now, but for a long time. Now out of a total of 31 countries n the world in severe shortage of food, 20 countries (Ethiopia, D.R.Congo, Uganda etc) are in Africa having a population of nearly 400 million. Theoretically it is definitely possible and also desirable for African countries to attain self-sufficiency/surplus in food grain production without involving foreigners. But after over 40-50 years of independence, most of the countries in Africa continue be deficit in food. The international community and the international organizations have been feeding a large number of people in these countries for a long period. During times of lower world production, international community would find it difficult to find food grains and buy at high rates. Therefore, urgent action has to be taken to increase food grain production in these countries. Like globalization of economy, the agriculture also may need globalization to realize food self-sufficiency. The following could perhaps be tried in most of the countries.

i. To Built, Own, Operate and Transfer(BOOT) Irrigation projects: The governments could allow the river and ground water available in the country to be tapped by the private sector, including the foreign companies. The private sector would set up projects at their cost and recover the same over a period by charging fee from farmers for the use of water. After the agreed period, the projects could be transferred to the local governments.

ii. The private sector may also be allowed to generate hydro-electric power and sell to the government or the consumers directly, after paying honorarium to the government.

iii. Unutilized arable land could leased for certain period- may be 20 or 30 years and if found necessary extended- to corporates, including foreign corporates with the condition that food grains should be produced and the same should be sold in the domestic market first and only surplus grain should be exported. The developed land when returned to the government after the lease period could be sold or freely distributed to the local farmers.


Migration within India

02/02/2010

Tripura state was originally a tribal majority state. Now the majority of the people speak Bengali and tribals constitute only about 31%. The migrants were from Bangladesh. In a few districts in Assam, Bengali has now become the majority language and Assamese a minority language. After some time, if the Bengali speaking people want their districts to be merged with West Bengal or made a separate Bengali speaking state, their demand may not be an undemocratic one. While every citizen of India has a right and freedom to go, work and settle permanently anywhere in India (except Jammu and Kashmir), it is time to debate::

  1. Whether it would be fair and just if people of a particular state or region move in such large numbers to another state and impose their language in the new state by not learning the language of the new state.
  2. Whether it would be fair if the people of a state move in large numbers to another state and deprive the people of the new state their employment opportunities.
  3. Whether governments at the centre and in the states from which migrants originate should remain simple spectators to the scene of large scale migration and not take steps to create employment opportunities in the migration originating states to stop migration particularly for low paid jobs.
  4. Whether the Planning Commission should not have a strategy for ensuring equitable industrial and economic growth of all the states?