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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Simplify our lives…!

In last few weeks, I have been hearing about the losses of precious lives of some of my very close friends and relatives, which makes me re – look at the life styles of mine again and again, as I have been advocating this self analysis for every individual to ratify their actions and of course, to take corrective actions, whenever necessary.

It was one of my very close business associate’s turn first to leave us forever, without even intimating any one of us…! My friend had a conference call with him at 10.30 AM and fixed up a meeting with him for another friend at 4.30 PM and close to 11.40 AM, we get a call that he’s no more with us….?! Hope you can imagine the shock it gave us and we are still not in a position to digest this fact. He had a huge cardiac arrest and died on the spot!

A few days later, I received a news that one of my batch mates and very close friend died in an accident. However, later I came to know that too was a cardiac arrest and he leaves behind his wife and daughter, who’s just 10 years old…?! What I could do was, as part of my deep felt sorrow, mourn by fasting for a week as a protest of my conscience to the Almighty!

A week later, I received the next tragic news that my very close relative dies of cancer and as a matter of fact, I had met her exactly three months back and she was in the pink of her health. We talked for long and I played with her extra ordinarily bright 8 year old daughter for quite some time! I just can empathize with the pain of this lovely child and her father and blame the cruelty of the fate….!!

I received another tragic news about a friend of mine, who is known to me for last three years who leaves his 2 year old child and wife…! It makes me think again and again to be grounded and reiterates the need of making our lives simple and happy!! I know it is easy to preach, but very difficult to practice…! However, if we intend to do so with determination, it is not impossible!!

I would like to quote an example of this family, who resides in a single room servant quarter next to my office building. When I open the venetian blinds of my windows beside my chair in the cabin, I see them and I keep looking at them for long as it has always been inspiring to observe them….! The family includes 5 members, Father, Mother and 3 boys (Approximate ages must be 16, 12 and 10 years). In the last few months, we have been working till 3 AM in the morning and that gave me an opportunity to observe them more….!

The first thing anybody will notice is the television, just across the door, which is switched on forever!! Even at 1 AM, I had seen it working…!! But since they started living in this one room quarter, I had never seen anybody shouting or quarrelling with each other…! I felt it is very unusual for a family from such socio economic back grounds, for the very reason that life is a huge challenge to them and they are roughened by the practical hardships of life!! Having worked with lots of women groups of such back grounds, I could look at the world from their perspective! But, for a change, it was all different in this family’s case! Their lifestyle was far superior and still with the flavor of village they come from, which we all miss a lot, though we pretend to reiterate that we don’t …?!

Only once I had seen the lady of the house raising her voice to the eldest child regarding studies…! Otherwise I could see that there was no pressure on children on home works or studies and on weekends (mostly on Saturdays) I could see all the children gathering on a mat spread in front of the house with open books to read/ write. I remembered my golden child hood and it was nostalgic to see these kids dancing on a rainy day in the small corridor in front of their house…! They were just back from the school and I was enjoying the looks of one of the first rains of the season! These kids came drenched and removed their clothes and threw into the house in a hurry and started dancing in the rain with excitement!! It was really nostalgic to watch that and it reminded me of my trips to school during the monsoon showers through the paddy fields and the red soiled water flows from the nearby hillock…! In those showers, we used to get soaked completely and used to make lots of paper boats and follow them on those small red rivers alongside the metal roads…!

Every time I see these kids, it reminds me of the denial we do to our next generation…be it in the name of pollution, be it in the name of hygiene or all crap reasons we had borrowed from the west! Did you ever analyze the end result? We make them couch potatoes and highly vulnerable to any viral attack as their immune system had already affected…! It is not that we should be ignorant about the modern day facts of pollution, but then there should be some equation for our young ones with the Mother Nature. I recently came across somebody talking about walking in the mud path with bare foot as a remedy to arthritis and he was addressing an elite crowd! This is what happens when we blindly adapt to western crap and realize late in life that we went all the way in the wrong direction.

We need to re-design our lifestyles so much that the basic fact of harmonizing with the nature should be kept intact and our younger ones should always be in sync with the Mother Earth. Again, I know it is difficult for everyone to pursue this, but if we are determined, there are multiple ways to make it fun for the next generation.

The lesson I learn from all the above news is that we should simplify our lifestyles as it will enhance our own life span as well as create a positive environment to live in for us and for all those around us. It is not impossible (if not complex!) to practice it, if we are seriously casual about it. I have been advocating this to those who are around me about the emptiness of unnecessary arguments and enmity as we tend to forget the objectives and goals in the process of these unnecessary arguments! Always, validate whether these arguments are worthy for moving forward or it is hampering it?!! 9 out of 10 times, you will get an answer from your inner self that it is hampering your objective of moving forward...!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Micro Finance Menace!

In one of my earlier article (NREGA and Implementation Blues), I had mentioned about the menace of microfinance in short and now, few months later MFIs are the sensational news in the media for all the wrong reasons!

As usual, this is not a surprising challenge to the Governments as it was spreading its wings gradually in various pockets of the country. Our Governments have never been proactive and as a standard practice, wait for mishaps/ disasters to reciprocate and act!! The super economists of our country (including the whiz ministers) should have foreseen the magnitude and potential of growth of these institutions and took enough care to ensure the safety mechanism by introducing an apex body under RBI in line with TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) and IRDA (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority).

However, before taking up a campaign against all the MFIs, we need to understand the actual socio economic conditions which make the business model of MFIs lucrative…!

  • The lack luster attitude and inefficient approach of macro finance corporations (All banks and financial institutions).

  • The alcoholism amongst the BPL families and the financial impact it makes on these families.

  • Common man’s needs and the necessity of small credit for various requirements of life.

  • Common man’s inaccessibility to the Macro finance Corporations (All Nationalised, Scheduled and Private Sector Banks), due to various restrictions and regulations which distances these reliable customers from savings and the benefits of it…!

  • The grip of money lenders on these marginalized families.

Now, all these socio economic conditions make the right combination of manure for a Micro Finance Institution to establish and grow well!

I know this gentleman who is a chronic Bachelor from Harward University, who was inspired by the speech of Dr. Younis and went to Bangladesh to understand the Grameen Bank model and on his way back, he resigned his job at Harward to start an organization which intended to help women groups with small credits for establishing micro enterprises for sustainable development and self reliance!

It was even difficult for my friend to open an account in the local nationalized bank and he literally struggled to establish himself amongst his target beneficiaries. He also had to undergo lots of hardships to adapt the Grameen Bank System for Indian scenario…! However, in 2005 when I was invited for their 5th Year anniversary programme, I realized that this small organization had grown to achieve 20+ Crores turn over and about 1500 families were beneficiaries of the organization! This achievement was because of the hard work he had put in with lots of vision and nerves of steel!!

I remember he had a problem initially with some of the local politicians (from various parties), who used to send a list of names with recommendations to include them in the creditors list. I strongly believe that it was his nerves of steel, which resisted such interventions and made it mandatory to not to have any recommendations as an eligibility criteria for availing credits! Then there was a scathing attack by some of these self claimed local leaders and as a matter of fact, their point of contention was also similar to the recent one at Andhra Pradesh that the interest rate was very high and the beneficiaries are looted by this MFI..! There was some local bandh also organized by them!! However, what happened was that this entire women groups who were the beneficiaries (It was about 200 families at that point of time) had organized a support march and there ended the matter!! He brought out a transparent interest portfolio to make the public aware what is interest he’s paying to his investing banks and the cost involved in servicing the beneficiaries.

This organization’s growth was purely based on the following basic principles they follow…

1)  The eligibility criteria are not compromised under any circumstances.
2)  The first credit in a group is extended only after the group dynamics is established well among the group members.
3)  The identification of the right micro enterprise and getting some of the best professionals as resource persons for the projects to impart training for the staff and then to the BG (Beneficiary Group) to make them capable of running it on its own.
4)  Persistent analysis of each beneficiary group and to hand hold them till they become capable of handling their finances on their own.
5)  Keep up the principle to micro monitor the BG for giving them directions and not to micro manage!
6)  Refinancing options for the micro enterprises are given depending on the performance and to change course to adapt to a new variances in the enterprise and vision.

Apart from all these, the BG Members’ social financial health is monitored and intervened whenever necessary to correct and support to get going! This was possible because the decision making is centrally controlled and there were no intentions of profit making other than fulfilling the expenditures and salaries for everyone including the CEO and the honorarium for board members. However, whatever margins made go to the seed capital and roll back to the expansion schemes.

I had helped identifying the right micro enterprises for some  institutions, who operates in the north east region of India with lots of sincerity and transparency and was invited to be on the board of some institutions from Srilanka and Hongkong as well.

Now, coming back to the current scenario, it is entirely different and most of the MFIs mushroomed are re-incarnation of old time money lending/ finance companies and tried to fit into shoes of NGOs and they lack the actual vision, purpose or sensitivity of the BGs and their needs. This, added with the unhealthy competition lured the BG Families into a debt trap, which was an obvious turnout of the mushrooming number of MFIs since late 90s, which lost the credentials and ethics gradually, thanks to governments’ lackluster attitude towards the oncoming menace! The end result being the issues what we are seeing now and it is going to continue until the government form a very strong apex body to control and audit norms of functioning for these Institutions.

There are few immediate steps to be taken by Governments to arrest this surge….

1)  Curb the interest rate of the seed capital given to credible MFIs at par with the country’s PLRs and block any other funding patterns from inside or outside the country.
2)  Fix maximum interest rate tariff (MIRT) for lending by MFIs.
3)  Conduct strict audits with the help of third party firms and take stringent decisions on MFIs.
4)  Create a pattern of self appraisal for each MFIs with feedback from their respective BG’s perspective.
5)  Create performance awards and acknowledgements with social audits.
6)  Create a body to enquire into any unethical practices by these institutions.
To conclude, if the government does not act fast on this, there will be more disasters waiting in the growth curve ahead!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Marginalization in modern society

It was shocking to read Shobha Dey’s article on clear polarization of communities in Mumbai, post 26/11 and it is to the extent that even premium educational institutions deny admissions to the students from a particular community!!

This polarization and the subsequent marginalization of a group/ community was evident in early 60s in rural India, but predominantly between the rich & poor classes and this led to outbursts and fights for the marginalized in many parts of the country by virtue of Naxalism and other pro – poor ideologies! Even Phulan Devi and her contemporaries of Chambal were classic examples of the outcomes of these marginalizations and suppressions of communities, families or individuals for generations! However, it could not last long because our visionary politicians, who preserved the values of democracy to involve everyone in the democratic process and the Country had a roller coaster ride on inclusive growth as there were multiple political forces pulling the threads from different points to keep an equilibrium. However, the globalization brought greater pace in growth and eventually the controlled economy begun to open up and in place of the Controlled economy, there came market driven economy! Though there was a great surge in growth, it also created a huge divide between the rich and the poor!!

Meanwhile, there was a phenomenal leap in the economy (How good that was for the common man is still debatable…), the divide became widely evident in the rural parts of India and this eventually landed up in marginalization and exploitation of the economically backward classes…!! Instead of addressing the issue to bring the divide closer, our modern day opportunistic, uncouth and short thinking politicians used these groups to maintain them as vote bank classes by further dividing them in terms of religions, communities and regions for their petty benefits of power!

This has led a society to polarize dangerously with more & more classifications and sub groups of divisions, which is dangerously lethal, if not controlled! Our competing media also played a major role in sensationalizing non issues and by associating themselves with the hidden agenda of various PR agents, influential power centres and business houses!!

The marginalization of every group or community will definitely lead to an outburst over a period of time and with the modern day dynamics, it could be instigated by many factors and there are enough hate groups with clinically accurate agenda waiting for using these ‘on the platter’ opportunities for extracting easy advantage!

Accepting the fact that “Rama Rajya” is no more possible in the turbulent modern times, my only call to each one of us as individuals, families and communities, is to empower our young ones with an unbiased thought process, where he/ she should not take up arms under the order or influence of the species of social miscreants, who spit only hate venom in the name of caste, creed religion and regions! To achieve this, every child in every family should be sensitized towards these social evils and their thought process should be immunized to challenge every external influence by activating the consciences of each one of them!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The System of Corruption and Helplessness of Common Man

Another news item in the paper inspired me to write this….! Last week, I saw a news that the Gram Panchayat (GP) Secretary of Pudussery Panchayat (This is an Urban Panchayat situated in Palakkad district) got caught red handed by Vigilance while accepting bribe from a proposed small scale industrialist. The Kanjikode New industrial area in Palakkad district partially falls under this GP and as a matter of fact, there are hardly any new industry commenced in recent years….!!

This news reminds me of another incident! One of my friends, who works in the capacity of Deputy Secretary in a GP (Name not disclosed deliberately), recently went on a long leave due to the pressure from the GP secretary to budge himself to accept bribe and pass certain bills which are highly manipulated…! My friend was not willing to budge to the offers and threats subsequently, but found it quite difficult to sustain in the office as he had no support!
In a moment of frenzy, he called me and asked for suggestion and I had asked him if he could verify the scope of work executed before passing the bill and gave him a case study like below and sought him answer before suggesting a solution….

“ Suppose, originally the estimated cost of the work is Rs.100/- and the inflated bill is for Rs.500/-, you shouldn’t mind sanctioning it in the current corrupt system, provided you get some assurance on the fact that Rs.100/- had been spent as per the plan and there’s no compromise in the quality of the work..! ”

Though this is not the ideal solution to be suggested, this is the only ‘work around’ solution practically possible in this corrupt system!

However, his answer was very complex and he told that though he is the one to sign the passing orders, he doesn’t have any authority to assure that the work is executed without compromising the quality, because it is checked and authenticated by somebody else (the so called technical department), who are also a part of the nexus…!! This is the point where I could empathize with his helplessness and asked him to go ahead with leave application as he had 180+ days of earned leave available with him!!

The corruption in our society is in such heights that these incidents are happening when there are huge debates going on in the media on the magnitude of the corruption in organizing the Common Wealth Games!! People are least bothered or just do not care about any of these developments as they all know that nothing much happens even if caught! Instead, acquire more money so that portion of it can be used to set you free in such occasions!!

This is shocking and disgusting! I used to draft out some pragmatic solutions to various issues whenever I come across and used to have that pride in myself about my ability to solve issues! Suddenly, I’m brought down to earth by the incapability of my thought process to bring about a solution and when I tried to put myself in his position, it was really paining…!! Moreover, he would be forced to return to the same dirt after completion of him leave period and face the same music again…?!!

The only solution to this cancer is removal of that part from our system, which in democratic terms, should be a rigorous punishment to those without any compromise through the law of the land, which may definitely require some additional legislation to make it tough for the tainted..! Then only a gradual change in the mindset of the people will happen and which will, in turn bring back the courage to fight..!

Having written this, I would also like to point out at the fact that there is a necessity to analyze the root cause of the corruption in our country as well and we as a society and the Governments need to interfere on other aspects of life, such as cost of education, cost of essential commodities and cost of health management to list a few…!! I believe a vigilant control over these very primary citizen rights will, to a definite extent, eliminate the unhealthy greed (need) to demand bribe from the common man!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme – Vision & Implementation Blues…!!

Few days back I read an article in the front page of Times of India on an alarming fact….National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme makes liquor lobby richer?!!
Initially, I thought that it would be another scam in this country of corruption, but when I went through the article, it was definitely a thought provoking one..! The report says that the rural folks who started getting the guaranteed income, had started spending more on Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and reach home empty handed…! Liquor lobby had given higher bids for license as they are keen and happy on grabbing this opportunity!

This is one among many sad stories in the so called Indian development cycle of last 60+ years, thanks to our Air Conditioned offices of the planning boards, planning commissions and high flying Babus. Many of our bureaucrats hail from influential families and they are hardly sensitive towards the lifestyles of our rural public. Many of them had acquired positions by taking advantage of the quota system based on their community..! If you conduct an audit you can easily find out except a very brilliant few, many of them are there by taking advantage of scientifically wrong representation systems, though they were neither eligible nor weak in any respect.

Coming back to the issue, the Govt. move to provide guaranteed employment to the rural public was one of the dynamic decisions of ages and welcomed by one and all. Every serious and sincere citizen of  India, who looks forward to inclusive growth had visualized this as a legendary move towards such a goal, but our defunct planning and implementation ‘legends’ left enough loop holes in the entire programme, which directly or indirectly encourage different kinds of social evils at different parts of the country…!

Every company launches products after extensive market research and after checking & understanding the real requirement of the targeted users/ consumers. Can anyone refer to a single Govt. scheme which was introduced after such an extensive home work? They neither have the habit of studying what matters for the beneficiaries nor they adopt any scientific method to find the development gap..? These social evils arising out of such schemes are the classic examples of the lackluster attitude of our planning folks …! As per a World Bank survey conducted as early as in 2000 – 2001, over 70% of the rural communities who belonged to BPL, were under the grip of money lenders and their abuses..! Of late, there were mushrooming ‘Micro Finance’ organizations who took the debt over from these abusive money lenders. Though there are still some exceptionally good such micro finance organizations, many NBFCs have formed NGOs to operate their agenda as the interest rates they charge are no better than the money lenders!! Of late, the multiplicity of such organizations led to unhealthy competitions between these organizations and guided beneficiaries towards a multiple debt trap, which resulted in suicides in certain areas and thus inviting Govt. interference and regulations….!

However, there are a few such organizations which have been doing extremely admirable job in empowering micro entrepreneurs by constant micro monitoring (not micro managing) and by hand holding them till they become successful. In the process, they have re-financed them multiple times to achieve self sustenance!! This contrast between these organizations is a classic case study of the importance of understanding the unique nature and sensitivities of various rural communities to make them succeed and as a result to achieve the actual objectives of the programme.

My experience with coconut farm labourers in the Kerala – TN border in Palakkad district of Kerala is that such people are vulnerable to financial exploitation primarily due to alcoholism of husbands and the end sufferers are the women folk who are abused and misbehaved at, by the money lending lobbies. As a matter of fact, the average earnings of a male used to be Rs.150/- per day and not even a single penny reaches home as they spend everything in liquor – be it toddy, arrack or IMFL..?! When I was working close with them during a state poverty eradication mission project, I made a scheme, where I used to pay these guys only Rs.50/- per day and release the balance payment on Saturdays directly to the women folk! This had fetched double result as the absenteeism became almost nil as the women folk took extra care to send these guys to work and they could resist the exploitation of money lenders!!

As a next step, I could strike a deal with some rice mill owners to supply rice at the miller’s rate (which used to be about 20 – 30% less than the market prices) to these people as it used to be a huge weekly off take for him. This eradicated starvation of the children and women of these households as good quality rice was always available at home…! We used to make the payment from the accrued balance of their earnings and they get an additional discount from the miller..!

I quoted this experience here to reiterate my conviction on the need for our planning ‘Bureaucrats’ to understand the practical needs and social evils existing in each part of our country apart from the general socio – economic background of each place. A carpet policy shall be at the macro level and a fine tuned adaptation needed at the micro levels for implementing each programme. If the authorities don’t do a social audit and take corrective action, the NREGA will become another such scheme which may disrupt the harmony of existing social system by encouraging the liquor mafia which is waiting in the corner restlessly calm, salivating to suck the blood of these poor households …!!  

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Our pseudo culture and politics

This is to remind each of us to stop being hypocritical about our expectations on the Indian politics and the political culture….!

We are traditionally a society with pseudo culture and practices. I would like to underline the word ‘we’, because I don’t exempt myself from this….it is definitely including me and this note comes as a result of my ‘self criticism’.

§  We don’t express ‘No’ to any one even when we really don’t like something! – The whole thought came from this point and I realized that the culture in which I have been brought up, where I am trained to say ‘Yes’ to avoid hurting others, it is very difficult for me to say ‘No’ in many occasions to avoid heart burn for others…! The negatives of this are that we put ourselves in lots of stress and lose interest in what we had taken up with half mind and then as a result, we don’t peak in our performance. The positives are that we respect others’ desires and expectations, thus obliging to the social pressure!

We expect our politicians to be Gandhijis with simple life styles and high moral values. But what we conveniently forget or deliberately ignore is the fact that except one ‘Mahatma’, many of his contemporaries had many whims & fancies with respect to various things in life and we never bothered much about those during their lifetime as we were focused on the deliverables of each of these individuals…! Nehru, AKG, Indira, Patel were all having their own choices of life styles and fantasies!

Now, as Carl Marx rightly said change is only a word which does not change and as an irony the party which follows his ideology had time and again shown their intolerance towards change!!

Now, at least for God’s sake, let’s accept the fact that those days ended to exist, where you can find people who are in politics with this so called ‘Simple Life’ in real terms. Now we have only pseudo advocates of simplicity and live in ‘make-up’ to show us their austerity. As we are used to this hypocrisy, we get offended when someone in politics become frank and bold on his/ her fabulous lifestyle!

As a matter of fact, how many of us took pain to understand their lifestyles and assess each one of them? How many of these so called investigative journalists took pain to bring out details of the life of these public figures? In fact, no one really cares how they all live until some controversy erupts and that’s the way the life is…! For us, we are comfortable on the thought that ‘All is well’ about our ‘masters’ and their dirty habits as long as they do everything secretly! Our pseudo culture does not allow us to accept this in public!! What I’m trying to say is that if a politician travels in Mercedes Benz, it’s his choice and only thing what we should be bothered is whether he’s doing it at the cost of ex-chequer? For this there should be a mechanism to publish expenses of the ministers on a monthly basis, at least in the web. The public being the boss of these politicians in a democracy should have the right to do a social audit to assess, analyse and correct these politicians and their habits.

We come across stories of misappropriations in many of these ministers’ offices and stories of politicians getting caught on spy cameras in compromising positions is common news item nowadays…! Still we expect our politicians to be “Ramas and Lakshmanas”! Very sad…! Have you personally kept up the sanctity of the institutions of morals to poke on somebody’s private life! Unlike yester years, politicians are no more ideals of our young generations and you need not worry about wrong influence on the youngsters…! During his life time, Jesus Christ had insisted to the one who didn’t sin to throw stones at Madam Magdalene, just to teach that it is important to keep ourselves clean, before pointing out dirt on others…!

If a social worker who works in NGOs can take a salary, why it is considered a sin for a politician to be paid? My personal suggestion to all these political parties is that to form a corpus fund (Could be partially funded by Government and partially collected from sustainable activities and opportunities created by the party) and create a payment structure for hierarchies and recruit people in those vacancies with certain entry criteria….Attitude,  Aptitude & Some Minimum Qualification. This will push youngsters to study before getting into politics! Promotions in the hierarchy should be based on the good work he does in his portfolio and a social audit is made in this effect for his/ her appraisal. The criteria of social audit could be Mileage for the party; Utilization of funds allocated to him and of course, the beneficiaries’ feedback on the individual’s performance.

The social audit should be on their action on set/ promised target achievements and not on his personal life and lifestyle! Definitely there should be respect for the moral values and personal/ professional integrity, which our country had been proud of…! However, by forcing our pseudo morality, we are encouraging them to pursue hidden personal choices, which many a time happens to be illegitimate!!

It may sound impractical at this point of time, but I’m sure it is going to happen in our system as we are shrugging off our nature of pseudo culture as we are getting more and more exposed to global scenario, where they call a spade, a spade! 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The food safety of “Young India”

This note of mine has reference to my earlier article titled as “The Grain drain may touch our lives any time…” and an article of Ms. Suzanne Daley appeared in ‘The Hindu’ regarding the situation of the jobless in Spain, where opportunities are denied to get back to work in agriculture sector! The crux is that during the boom in infrastructure in Spain, people who were engaged in hard labour of farms upgraded themselves to softer jobs in infrastructure sector…! As the boom is over and jobs ceased to exist, suddenly many of them find it difficult to get back to their old jobs as it had been occupied by immigrants from countries across Eastern Europe and Africa. Now, the farm owners are not willing to induct these old employees back since they don’t want to jeopardize the current equation. Another aspect is the doubt that these locals will not be able to work as hard as the foreigners, as they had been doing softer jobs so far…!

I would like to compare the Indian scenario with this….India is currently undergoing infrastructure boom and unlike other places, we have a large unorganized employment sector, which amounts to 93% and this sector attracts predominantly people from the agriculture sector. To my own knowledge and experience, both farm owners and farm workers are slowly becoming species which are in the verge of extinction…thanks to unviable farming business model, exploitation of middle men and a huge real estate lobby! India is now a young country and expected to remain so for at least next 3 – 4 decades..! As of now, the agriculture sector is still the primary employment provider in our country. However, the growth and boom in the economy is bringing in lots of radical social changes– both good & bad! As of now, the generation who are employed in the farm sector seems to be the last to exist and their next generation does not want to undertake hard labour in the farms as they have multiple easy opportunities available during this growing economy even without much skills. Apart from this, multiple initiatives from the Government also guarantees a fairly reasonable livelihood for rural sector. However, the social change emerging from these initiatives will be non – availability of man power for the hard labour in farms and thus bringing in a huge vacuum in the already hit agriculture production!

The fears I mentioned in the previous article in this blog (The Grain drain may touch our lives any time…) had become order of the day as agriculture ministry started importing various grains to bring down the prices! We were a country boasting of huge food reserves till 2 years back!!

Now to understand the eroding human resource supply in agriculture sector, listen to the story of social change in a village….

There is a Gram – Panchayat which had shown the world that the Govt. employment can be assured to one member of each family in the village through focused preparatory classes for the ‘Public Service Commission’ examinations. Over a span of less than a decade, they had achieved their goal of having at least one in every family getting employed in Government sector! However, pit fall of this social change is that the elders of these families who were very efficient farm workers despite their age had taken an abrupt retirement as their children genuinely wanted them to take rest..! It’s a significant change in the existing social system and though it is a welcome change in terms of a reliable income source for those families, there is a gap created in terms of farming sector manpower requirement is concerned…? Every good social change can backfire if not planned well in advance!!

Now, let’s look into some practical answers….

We need to accept the fact that the country’s economy is in a growing spree and it will definitely induce more opportunities in various sectors and the brunt will be on the agriculture sector…?! In the above mentioned scenario itself, the young population of India, who had received basic education avoids hard labour and prefer softer opportunities, which are available in plenty..! Leaving some exceptions, those who stick on to farming (Be it farmers or farm workers) are mostly uneducated and unskilled people. This is the very basic problem of the sector! 

In this context, our Governments need to address this issue by attracting young efficient people into farming to improve our production and granary reserves. Call it a second green revolution or whatever; the thumb rule of attraction is to make farming a viable business model with less dependency in man power, especially by eliminating hard labours through intelligent automated solutions.

To achieve this, there should be a multi pronged approach to address each issue in the sector at micro level…

  • To devise a fresh credit policy with a strong monitoring system for any agriculture sector projects with preference to induction of advanced technology to optimize the results.

  • The application for credit should be accepted and evaluated by a ‘single window’ central agency and then asked to service it by local banks distributed geographically across the country, thus eliminating the delay in the evaluation process at the banks.

  • Enough thrust should be given by the RBI to the banks to avoid further delay by the banks in servicing and disbursement of credit for such recommended projects, even after the approval of this ‘single window’ agency.

  • The successful models of precision farming should be replicated across the country by educating youngsters on such advanced farming methods & techniques by introducing rural technical training hubs (knowledge centres) across the country.

  • The Government should envisage a target change in the sector in terms of making it more organized and soft labour oriented.

  • The micro tools depending on the area and the people, should be developed through participatory research programme by initiatives from premium institutions of the country and also with the technological affiliations from countries who are well advanced in agri-tech & research.

  • The training content should be prepared in such a way that it inspires the youngsters to take up jobs in the farm sector. It should inspire more youngsters to become entrepreneurs in the sector as well.

  • The agriculturists, agronomists and scientists should revamp the traditional image of the sector to make it more like a business option by building up a viable business model with very transparent and practical projections.

  • Like in every other sector, the farmers should be trained to do product costing before they fix the pricing for their produces taking into account of the production process, percentage of wastage & defectives, the input cost and the marketing cost. A similar approach should be taken to attract the young farmers to plan & optimize their production.

  • The production should be controlled based on the market trends and demand – supply studies in farming as well. This is possible in technology enabled farming like ‘precision farming’ and through various micro processor based technologies with controlled ‘fertigation’ models.

  • Controlling of the prices should be handled by the farming community based on the market demand and supply chain challenges.

  • The Government needs to set up a Farm Produce Price Regulatory Authority (FaPPRA) in line with TRAI and IRDA in order to control and audit abnormalities and exploitation in the sector.

  • There should be a continuing education programme on ‘Post Harvest Handling’ and marketing. There should be awareness and support programme to inspire group initiatives in food processing projects.

  • There should be micro monitoring system (not micro management) established under ‘FaPPRA’ to support and execute such projects vide credible NGOs working in those areas with strict accountability norms.

  • Though linking of technology to the farmers seems to be the biggest challenges now, it will become much easy once the youngsters take it up. They will drive the change in the sector in positive direction.

So it becomes all the more important to attract youngsters to more organized, scientific and precision farming by facilitating infrastructure for such a revolutionary change in the sector!

As a hand holding initiative, Governments can link the PDS outlets procurement to such farming groups under the guidance of ‘FaPPRA’ through long term procurement contracts, which should envisage both interests of the farmer as well as the consumer. This will induce price stability and eliminate middle men’s exploitation. 

However, if the Governments do not act fast, we’ll be left with no grains for the youngsters and there will be a generation who will look up to other countries to produce and feed them!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Development agenda and importance of enthusiastic professional politicians

What is the qualification required to become a successful politician in India?

Minimum:          3rd Std failed or No school

Maximum:         3rd Std passed or No school

I know our beloved District Panchayat President Sri. Thankappan Pillai since my childhood days. The first time I knew him was as the one who loudly reads news paper for those labourers of Beedi manufacturing unit on my way to school..! He must be a 4th Std drop out and no one was bothered to know about it. For his service of reading news papers to his employees and thus saving their productive time, the owner of that beedi manufacturing unit used to reward him with ‘4 Annas’ (close to 25 paise) in those times. Thankappan Pillai became aware of world affairs through those numerous news papers and he started quoting those news bits in relevant and irrelevant contexts. Most of his audiences were either as less informed as him or much lower literate than him! So, for them he became genius and an expert in world affairs!

Over a period of time, he had grown in stature and as he neither can think of doing any hard work nor does he have any skills, he found politics is the easy and apt profession for him. After having multiple tenures in Gram Panchayat as its president, he was elevated as Block Panchayat President and eventually he became District Panchayat President in these revolutionary times of ‘Panchayati Raj’ and de-centralized development!!

Thanks to Thankappan Pillai’s brand of development that it was never beyond his capacity of thinking and even after years of tenures, the villages remained as primitive as it used to be…! In his capacity, he allowed illegal metal quarries and sand mafia to thrive..! When it became intolerable, some of the responsible citizens went and got a stay order against such illegal mining..!

As responsible citizens of India, we all should realize the serious deficiency of our system in terms of attracting qualified brains in participating in the process of policy making for the development of our country! Like innumerable superstitions and blind-beliefs of our country, we all are prejudiced about the way politicians are supposed to behave…?!! We all say that’s the practice followed by our ancestors and any deviation from such a pattern is seen as offensive behaviour?!

In this context, we need to analyse the rise and fall of a Minister of Tharoor’s stature , who has a strikingly bright professional background, internationally!

When today’s opposition was the ruling party in centre, another minister for State in the Ministry of Railways, who hails from Kerala gave a letter of reference  requesting HRD Minister to consider my friend’s  application for a ‘Jan Shiksha Sansthan’ (a continuing education centre) for our Panchayat under the NGO represented by him. Understand the fact that he was trying to help my friend; just because it comes to his home state (He was not even representing Kerala). As a matter of fact, my friend didn’t get this institution as two out of the proposed three centres were allocated to HRD Minister’s state and another one was allocated to one of the North-Eastern states!

In this context mentioned above, can anyone say that the minister who gave reference letter had misused his good offices to lobby for us?! The local president of their party was with my friend as one of the advisory committee members of the NGO…! Can anyone say that this person got the post under any shady deal? Nowadays, to get a confirmed railway ticket, you carry MP’s letter…how do you qualify that?

It is clear in the case of Tharoor that he called to find why the signing process was delayed for no reason? This call would have been made by any one of us, if we were enthusiastically involved in offering moral support and help…!  Not just to IPL commissioner, for that matter to anybody, when you suspect there’s a foul play…! Call will be actually made by you as an individual, regardless of the position you are holding!

We need young dynamic people with intelligence and transparency in public places, who should bring modern thoughts and bold new practices in their respective places. Our system is such, there are lots of Thankappan pillais who neither have the capacity to envisage better quality of life nor have exposure of the development happening across the world!!

Given the situation, it is time for Tharoor to re-invent himself to focus on keeping in touch base with the common people by continuous interaction. I feel he should come up with an action plan on the development agenda he has for his constituency and for the state and then for the nation..! If he can publish it in the site and update it with the ‘target vs achievement chart’ in simplified, illustrated form which could be understood by the youngsters of this country…I’m sure he’ll win many hearts!

Though at the cost of his designation, Tharoor controversy became a positive initiative towards cleaning up the IPL and its systems apart from the individuals. However, with the kind of mentors Modi has, he never thought it would become the end of the road for him so soon..!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Three Idiots, Five point Someone and me….!

This is an open thought for all of us to think, think and keep thinking before decide or conclude!

Nowadays, it has become fashion for everyone to talk in length & breadth about the lacunae of the education system of the country..! Everybody agree that there are lots of problems with the system of education & examinations. I too have been advocating the need of liberation and focus needed on grooming the self learning process in young minds. Apart from my own experiences, the books of ‘Paulo Coelho’, ‘Chetan Bhagat’ and so on, had also influenced my thinking process! Another important influence was my friend Vinod, who is the founder of ‘Mazhavillu, the alternative school’. All these points of view are acceptable and there is a huge movement initiated among educationalists, institutions and educational regulatory/ advisory bodies (from NCERT to ICSE in Indian context) to reform the prevailing system…

Now, I would like everyone to do some serious action to visualize in our minds about the change required in the system….!

We all say the following three points quite often…

1) There should not be pressure for our kids at the young age….!
2) We should allow our kids to choose their career path based on their passion…!
3) Our education system should be more application oriented…

Let’s have some honest analysis of the same…

Though we say that there should not be pressure, we enjoy a lot when our children get 1st Rank since class-I and when they don’t get good percentage, we put pressure on them to improve the marks…not their understanding!

Why do we want our kids to score more marks? Because, in India, due to exploding population, our limited number of institutions and infrastructure, kept the percentage of marks scored as a filtering mechanism for the admission process. Over a period of years, though there had been a phenomenal improvement in the educational infrastructure, we follow the same mechanism to filter instead of a well balanced, scientific and appropriate aptitude analysis! Thanks to our old generation of educationists, who still resist the change in the name of credentials of our system (The same system, which is not indigenous, but just a ‘left over’ from British of 19th Century) quoting examples of Sir C V Ramans and other Indian scientists, who made a mark of their own..!! Most of these scientists made their presence felt when they could go outside India and if you analyse the statistics, not even one of our premier institutions could register any patent for years together…! But still our society is keen to push our kids into IITs & IIMs year after years!! A recent revelation by a group of alumni of one of such institutions is that there was not even a properly working ‘CNC Lathe’ in their lab, which is a shame for a country boasts of 6+% growth during when the whole world is under the grip of recession….!!

Now, it’s a vicious circle, here in our country…! More & more middle class push their children to these premier institutions because the country’s corporate world (The India Inc) prefers to induct their workforce from such institutions! So, in effect, entry to such institutions is considered to be a passport to the best business houses of India. Kids stop living from 9th Class onwards by starting off preparing for ‘Entrance Exams’….can you believe it? The youngsters curse their parents and those who make it to such places acknowledge their parents’ extra ordinary efforts. But only a few discusses candidly about the lacunae of the system, which produced them …!

So, the reforms we speak about should happen not in the education system prevailing in the country, but in the minds of those parents who push their wards so hard and in the mind sets of the ‘India Inc’, who feels that if they recruit from the premier institutions their organizations will be taken care forever..!! In fact, the change in the system should start from the attitude of such organizations first, which will reduce the insecurity of the parents and their wards thereby, of course, as a repercussion, it will bring in welcome change in the education system as well.

When we have this reverse engineering in place, we will not pressurize our young kids too much and we’ll be bold enough to allow them to follow their respective passion! Our educationists can bring in aptitude analysis and guide each individual to follow what he would like to pursue in life….! And if these institutes, in association with the boards & universities, can bring in application/ skill oriented system of education, the same ‘India Inc’ will prefer recruits with application based skill sets.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The change and resistance

“Change is the only constant in this world” – Though we all know and quote this on every given occasions, when it happens in our lives, we resist….to the extent that we break ourselves!

I had already written a short article on how to manage change from organizational perspective and now I would like to add on the same from life perspective!

I had been interested in innovative initiatives in culture and technology for the betterment of common man’s Life standards since early college days…! This nature of mine helped me in initiating many such projects/ programme in my life so far….! Though some of them died down after I moved out from the concerned positions, many have set trends and were continued by my successors and the very ‘thought’ of such initiatives gives you instant inspiration to move in the same direction! As a matter of choice, for last few years, I, along with my associates, have been doing, in professional terms, ‘Market Gap Analysis’ and conceiving various projects of technological innovation, which would help change the standard of living of common people…!

In the process, I had numerous setbacks and few successes. However, I continue my pursuit to unlearn, understand, learn and analyse newer horizons, which gives me immense satisfaction and joy!

When India is growing globally in terms of GDP perspective and in terms of recognition of our rich cultural heritage, one point we all (The citizens, the politicians and all other eminent individuals) need to manage this growth very carefully, as individuals, as society and as a nation! My experience vouches that ‘Growth which is not managed well can kill an organization’!! This is applicable to our great nation as well and we all have lots of duties to expedite cautiously to make our nation achieve inclusive growth…..which I doubt at this point of time?!

Our country’s development came after a long wait…! Now, if we don’t manage it properly we may get into deeper troubles than yester years.

In 2006, when I was driving through the ‘Golden Corridor’ 4 lane high way (Then it was new), it was really quite an experience! However, I could observe that I had to drive cautiously though I was driving in the faster lane, as I encountered vehicles coming opposite to us!! At last, somewhere near Bhubaneswar, I lost my cool, when a two wheeler came honking towards me with lots of abuses?!!! While I was arguing with him I was shocked to realize his perception about these four lane…..Instead of 2 lanes going towards North and 2 Lanes coming towards South, separated by a divider, he understands that in each side of the divider, there’s two way traffic allowed and according to him I was coming on the wrong lane as it was supposed to be my right lane…!! This incident reminds us that along with the development, how important it is, to equip the common man to manage such a change by disseminating information to the grass roots levels!

Every new initiative will face resistance and bulldozing such resistance should be done by tactfully bridging through lot of consensus among resisting elements and this is where imparting
logical reasoning will be essential! Now, when we discuss about change, I myself may not be able to endorse every change, which is happening in our society! If you analyse history, every change which brought in ‘Social Evils’ were crushed by the mother nature over a period of time…The maximum life span of such changes are between 2 – 3 decades in the modern times, though earlier, it used to be much more…

So, let’s be prepared to change and understand that the resistance never succeeds on a longer run….!! How to manage these changes is our challenge and we should wake up and move on….!! 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Nostalgic Sivarathri - 2010

I’m excited to write about participating in ‘Sivarathri’ celebrations at Pallassana after such a long time! ‘Hats off ’ to Chandru and his young team…..Thanks a lot guys!

I’m not able to express the joy I felt when I joined them on the day, quite a coincidence?! Not really…I met Kannan (Kongassery) at Secunderabad station on the day of my departure and he reminded me of the event and told me that he may also take a short break from work to join there..! So I kept up the date and went to our nostalgic ‘mannam’ after a long time….!

Let me quickly put my points of appreciation and correlate to our golden days….

1) The felicitations of people who contributed extensively to bring laurels to ‘Pallassana’. It was really appealing to see the age range of people, who were felicitated….it was a fabulous cross section of our small village!
2) ‘Kavettam’ was another interesting innovative programme, which went in synch with the tradition of ‘New Exposures’, which was initiated during our golden days! People who were with us on those days were cherishing those moments when we have exposed our innocent village audience to the ‘world of miming’, ‘Mass Hypnotism’ and ‘Fusion Vocal Concert’, year after year…..Let me bow in respect to our team and the togetherness…! ‘Kavettam’ too was such an experience! I could see many glittering widened eyes amongst our sweet, curious ‘Desam’ audience!!
3) Kudos to Vasudevan (Sreekuttan) and his young team to have conceived, developed, practiced and presented such an insightful short drama within such a short period! I really loved the work….!! It was more like a ‘one act play’ though it was spread over few scenes.
4) The dances were definitely good, but were not spectacular, owing to the lack of live vocals! The dances by the tiny tots were obviously fanta-fabulous!!

Once again, I would like to thank as well as congratulate Chandru, Sreekuttan, Ponnan, Sivan and the entire team for conducting such a nostalgic event…!

To conclude, let me thank each one of them, who supported this event by contributing to make this programme a reality….!

May ‘Ponnin Kiratha Moorthy’ Shower his blessings on one and all….

Monday, February 22, 2010

Inspiring Wrong Values!

Having written about the right inspiration and its influence in all our lives, I just can’t keep quiet about another experience from which we all need to take a leaf of realization to not to do something like this…!

Thanks to my friends’ community across the world, who share their experiences with me in order to enrich & empower me to write about it..!

This is another couple among my close friends’ group and the husband works in an MNC and the wife used to work with an international school, which intends to ignite the light within the young minds..!

My friend’s wife Brinda was forced to resign the job from this school due to her mother’s ill health in last June. As they were two daughters and her younger sister being in Australia, Brinda had to take a serious call while she was on her summer vacation at her native place. Though her presence was immediately required there, she did not refrain from joining back as she has been very ethical all through her professional life. She convinced my friend Biswas that it will be difficult for the school to replace a teaching staff immediately and hence, despite all the adverse conditions, she joined back in June and discussed with the Head Mistress regarding her handicap and immediately put down her papers with a notice period of one month.

Immediately after submitting the resignation, she went and enquired with the administrative staff regarding the formalities to be completed and they assured that there was nothing to be done as there were no loans or dues. As it was opening days and also as the school was undergoing international curriculum implementation, the planning and scheduling process was on a hectic mode. She had been actively involved in all those assignments till the day she got relieved! In fact, I drove with her husband to pick her from the school on that last working day in July, as we were travelling to their native by road..! As promised, she received the relieving letter with a ‘No – Dues sheet’ attached along with it on the relieving day.

Now, the drama begun….! She got relieved on 3rd July, 2009 and she was supposed to receive her salary for the month of June on 5th July, 2009 along with the others. I regret to note that she did not receive her salary for quite some time…!! (The latest update is that she received her salary in Jan-2010 after a long struggle)

They are my very close friends that I know them for quite long years and I have been always there with my family during their good & bad times. My friend has been a multifaceted personality and had contributed immensely as a social activist and educationist apart from his professional achievements!

In this context itself, when Brinda decided to quit, many of her friends advised her to leave immediately after collecting her salary..!! However, she never listened to all those, since they both have strong belief in abiding by values, principles & professional ethics, which many of us just preach...!

When she called up and asked why she was not paid her salary, first response was that they were yet to get the no-dues from the Principal. On inquiring with the Principal, he clearly told that it had been given to the finance department. One of the individuals in finance department wanted to prove a point that he’s Mr. Perfect for the organization and he told that she has to submit the insurance card back…!

As a matter of fact, the health insurance card is normally issued on individual’s name which cannot be revoked until and unless it is not under special employee – employer scheme operated by some private sector insurance companies. That too is operated with the knowledge and consensus of the employee. Hence, in this context, by taking Brinda’s card back, nobody was going to gain any benefit! If you take the lower income group employees, they are offered an ESI (Employee State Insurance) card, which can be used for the treatment of all the dependants of the family in ESI hospitals. It is the right of the employee to hold the card with him/her, as the contribution paid would be shares from the employee’s salary along with the employer’s contribution, which is a statutory obligation. The latest development is that it’s going to be nationwide network and these members can avail health services anywhere in the country and the ESI coverage eligibility income bandwidth is proposed to be increased to include maximum number of employees under this umbrella of social security. Since the health card issued by the employer can be viewed as a state obligation in place of the ESI facility, the employee holds the right to retain the card, legally.

However, to avoid confrontation and as she had separate personal health coverage, she gave back the card to the school…! Now, again months passed and still the salary was not paid..! They even stopped responding to her calls for some time! Though my friend was trying to pacify her, she was very firm on following up as she felt that she had been taken for a ride by the management despite the faith and ethics shown towards the organization and the profession. Above all, she knew that she had worked hard till the day she got relieved and deserved the fruit of her hard work..!

Now, my point here is that this school management did not realize that they were setting a wrong precedence by doing this…! As a consequence, anybody who would like to leave the school would wait till they collect their salaries and do a vanishing act just after receiving it!! This will definitely put the school in very awkward position as far as their quality standards are concerned as the implementation of international system is on…!

The proposed bonds will be of no use as all these ‘labour bonds’ are against the constitutional provision of prevention of bonded labour and will not have much legal sanctity in the court of law…!

As in this case, an individual from the administrative department tend to overdo things in order to make an impression on his superior to get some cheap attention, which hampers the serious long term mileages for the school and the irony is that under the influence of such sycophants, the management keeps on distancing themselves from their core function group and most of the times the realization happens after occurrence of a mishap! Already this had become known to many in the organization and I would say that the first person to leave this organization without notice in future would be our ‘Tiger’ who created this mess!! In fact, he was trying to cover up his own failure and in the process, our lady became scapegoat!

My sincere concern is about the lack of control from the management perspective and the whole incident inspires everyone to follow wrong practice by shedding off values & principles!

Let’s analyse and avoid inspiring wrong values like in this case…

1) The whole incident shows that there is a lack of system and absence of processes/ SOPs.
2) The cover – up exercise of such an individual should have been ‘seen through’ by his superiors and should have initiated corrective action as damage control.
3) The management should have taken a reactive (if not proactive) stand as soon as the issue happened.
4) Above all, an individual’s mishandling of situation should have been controlled by the management to inspire others to uphold the values, professional ethics & principles.