India


In many villages, people had fought for decades to demand one amenity after another. As an activist put it, they would struggle one year and get 100 metres of road, street lights required another protest, and many basic amenities had to be gained through sustained collective action. The impact of such protests over time was to gain an impressive array of services. Such protests date back at most to the 1970s.

The root of TN’s commitment to services


My training in mainstream economics and my social background had convinced me that government programmes to address hunger were a waste of public resources. I adhered to the idea that they should be eliminated in favour of promoting economic growth. That changed in 2002 when I travelled to the Chambal Valley of Madhya Pradesh, which was suffering its third consecutive year of drought. Here is a short note on that transformation.

How I became interested in TN’s public services


A spectacular defeat like the one suffered by the United Progressive Alliance II government could not have happened without a confluence of reasons. A consistent and careful messaging by the opposition and organisational and financial muscle of the BJP, among other things clearly played a role in UPA’s loss. What one cannot deny is that UPA II lost public confidence based on its abysmal record in office over the last five years. I’d like to focus today on one factor that created the greatest anger against the UPA and one more that gave people no reason to support it unlike […]

What broke UPA II



There have been many racist-like commentaries on rural and poor voters by the urban elite in this election season in India. Where would this lead us?

Urban arrogance in India’s elections






A collection of links from sources as diverse as the RSS, CPI-ML, Mili Gazette, India Together and the Dalit News Network. All too often we read news from just the sources that are ideologically aligned to us. I created this page in order to break from this tradition so that I am acquainted with views from diverse sources - whether or not I agree with them. The links will be updated as and when the websites are updated. Bookmark it to stay updated. If you would like to import the feed into your own website or reader, click here.

Diverse opinions from India


Some people are in a crisis and others are enjoying prosperity...who should the government help? A serious policy debate.

People without a crisis



This is a response to a long and rambling comment by a dear friend. Dear Venki: thank you for being an avid reader, even if it is against your best instincts J I can always take some words of encouragement from a "senior" of my high-school days. Your words were encouraging and I am keen to accept the personal remarks. That said, I will have to respond to your worldly wise(?) comment about poverty being purely a choice. That is a little too tempting, considering that much of our relationship is built on arguments. Let's get an argument out of the way. If you […]

Poverty as a choice: Response to a friend


This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . Some scholars have pointed out that the motivation to dissolve the PDS comes from the ideological belief that the government should not be engaged in providing public services, and of course the material appeal this has for the rich.  The quest for PDS reform started in the context of India’s liberalization and globalization.  Pushed by multilateral agencies, the PDS was converted into a targeted system in 1997.  The motivation of these reforms was not […]

The politics of PDS “reforms”


India’s Planning Commission fixed the poverty-line at Rs. 29 per person per day (around ½ USD at today’s rate) attracting severe criticism that the amount is unreasonably low. The Commission’s Vice Chairperson, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, mounted a spirited defence of the poverty-line in CNN-IBN recently. He argued that the poverty line is used only to measure the trends in poverty over time, and it does not indicate the level of poverty, and so the level of poverty-line does not really matter. In other words, this number is only a benchmark based on which we can find out whether the number of people […]

Poverty-line debate: Time for Montek to criticize Montek



After watching a news report on the appalling number of schools in India without even a building to house it in, I saw an advertisement mentioning “My classroom has no walls, I have no ceiling”.  I would have thought that it were a fundraising advertisement to build schools, but for the white smiling face in the ad.  It turns out in this strange world that classrooms without walls can also be sold as an opportunity.

Classrooms without walls


This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . In evaluating alternatives including cash transfers, it is first important to identify both contributions and failures of the system.  Proponents of reforms today have focused exclusively on the problems, without dwelling on the things that it has done.  There is a reason why the PDS is so popular in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra and increasingly in other states including Chhattisgarh.  In all these cases the PDS has worked and means a lot to the […]

The PDS does not work, let’s shift to coupons or ...


This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . Many have argued that half the PDS entitlements reach the “non poor”.  I believe that resources are scarce, and the government should spend the money on people who need it most.  We should thus be concerned if resources are being spent on those who do not need it.  In considering whether resources reach the right people, we should remember that we have a rather poor system of identifying the poor.  The poverty-line based on […]

PDS does not reach the right people, let’s shift to ...



This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . Please read other articles in this topic before getting here… The cost of administering the PDS is high Some economists have pointed out that the cost of administering the PDS is very high, and it is now possible to transfer cash to people at a cheaper rate.  This is one of the strongest arguments for a shift from PDS to cash transfers, in my opinion.  The amount of money that could be transferred just […]

Shifting from PDS to coupons or cash transfers: Assorted arguments


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This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . The level of corruption in the public distribution system has been one of the rallying points in the cry for change.  The following are some of the corruption related arguments for change: There is large scale corruption in the system It is undeniable that there is a lot of corruption in the PDS, and something needs to be done about it.  In arguing that we should shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers, […]

Corruption in the PDS & will coupons or cash transfer ...


The Public Distribution System (PDS) in India has come under a vigorous attack in the recent months.  There have been calls to dismantle the system and to replace with alternatives such as providing coupons or cash transfers.  Without any doubt the PDS has serious problems, and performs abysmally in some parts of India.  Unfortunately, these are also among the poorest regions where the need for protection from hunger is the greatest.   Considering that the PDS is supposed to contribute to something as fundamental as food security, such poor functioning must be addressed. In the recent past there have been discussions […]

Shifting from PDS to coupons or cash transfers: FAQs



"Do you want to wear an anklet or do you want to go to prison?" said a US consular officer in Hyderabad about the tagging of some Indian students in the United States to monitor their movements. These anklets contain a GPS device that closely monitors the movements of the students, and will alert officials in case they move beyond areas that they have been authorised to. The anklets provide a useful analogy to the Unique ID (UID) project by the government of India. Let me explain. In an article entitled Prison without walls, Graeme Wood argues that such radio […]

Understanding UID through “radio tags”


Binayak Sen has just received a life-term jail sentence for sedition or waging war against the state. The specific crime, according to the judgement, was that he conveyed three letters written by a Maoist leader to a Calcutta-based trader. This was supported by a broader claim that Binayak Sen and his wife Ilina have known Maoists, and that Binayak even had Maoist literature at his home! Callous evidence The evidence presented for the critical claims of the case have been disputed. He met Narayan Sanyal several times in jail, under the supervision of jailors and was searched before and after […]

Why even those who oppose Naxalism should support Binayak Sen