Yearly Archives: 2012

Joy, fear, pride, panic, love, relief and a range of other nouns could have explained my emotions when I heard the news from Dr. K.  To be honest, my dominant reaction was ‘eh, ok’.  After all, it’s not a new release of an iPad or some other cool gadget on which you start getting excited nine months in advance, right?  We were merely dealing with an organism that was then just a set of twenty or so cells, dividing itself like bacteria and fighting its way to a temporary shelter. Not something to be excited about so much in advance. […]

The start of a long journey

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. Another strong argument for coupons or cash is that the recipients will have the choice to spend it on what matters most to them.  Proponents of reform have argued that the Indian policymakers tend to be paternalistic, and often argue that if the government gives cash instead of grains, poor people may misuse it, including by drinking it away.  They have argued that it’s important to trust poor people to make choices that matter […]

Coupons and cash transfers give people a choice unlike the ...

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

During my last visit to India, I participated in a few meetings on questions such as strengthening the right information act, the role of the PDS, and other social issues. In all these meetings there was a vigorous debate on how mobile phones could be used on each of these issues given the rapid spread of mobiles in rural India. Despite periodic discussion about the use of technology, I did not hear viable ideas among my activist friends. I believe that this is in part because most of them are not advanced users of technology, and they have definitely not […]

Need for public service mobile application foundation for India

  My first experiment with Microsoft’s Photosynth software that creates one large image stitched out of nearly 50 photos.  A view of one of the most beautiful parts of Stanford.  For best results, expand this to full view.  

Photosynth of Stanford on a beautiful cloudy day

This is a part of the series, diary of a doctoral student with stories on politics, emotions and other things that determine our research beyond the research methods. One challenge that I faced while writing my dissertation was that every time I started a new chapter, I had to deal with multiple ways of organising it. For example, there were times when I could have narrated my story village by village. Alternatively, I could have organized the layout based on themes or chronology of events that would cut across each village. There was merit in organising the chapter in each of these […]

Mind-maps for organising the layout of a chapter, article or ...

Unlike a lot of people, writing does not come to me naturally.  It has been a slow and difficult learning process, and I had to contend with massive writing project as I started the dissertation.  As it turned out, writing the dissertation was fun, but not always.  It took me an year and a half to write the dissertation after the fieldwork, and in the process, it helped me to know what other writers had gone through.  A lot of that advice came from the committee and from my peers at the University, and some of it came from webcasts on […]

The art & craft of academic writing: Interviews & talks

I am sorry to disappoint you in case you came here for some gossip on our friends, Bill & Melinda.  This article is about two bizarre structures, one in Delhi and one in Los Angeles.  The front gate of the Delhi School of Economics is massive and ornate, and it is supported by pillars that hold the massive gate on either side. It is said that the two pillars are called truth and knowledge.  What is special about these gates is that they have never been opened, and people have been forced to use the rear entrance to access the […]

Two bizarre gates

Andhra Pradesh is now experimenting with the system of authenticating cash payments in programs like NREGA and old-age pensions using a biometric device. In an example that I saw in Tirupati district, the device was installed in a post office that disburses wages and pensions. The device had a fingerprint scanner to authenticate the identity of the user, and it also had a SIM card through which the device communicates to a centralised database, from which the post office downloads a list of people and the amount that must be paid to them. When pensioner comes to the post office, […]

Biometric device or a mini computer?

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