Lest We Forget!!!

In his seminal work of 2005 – “The Argumentative Indian” Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, “argued” that the understanding and use of the argumentative tradition of Indians are critically important for the success of India’s democracy and its other ethos. However between 2005 and now, the argumentative Indian has matured into “The Outrageous Indian” I guess.  In India presently, the economy is under tremendous strain permeating pain all over. Ergo, the GDP has fallen off the cliff and not sure how low it will get by the time this fiscal year gets over. However no such problems for GDO – “Gross Domestic Outrage”!! In the last few years there has been no paucity for outrage in this country. Many opportunities have been presented to us in meticulous frequency and we have all faithfully shown our outrage whether it is on the streets, on Twitter, on Facebook or on WordPress.

Lest we forget, I wanted to do a reality check on if things have got any better post the pouring of outrage.  Here we go:

Lokpal bill: In the August of 2011, a frail Gandhian by name Anna Hazare and a group of argumentative Indians bandied as Team Anna by the media brought thousands of middle class Indians to the streets.  The cause was to get a “Lokpal bill” passed in parliament. At the peak of its movement Team Anna moved the country and was inexorable. Today, Anna has been pushed to avail VRS (voluntary retirement scheme), Team Anna on losing steam got dismantled and Lokpal bill is in cold storage.  Once again.

Delhi Gang Rape: The heinous act by a few thugs in the capital city in the Dec of 2012 ushered in Outrage 2.0. India’s political class made all the right noises (political noise i.e.) in the aftermath, Nirbhaya became omnipresent, Justice Verma was commissioned to suggest suitable amendments to the Crime Laws, he rose to the occasion and submitted his recommendations in record time, the Govt. passed a law with supposedly stiff provisions to prevent rape,… ,…So far so good.  7 long months on – the guilty have not been punished yet. If this is the situation on one of the most visible crimes in the country, I shudder to imagine what would be the state of affairs on lesser known crimes!!  Justice Verma in the meantime passed away and to me, the cause which he furthered all his life (Justice System) failed once again. And for the Govt. closure was achieved when in the Budget it set up a “Nirbhaya fund”!!! Did we hear anything on that post March???

Coalgate: Till then CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) in India was just another “babu” whose department did audits of Govt. departments and released reports, mostly harmless. But this time the then CAG Vinod Rai decided to do a “Seshan” and released a draft report which accused the Govt. of a scam of epic proportions in allotment of coal blocks to public and private enterprises arbitrarily thereby causing loss of ( I forgot ) so many lakh crores!!! The opposition duly disrupted parliament for a whole session. And where are we today? There is a power shortage in most parts of the country. Power plants need coal. Mining has been stopped in most of the states. A Congress MP and a young scion Navin Jindal has been accused to be in the thick of action in the scam. A minister does “proof reading” of the status report prepared by the CBI (He ceases to be a minister now). And frankly I’ve lost track on what’s happening in this front!!! At the end, are there now clear guidelines on allotment of coal blocks or for that matter any natural resource??

Pakistan’s dastardly act in LOC: 2 Indian soldiers were captured, killed, beheaded and their body mutilated allegedly by Pakistan army in the LOC. The outrage here in this part of LOC was spontaneous. I’m not privy to the steps our Govt. took subsequently. We hope some steps have indeed been taken to ensure this doesn’t repeat.

Blasts in Hyderabad: Yesterday, 13th July marked the 2nd Anniversary of the serial blasts that shook Mumbai. Few months from now, it will be the 1st Anniversary of the twin blasts that rocked Dlisukhnagar in Hyderabad in February. Anniversaries such as this come and go and Candles do brisk business on these days. We are yet to figure out the cause, the perpetrators of the crime or any mechanism/process to prevent such acts in the future. In fact last Sunday the Bodhi temple in Bihar was the centre of another blast!!! That Buddha in his time was considered an apostle of peace completes the tale of irony.

Match fixing: For long Indians were supposedly good at match fixing. The only way Indians got married was when their parents “fixed the match”. As things changed in that space, we turned to a different Match fixing it seems. It emerged that in IPL (Indian Premier League) cricket, players were involved in betting and fixing the outcomes. It turned out later that even owners were also in the ring. Another rage. From everyday dose of investigative revelations few months back to complete peace in that front, we find that the whole saga has been fixed and buried with no outcome!

Uttarakhand flooding: This is the recent one. We don’t know if the floods have actually receded there but the nation’s attention and mindshare already have, already. Actually now starts the act of reconstruction. If done with vision, here’s an opportunity to create a new “Chardham” experience. Will it happen? Ground evidence doesn’t provide any play for hope.

So as can be seen, for the aam admi it’s been just OSOT – Outrage Se Outrage Tak (From one outrage to another) and they have not yielded any tangible result.  In a democracy as ours, our opportunity to “materially” intervene comes once in 5 years. Post that intervention, we have no choice but just to show outrage.  At the same time is there a way by which while we keep moving on, get the attention focused on the earlier issue and obtain closure? Can the leading news channels/newspapers devote a weekly slot on re-visiting “Open issues”?  Is it too much to expect of the opposition to demand action on older issues?  Can we have constitutional amendments paving way for the President to intervene on outstanding issues? Gurcharan Das in his piece in TOI today goads us to spend 1 hour a week in the neighbourhood as an answer to our increasing political disenchantment.

This is my small attempt to keep the fire on, lest we forget.

Outrage

Tailpiece : When he was “outraged”, Bharathiyar said:

thani oru manithanukku unavu illai enil jagathinai erithiduvom” (if there is no food for a single person we will destroy the whole universe)

Today’s Govt. says:

thani oru manithanukku unavu illai enil Food Security Bill kondu varuvom” ( If there is no food for a single person we will bring the Food Security bill)!!!

India “Mining”???

Elsewhere in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, brand strategists of Unilever, the FMCG giant are on a panic video conference call with their counterparts in India.  The key point of discussion is how to stop their main competitor in Oral care segment – ‘Colgate’ from walking away with a sudden spike in the market share in India.  Random surveys in different cities and towns in India revealed that “Coalgate” emerged on top of the mind and lips of a majority of Indians these days!

It’s not just the Unilever brand managers who were having sleepless nights. Ever since the report of the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) on Coal block allocation hit the public domain, it has spread insomnia among quite a few in the ruling front as well.  The opposition has smelt blood and resembles these days “The Gangs of Wasseypur  and are doing everything but short of spilling blood on the streets or on TV. The CAG report set a new record for the number of “0”’s in a digit for a scam and proclaimed that there is a loss of Rs. 1.86 lakh crore ( US$ whatever!!! ) caused by delaying the auction route for allotment of coal blocks instead of allocation by a screening committee which was seemingly opaque.  It would seem that from a 55 cr scam (Bofors) in the 80s to 1.86 lakh cr scam now we have indeed come a long way even after adjusting for the high inflation!!!  Who said we are an emerging nation ? Guys, we have arrived!!!

I’ve not read the CAG report and hence my observations in this post are based on what I’ve been reading and watching in the media in the last 2 weeks.  It’s good to see institutions turn watch dogs and uphold the principles basis which they have been founded.  However if they become the rabble-rouser variety which is what the CAG has turned into then we have a problem.

The track record of CAG in floating purported loss figures and diluting the same as time passes has not been so impressive. Keeping that aside, the problem I’ve with this report is that it presents a purely accounting perspective (that too a faulty one) in arriving at the loss figure which is in essence an opportunity loss or a presumptive loss.

Erudite economists and columnists have found many a hole in the CAG report and they are all there in the public domain.( A good one from Surjit bhalla – “CAG,Credit & Credibility” is a good read)  I am not erudite and not an economist.  As a lesser mortal, I’ve only the following simplistic observations:

  • For a developing country like ours with growing population, infrastructure building and Job creation are critical for growing our economy and meeting the needs and aspirations of the people
  • For both these, massive investments are required and it can’t be that only the Government which will have to make these investments
  • A congenial environment needs to be created for private sector to invest in infrastructure and set up factories, facilities, … which in turn will create millions of jobs.
  • When the Govt. reaches out to the private sector to invest and when they do invest – apart from fulfilling the social obligation their look out is also return on investments and shareholder value

 Coming back to the “Coalgate” issue,

  • It’s been a while ( may be the late 80s’s) since Govt. encouraged private players to engage in mining of coal to produce fuel for power generation plants.
  • India is already short of power not to forget the grid failure which consigned 600 mn Indians to darkness a month ago.
  • Coal India which is a Govt. owned entity is unable to meet the demand of coal. Under the circumstances, if the Govt. of the day (whether the central Govt. or under advice of the State Govt.) decided against auction and went by allotment (arbitrary is what critics claim) to private as well as public sector, the Govt. cannot be blamed for not being opportunistic of earning in millions!
  • Any auction route which is competitive in nature while raking in the moolah for the Govt., it also escalates the cost for the bidder and after bidding through the nose you cannot expect the product to be priced cheap.  The cost of 3G services in India now bears testimony to it.   Hence I’m not surprised that political parties including the UPA, BJP and the left (in the states) were not pushing for the auction route in mine allocation for all this while.   Hell will break lose if the cost of power is not kept affordable.
  • So calculating a loss and putting forth an argument based on what the Govt. would have raked in if the auction route was pursued is indeed specious.
  • If you stretch the ‘presumptive loss’ logic further – whatever the Govt. does in the form of a subsidy is an opportunity loss. Like the money it spends on schools where students are being taught for free, is a drain on the exchequer  if you compare to the fees charged by a similar private school, isn’t it ???
  • If the share price of companies sky rocketed after they have been allocated coal mines, it is simply a function of how share markets function across the globe! Govt. cannot be blamed for the valuation or the market cap curves of the companies based on the vagaries of the stock market.
  • The Govt. is being faulted for allocating 145 blocks against mush lesser during the previous NDA government. Now this is stretching the limits.  If you govern and do something it’s a problem. If you don’t do anything also its governance deficit.  There is clearly a surplus of cynicism here.

I’m not a fan of this govt. and  I’m also not in agreement with the “0” loss theory foisted by the Govt. (not mined so no loss!!!)  It is clear that there needs to be a consensus among all parties on how natural resources like Spectrum, coal blocks, land,.. are used for achieving the larger economic growth irrespective of who is governing the country.  This will ensure that there is consistency in policy and no witch hunting or retrospective levys on private investors which in turn will see a spur of investments in these key areas.  The 2G scam and now the “Coalgate” scams only highlight the need for more transparency in Governance than what exists today.

 We don’t need more “Gates” or CAG reports for “*** lakh crores loss” but what we need is “open, transparent” methods and processes in Governance.

Update : I wrote this post yesterday (26th Aug). And today ( 27th Aug) there is finally a detailed response on the issue from the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. For those interested, here’s the link : PM’s statement

P.S : It seems there is a section of BJP which wants to launch a “India Mining” campaign for the next elections!!!

Amidst all this you can’t resist a hearty laugh looking at the Amul hoarding on “Coalgate”

Amul’s Coalmaal