Econ Mom on Cricket, Sarfarosh and the Nirmal Gram Yojana

Lord help me! It’s vacation time and Lil One is in top form. It’s cricket, 24 by 7. I have grave doubts that he may have completely forgotten me by now and generally identifies me as the screaming woman who is forever telling him to take a shower and look a little more clean. I am thinking of buying a bowler shaped umpire hat to just get his attention and to declare that Mom has “run out” of patience. Sigh!

He wakes up really late and then has a shower that will put the meanest water conservationist to shame (yesterday he emerged from the bath in a record 55 seconds looking dirtier than he looked when he headed in), gulps down breakfast and then literally rushes for his galli cricket. Lunch is but a cricket affair. All of my culinary feats (well, to be fair, that just includes cut mangoes, sigh!) lie neglected in the discussion of Lil One’s runs, his sixes and fours, his amazing new style of bowling and ouch! injuries. “I got that bruise when I dived in order to take that catch, Mom. You should have seen it! And this one is, well, the opposition team didn’t like the fact that I did a hat trick.” I had a mental vision of Lil One running giggling and teasing followed by ruffianish kids holding bats and stumps.

“Please! Do you guys go after each other when someone does a hat-trick?”

He shrugged and rolled his eyes at me as if to say that this is the basic rule of galli cricket 101.

“In our days,” I started, “cricket was called a gentleman’s game.”

“Yes!” snorted Lil One immediately, “and they had to be gentlemen for 5 days! How boring, Mom! Our way is better, more direct. 5 hours, if there’s no hat trick.”

“And if there is one?”

“5 minutes!” he grinned evilly at me.

Gawd! Boys! I don’t remember ever running after another child armed with a bat in all of my childhood. The max damage I guess we girls inflicted on each other was biting or pulling each other’s hair; hmmm, though I remember Mom’s lecture after I had clawed the face of this girl, when I was 6, after she called me a monkey. I also remember that nothing in the lecture had managed to wipe off that vague feeling of …satisfaction I had after that amazing fight. “Genes, my dear” whispered my darker mind to me evilly, but I shrugged off that feeling uncomfortably. And coming back to the present sharply, I ticked him off in my usual Maya Sarabhai tone. “Running after each other with bats” I told him with an upturned nose, “is hooliganistically middle class.”

“Heehee! Mom, can I please have another Rs.20?”

“What! You lost the ball you bought yesterday too?” I looked at him in dismay. You get a rubber ball for Rs. 20 and a tennis ball for Rs. 40 and a season ball for Rs. 150. A single window pane costs Rs. 80 to fix and an entire window, well, Rs. 200. Guess how I know all of this? Sigh!

“Mommy, Swapnil hit a six and it went over the rooftop…his mom won’t get him a new ball, please Mom?”

“But really…”

Lil One suddenly adapted Veeran’s character from the movie Sarfarosh (He’s really good at mimicry). “Yeh bat hain. Lekin agar tumne mujhe Rs. 20 nahi deeye, toh yeh kya hain? Patthar hain, patthar!”

Interesting, thought Econ Mom, that dialogue from Sarfarosh. “Patthar hain, patthar,” is what Veeran says to convince the arms seller that a gun without bullets is as good as stone. Interesting, because I had thought of the same dialogue just yesterday, when I was on a field visit to this remote hamlet in Raigad.

The past month has been extremely taxing. I’m currently working on a project for the State Election Commission and we’ve been all over Maharashtra, talking to Zilla Parishad members and Government officials in remote, faraway Panchayat Samitis. It’s been taxing, but I’m not complaining. The learning’s been so huge that it takes away the physical discomfort of travelling in the burning sun.

Now, as we all know, the spread of a village is not too huge geographically. But this village has some “wadis” or small hamlets included in it, some of which are 17 kms away from the main market of the village! The reason of including these into the village is that the population in those wadis is hardly 150-200 tribals and hence, these wadis have not been granted the status of a separate village.

Now, there was this tribal lady (a Gram Panchayat member) who had come walking 17 kms down the mountains just to meet us and be part of the Gram Panchayat meeting. When I expressed dismay that she had to walk just to see us, she shrugged. “That’s fine. We do this everyday anyways.”

Our team was there to understand the dynamics of a gram panchayat with reservations for tribals. One point led to another and we were soon asking the villagers what their plans were for the development of the village. “We really want to get the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in the next couple of years,” said their Sarpanch.

For the uninitiated, Nirmal Gram award is given to villages that completely stop open defecation and achieve full sanitation.

“We built toilet blocks last year itself in our wadi!” declared the tribal lady, who’d come walking down from her wadi.

“That’s amazing!” I said. “So is your wadi completely sanitized?”

“Madam, we built toilet blocks because there was a scheme under which we got funds for it. But there’s no water supply. Our wadi is in such a remote location that water supply is a permanent problem. So all the community toilets are extremely dirty and no one uses it. Open defecation is…normal.”

There you go. It’s such a shame. In the past one month, I’ve come across such umpteen horrors from the field, where you see how hotch-potch implementation creates really bad issues. Whoever said that India is a poor country? We are spending money by the crores, literally be the crores, on thoughtless, hopeless, badly implemented programs, so that next year people will come back craving for more from corrupt officials who don’t care a damn.

“But you are an elected member of this Panchayat. How did you contest elections if you do not have a toilet block at home?”

“Madam, there are only 2 houses in our wadi that have attached toilets. Ours is one of these and hence I could contest.”

“But then, how do you get the water for your toilet facilities?”

Now here, the lady looked distinctly uncomfortable. What she said next really tore at my heart.

“See Madam, we are relatively well off in our wadi. We have a bullock cart. So we fetch water by loading pails into the bullock cart. I tried telling the other people in my wadi that they too should get water from the river and use it to keep the toilet clean. But no one else has bullock carts. And when you walk 3 kms in one direction just to get 4 pails of drinking water in this hot sun, Madam, there’s not enough life left in you to walk another 6 kms to get water for sanitation. No one is willing to do this. I’ve antagonized all other women in my wadi by telling them to get water for the toilet blocks. They believe that rich people like us do not understand their problems. So now you tell me, how can the Nirmal Gram Yojana help my wadi in which water supply is itself an issue?”

Nirmal Gram cannot happen in a suspended framework. Water has to reach the villages. It has to be stored properly. Only then can the funds for building toilets be sanctioned. Also, someone will have to also look at the feasibility of maintaining the toilet facility once it’s ready. And that someone is supposed to be the elected member in the Gram Panchayat or Panchayat Samiti or Zilla Parishad! Where the hell are these people? And why is no one working for these outcomes? This is just going to become another yojana, under which we build toilet facilities which in fact create more sanitation and health hazards than a scenario under which there are no toilet blocks.

I thought of not only toilets without water, but also of the pathetic quality of politicians who have not been able to drive this change in the past 70 years since independence and my mind said passionately, angrily, in a Veeran tone, “Patthar hain, patthar.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Metaphorical Faux Pas of the Central Banker

What happens when you cross metaphors with economic ideologies? Controversies, as the RBI Governor discovered after calling the Indian economy a one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Many an eye popped with disapproval, many an eyebrow was raised delicately, many a pert nose wrinkled in metaphorical distaste and all hell broke proverbially loose.

The poor, poor man must have wondered what he’d said that was so very wrong. He was just trying to say that a 7.5% growth rate was not a bright spot by itself; it still was short of hitting the potential growth rate in India. So compared to a lacklustre world, we may seem to be quite the economic miracle, but well, a miracle that could get more miraculous. A one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Uh-oh!

Miffed, the Commerce Minister sniffed at the choice of words. Jayant Sinha too got into the fray with gusto claiming that to confuse the shining star with the shining one-eye was so not done. The FM, who after the Budget debate on Times Now, has discovered the lethal power of silencing loud critics with statistics, merely chose to say in a clipped, dignified fashion that 7.5% growth rate is enough to get celebrating. It’s rather unfair, to get so righteous about metaphors after having used them profusely through sher-o-shaayari to take interesting potshots at the opposition during budget speeches. Remember this, folks? “Kuch to phool khilaye humne, aur kuch phool khilane hai. Mushkil yeh hai bag me ab tak, kaante kai purane hai.” Ha!

Just as the NDA was busy meta-reacting to the poor Governor, Mani Shankar Aiyar, much to the delight of the UPA, chose to give his opinion on the issue. He cleverly and deviously converted the metaphor into an allegory to claim that the PM is in fact the one-eyed king of India, causing a kind of an allergetic or allegoristic reaction all across the NDA. The UPA must have, by now, gleefully decided that henceforth, every RBI monetary policy review will be followed by a press release personally crafted by Mani Shankar Aiyar. The RBI, which on normal days issues good monetary guidance, and on special occasions, well, issues good monetary guidance for variety, is really not used to such excitement and adrenalin. Recoiling in complete horror, it is said to be currently debating whether the Indian economy won’t be better off with only one review in every 8 years, rather than 8 reviews in every 1 year.

In the meanwhile, there was a complete kahaani mein twist as P. Chidambaram, whilst reacting to the nation’s demands about Ishrat Jahaan, chose to declare full and final support to the RBI Governor. Does the excitement never end? The Commerce Minister dished back her criticism, no holds barred. State of the economy, Indian and global, notwithstanding, this has now become a full fledged fight between the Commerce Minister and P. Chidambaram, whereas the RBI Governor, I’m sure, has decided to quit giving speeches for a while and just stick to good old monetary guidance.

Metaphorically speaking, the entire controversy is also perhaps indicative of the differences in the delivery mechanisms of the fiscal and monetary policies. The fiscal policy is passed as an Act of the Parliament; its tone does not lend itself to interpretation, its clauses have to be spelled out in black and white. The monetary policy in the Indian context, has always treaded that fine line between growth and inflation; in that sense, it has been more interpretative, more guidance oriented. It’s kind of a déjà vu, that as inflation targeting pushes monetary policy into a more concrete format, the RBI Governor faces ire for having been metaphorical in stating the stance of the Indian economy vis-a-vis the globe.

It was Alan Greenspan, a Central Banker from another time and another zone who had famously remarked, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” The RBI Governor may not have been in concurrence of the expansionary monetary policy that Greenspan unleashed on the US prior to the crisis, but even he will not be able to find a fault line in this particular statement by Greenspan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing by the book

Dear Reader,

Hi! Did you know that the FM had tied up the state of the Indian economy sub-consciously to the performance of the Indian cricket team in WC T2o? 😛

Well, here’s the relationship between fiscal deficits and cricket! The piece appeared today in “Tweakonomics,” a column on econ-humour I write for the Hindu Business Line. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/playing-by-the-book/article8429549.ece, else read it here directly.

Enjoy! And do send in a comment or two!

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Fiscal targets and Indian cricket

Many an eye was left wet and leaking in that last over of the India-West Indies semi final, as the six hit off-Kohli rocketed into the stands. Chartered Accountants, many of whom had created internal deadlines of 6 p.m. on March 31 just so that they could watch the match were particularly indignant about the whole thing and were left vengefully thinking how cricketers could possibly be taxed more.

But no eye watered and no nose sniffed harder than that of the FM, who had somehow tied up the state of the economy with the fortunes of the Indian cricket team in T20s.

The FM too had cricketing aspirations, when a young wisp of a boy. However, as the years passed, the bye-laws began beckoning more sharply than the leg-byes, after which he decided to give a bye to that leg of the aspiration.

The many fascinations of allocation, distribution and stabilisation functions of the fiscal policy overtook those passions of batting, bowling and fielding. The classical version that Tendulkar played seemed almost “normative”; how cricket ought to be. It was rapidly getting replaced by “positive” cricket; higher speed, higher octane T20 cricket with crazy looking shots getting titled the Pallu shot and the Helicopter shot. Cricket, in which what ought to be, got replaced by what is.

Rather like the changes which happened to the NDA in the political arena. After a few years spent in taking interesting jibes at how governments ought to function and budgets ought to be, here was the NDA, now being asked to perform the helicopter shot. That the PM took this literally is another ball-game. And the FM found himself talking to the media not about how the budget ought to be, but about what it actually is.

And he made his pitch, like Captain Cool. As Team India strode as favourites into the World Cup T20 series, the FM felt his spirits rise. Yes, we shall deliver as promised! The UPA may well raise its delicate eyebrows, but fiscal deficit will be contained at 3.9 per cent!

To be defeated by 47 runs by New Zealand was such a shocker; no one had expected NZ to exhibit such form! The FM’s tummy churned unpleasantly. The last he’d felt so stunned was when RaGa had demanded a cap on taxes to get the GST passed.

With that Bill not getting through, the taxes wouldn’t show the expected buoyancy in the next fiscal; but the boys were back in the field laden with the expectations that only an India-Pak match can bring on, looking as buoyant as ever. And what a win! The emotional high of the moment could only bring on fond memories of the HR Minister decimating a cowering Opposition with tears and a voice shaking with high drama. We will not only do a 3.9 per cent fiscal deficit this year, we’ll also do a 2 per cent next year, thought the FM, high on positivity.

And to see Virat Kohli take on the Aussies was to believe that we’ll deliver a balanced budget next year! Zero per cent fiscal deficit target; ha, take that, you disbelievers!

Against WI, Virat and Dhoni’s batting was like watching the markets rise. Chris Gayle fell, as will the repo next month. But what’s this? How could we lose? By 7 wickets! The FM’s hand shook as he took a call from the CSO. “Sir, even if Kohl sector is up, we’ve real bad news. Fiscal target looks difficult because we’ve overspent.” The FM sighed. We’ve overspent by 7 per cent.