How the India-Bangladesh Enclaves Problem Was Jump-Started in 2007 Towards its 2015 Solution: A Case Study of Academic Impact on Policy

How the India-Bangladesh Enclaves Problem Was Jump-Started in 2007 Towards its 2015 Solution: A Case Study of Academic Impact on Policy

by

Subroto Roy, with Brendan Whyte

Progress on the complex problem of India-Bangladesh enclaves started slightly in 1958 and especially 1974, then came to be stalled completely.  In May 2007 press reports said a joint delegation was doing some survey work.

That same month, I as Contributing Editor at The Statesman newspaper (biding my time away from a corrupted academia) stumbled on the excellent doctoral work done by a young researcher in Australia on what seemed at the time the impossibly intractable problem of India-Bangladesh enclaves.

I wrote to the newspaper’s Editor on 9 May 2007,

Dear Ravi, You may know that there is an incredibly complex problem between India and Bangladesh relating to enclaves between them, some dating back to Cooch Behar and Mughal enclaves 200 years ago. An Australian researcher named Brendan Whyte at the Univ of Melbourne has done the definitive study of the problem. I think we should invite him to produce a 2000-2500 word two parter on his work which would be very helpful to both governments and to public discussion. If you agree, I can write to him and invite him or you can do so directly. I will have to find his email. Regards Suby

I enclosed a published abstract of Whyte’s work:

“Waiting for the Esquimo: An historical and documentary study of the Cooch Behar enclaves of India and Bangladesh. Whyte, Dr Brendan (2002) “Waiting for the Esquimo: An historical and documentary study of the Cooch Behar enclaves of India and Bangladesh” School of Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Melbourne

“Enclaves are defined as a fragment of one country totally surrounded by one other. A list of the world’s current enclaves and a review of the literature about them reveals a geographical bias that has left enclaves outside western Europe almost untouched. This bias is particularly noticeable in the almost complete absence of information on the Cooch Behar enclaves, along Bangladesh’s northern border with India. The Cooch Behar enclaves number almost 200. This total includes about two dozen counter-enclaves (enclaves within enclaves), and the world’s only counter-counter-enclave. Together, these enclaves represent 80% of the total number of enclaves existing in the world since the 1950s, and have been at the centre of Indo-East Pakistani and then Indo-Bangladeshi boundary disputes since Cooch Behar acceded to India in 1949.

The incredibly complex Cooch Behar sector of the Indo-Bangladesh boundary is investigated in detail for the first time, from historical, political and geographical perspectives. The history of the enclaves is traced, from their origin c.1713 until the present, in an attempt to understand their genesis and survival under a succession of states, from the Kingdom of Cooch Behar and the Mughal Empire in the 1700s, to Bangladesh and the Republic of India today. The difficulties of the enclaves’ existence for their residents and the two countries today is contrasted with their peaceful, albeit administratively inconvenient, existence until 1947, to prove that the enclaves themselves are not the cause of border tensions in the area, but are rather a focus for other cross-border disputes.

The current situation of the enclaves is described, highlighting the abandonment of the enclave residents by each country, which refuse to allow the other to administer its exclaves. India’s inability to implement a 1958 treaty with Pakistan, and its continued delay in ratifying a subsequent 1974 treaty with Bangladesh to exchange the enclaves is highlighted as the major factor impeding resolution of the enclave dispute. That the delays have been rooted in Indian internal politics is demonstrated. Highly disparate official and media reports as to the number, area and population of the enclaves are analysed to determine the true extent of the enclave problem, and the first ever large-scale map of the enclaves is published, locating and naming each enclave.”

The Statesman‘s Editor agreed, and I went about trying to locate Dr Whyte. I think I phoned Australia, asked after him, and learnt he was a New Zealander teaching at a university in Thailand.  On 10 May, I wrote to his former department head, Ian Rutherfurd:

Dear Dr Rutherfurd, I am Contributing Editor at The Statesman of Calcutta and New Delhi, and would like to be in touch with your colleague Brendon Whyte but there is no email for him at your site. Please tell him we much wish him to write a two-part article on the editorial page (over two days) for us of less than 2500 words in total on his important research on the India-Bangladesh enclaves. There would be a relatively tiny honorarium probably from the Editor but a large impact on policy and public discussion in both countries. The Statesman is India’s oldest and most eminent newspaper. It may be seen at http://www.thestatesman.net and I am to be found at http://www.independentindian.com Many thanks,  Subroto Roy, PhD (Cantab.), BScEcon (London), Contributing Editor

Brendan Whyte replied the same day:

Dear Dr Roy, I have received your message, and am honoured to be asked to write a piece for your paper. I now work in Thailand. Are there any further details regarding this assignment in addition to your information below? For example, is there a deadline, and if so, when? Do you want/can you accept maps/photos and if so how to send them to you? Can the text be sent to you be email or do you prefer a printed version instead of/in addition to an email? Regarding email should the text be in the body of an email or do you prefer an attachment in Word/RTF or other format? Do you prefer a Word document, or should the text be in the body of an email Thank you very much Brendan Whyte, PhD, Faculty of Management Science,Ubon Ratchathani University, THAILAND

I wrote back the same day

Dear Dr Whyte, Many thanks for the quick reply, and our thanks to your colleagues for locating you. The Statesman’s editorial page is as influential a place as there can be in serious Indian public discussion, though I have to say there is far too little such discussion in the country. At my suggestion, the Editor has invited a 2500 word two-part article (over two days); I have said you may have done the definitive work in the area. I know nothing of the subject and am reluctant to suggest any further guidelines, and leave to you to say what you wish once you get a sense of the audience and likely impact. I have in recent months published numerous special articles in The Statesman, and these may be seen at http://www.independentindian.com to give you a sense of the kind of quality you may aim at — though certainly we are a newspaper and not a technical journal. Regarding graphs, each article would have an illustration a few inches square and if you felt you could squeeze the relevant data into two such articles for the two days it would be excellent. Do drop by Calcutta when you can. The honorarium will be a few thousand rupees I expect though the Editor has not specified it yet. No there is no time rush; I accidentally found your work through a wordpress.com blog on strange maps. On second thoughts, if your articles generated invitations from geography departments in India or other invitations to give lectures on the subject, that too would be a worthwhile aim. Best regards Suby Roy

Brendan sent his proposed article a month later in June.

I replied:

Hello, I have reduced it by 300 words without reducing any substance. I hope you may agree. Can you please try to reduce another 200 words, eg of the Belgian/Dutch case? I normally don’t allow anyone to touch my stuff so if you would like to try to reduce it all yourself, that’s fine. Also, 198 is not equal to 106+91+3+1. Please send all the graphics you may think suitable, and people here will try to figure out what to use. It may all go on one day on the Op-Ed page, I have no iodea what the Editor may decide. Also add your PhD University Thanks for this. The work is excellent and I hope it brings you the publicity you deserve. Suby Roy

Brendan sent his final draft on 16 July 2007

Hi Suby, My apologies that this has taken me so long, but the teaching year has been so busy! I have reduced it to 2274 words, about 10% below your limit of 2500. It is attached as a Word file, and appended below as plain text. I hope to send some illustrations separately in the next day or two. Let me know if the revised article is ok or not. Thanks, Brendan

I wrote to the Editor again the same day:

Subject: India-Bangladesh Enclaves: A Major Foreign Policy Problem Solved

Dear Ravi, Apropos our correspondence two months ago, Dr Brendan Whyte has at our request produced an excellent analysis of one of the trickiest and longest-standing problems between India and Bangladesh, viz. enclaves. Dr Whyte is a political geographer from New Zealand who worked on this subject for his doctoral thesis at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He apparently teaches in Thailand at present. By publishing this, we will be doing the MEA a very big favour, besides of course contributing to an important yet neglected public problem relevant to Eastern India. I recommend it for a Saturday night-Sunday night two-parter, rather than the Perspective page, given its close factual basis. Sincerely, Suby.

I wrote to Brendan:

Hello, Your article looks to me first-rate. The basis of a Government White Paper on this side or that. I have forwarded it to the Editor with my recommendation. Please send me any illustrations asap, as he may go with it any day though likely not before the weekend. Best wishes SR

Brendan Whyte’s 16 July 2007 final draft was this:

“The Enclave Problem: India and Bangladesh can and must solve this 300 year problem!

There are 198 “enclaves” (chhit-mahals) between India and Bangladesh. Cooch Behar district has 106 enclaves in Bangladesh, and Bangladesh has 92 enclaves in India: 88 in Cooch Behar, 3 in Jalpaiguri, and 1 between Cooch Behar and Assam’s Dhubri district. The enclaves vary from clusters of villages to individual fields. The smallest Indian enclave may be Panisala, only 0.1093 ha; the smallest Bangladeshi enclave is Upan Chowki Bhajni #24 at 0.2870 ha. The largest are India’s Balapara Khagrabari at 25.95 sq. km, and Bangladesh’s 18.68 sq. km Dahagram-Angarpota. The 198 enclaves also include 3 Indian and 21 Bangladeshi counter-enclaves (enclaves within enclaves). India also possesses the world’s only counter-counter-enclave: a 0.69 ha jute field inside a Bangladeshi enclave inside an Indian enclave inside Bangladesh! Enclave populations-sizes are unknown. The last censuses to include enclaves were in 1951, although the Pakistani enumeration was incomplete. The population today is probably under 100,000 persons in total, 60% living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, the rest in Bangladeshi enclaves in India.

The enclaves are 300 years old, originating during the Mughal wars against Cooch Behar in the late 1600s. A treaty was concluded in 1711 in which the Mughals obtained three chaklas from Cooch Behar, but the Subahdar of Bengal rejected the treaty and forced Cooch Behar to cede further lands in 1713, reducing it to about its present borders. This second treaty is the origin of the enclaves: as in feudal Europe, the holdings of kings and their vassals were not contiguous wholes but rather a patchwork of land parcels, so the ceded chaklas included lands inside the unceded areas and vice versa. The East India Company fixed the Bengal-Cooch Behar boundary about 1773, and by 1814 noted that the enclaves were safe havens for bandits. Yet the Company itself created more enclaves in 1817 when it adjudicated a territorial dispute between Cooch Behar and Bhutan, creating Cooch Behari enclaves in then-Bhutanese territory (now Alipar Duar district of Jalpaiguri). These enclaves remained when the British annexed the Bhutanese lands in 1865.

The British quashed the bandit menace but proliferation of liquor, ganja and opium shops in the enclaves became an excise problem between Bengal and Cooch Behar. After discussions, the main boundary of Cooch Behar became the customs and excise boundary. All Cooch Behar enclaves in British India fell under British excise control while all British enclaves in Cooch Behar fell under Cooch Behari excise control. This practical solution to the problem in hand left the sovereignty of the enclaves intact.

A full exchange of enclaves was suggested by the British in the early 1930s, to reduce the costs of the upcoming survey and demarcation of the Cooch Behar boundary but the idea was dropped in face of strong local objections, and all the enclaves were surveyed and demarcated with pillars by the late 1930s.

Partition and independence in 1947, and the subsequent accession of Cooch Behar to India in 1949, elevated the enclaves to the international level. Initially this was unproblematic, with India and Pakistan concluding agreements on cross-border trade and movement in the enclave areas. Censuses in 1951 included the enclaves. But Pakistan’s unilateral 1952 introduction of visas requirements, and immediate Indian reciprocation sealed the fate of the enclave dwellers. High-level politics subordinated the needs of enclave dwellers on both sides.

Full exchange was again agreed upon by the 1958 Nehru-Noon Accord, and this was reiterated in modified form in the 1974 Indira-Mujib Agreement between India and Bangladesh (Bangladesh would keep its largest enclave, Dahagram-Angarpota, to guarantee access to which, India would lease it a short corridor. But a succession of mainly Indian legal challenges regarding the constitutionality of both accords prevented implementation until 1992, when the Tin Bigha corridor was finally opened. The exchange of the remaining enclaves, agreed in 1958 and 1974 and cleared of legal challenged by 1990 remains unimplemented, despite constant Bangladeshi calls for India to implement the agreements fully.

Meanwhile, since the 1950s the chhit mahalis, or enclave dwellers, have been effectively rendered stateless by the two governments abandoning responsibility for them.

India’s fencing of its border with Bangladesh has added a physical dimension to the political isolation of its own enclaves. The chhit mahalis on both sides are unable to vote, to attend schools or markets, to be helped by NGOs working in either country, or to seek police help or medical attention. Each country claims its original citizens have been forced out of their enclaves by the population of the other country surrounding them, and so each country refuses to extend its governmental responsibilities to the supposed invaders. Simultaneously each denies it can legally assist the populations of the other country’s enclaves inside its own territory. Abandoned by both sides, the chhit mahalis struggle to survive without the ability to protect their rights, homes or lives. Bandits once more make use of the enclaves to escape the jurisdiction of the surrounding state.

The problem is one of India and Bangladesh’s own making but it is not unique. Since 1996, when the Lithuanian enclave of Pogiry in Belarus (population: three) was exchanged for equivalent land, 259 enclaves have remained on the world map. Besides India-Bangladesh, there are 61 enclaves affecting 21 countries as owners or hosts. Most consist of a single farm, or a village and its surrounding farmland, inside a neighbouring country. Some approach the complexity of the Cooch Behar enclaves, such as 30 enclaves (including 8 counter-enclaves) belonging to Belgium and the Netherlands in the village of Baarle (population 8500).

The Belgian-Dutch enclaves originated in a feudal agreement c.1198, and emerged at the international level when Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands in 1830. The enclaves were an annoyance to customs, police and foreign ministry officials; but arrangements allowed goods to pass into and through the enclaves, paying tax only if they were destined for the other country or its enclaves. Nevertheless, smuggling brought prosperity to a village on the economic and political periphery of both countries. Today the village park boasts a statue honouring the smugglers. The economic union of Belgium and the Netherlands and the subsequent European Union have eliminated the profitabililty of smuggling without the need for policing or fences. Differences in tax rates and national laws remain, so that some types of business, such as sex or fireworks shops can only operate in one country and its enclaves, and not in the other. Yet the village happily contains both sorts of shops, each in the permitting country, but serving customers from both. Different planning laws, educational syllabii, post offices, town halls, and churches exist side by side. Several businesses and houses straddle the enclave boundaries, enjoying two postal address and two telephone connections. The policemen from each country share an office. The fire departments work together with special hose-coupling devices. Utilities, sewerage, road maintenance and rubbish collection are conducted by one country or  he other for the population of both. Where a national law unduly inconveniences the enclaves, an exception is granted. Thus while Sunday shopping is illegal in the Netherlands, the shops in Baarle’s Dutch enclaves may open on Sundays to compete with the Belgian shops, and the village has a thriving Sunday market, drawing crowds from both countries. Before the Euro was introduced, all shopkeepers and government offices accepted both national currencies. Overall the village has boomed as a border market, increasingly tourism-oriented, marketing its enclaves as a tourist attraction. Without the enclaves Baarle would be a small unimportant village. The enclaves have allowed it to surpass its neighbouring villages in size and prosperity.

Other enclaves are often placed inside the customs, postal or telephone jurisdiction of the surrounding country. Switzerland tolerates a casino in the Italian tax-haven enclave of Campione d’Italia, on condition that Swiss citizens have a daily betting limit. Germany’s village of Büsingen, also inside Switzerland, is inside the Swiss customs and currency area, not that of the EU. Passage from the UAE into the Omani enclave of Madha and into the UAE’s counter-enclave of Dahwa inside remain free of controls for locals and foreigners alike. On Cyprus, locals from two villages enclaved inside the British territory (and military base) of Dhekelia move about freely, and farm land under both British and Cypriot sovereignty.

What can India and Bangladesh learn from these foreign enclave cases? They have three main options. The worst is to maintain the status quo, each country refusing to properly govern its own enclaves while also forbidding the other to govern its enclaves across the intervening territory. This “dog-in-the-manger” attitude has reduced the enclaves to poverty and despair, countenanced violence and oppression, fostered corruption, and encourages the problems of criminal dens and drug-cultivation in the enclaves.

The second option is an enclave exchange. Inhabitants should be given two independent options concerning citizenship and relocation. For up to two years after the enclave exchange, they should have the option to choose whether to retain their current citizenship or to become citizens of the other country. They should also have the independent option to remain owning and farming the land they occupy after its tranfer to the other country, or of being resettled on land of equivalent value, size and productive capacity in their original country. There is no reason why they should not be able to choose to stay in situ and retain their old citizenship, nor why they could not hold both citizenships: dual nationality is an increasingly common occurrence worldwide.

The problems with this policy include a requirement for equivalent land for the resettlement of those wishing to relocate, and the need for each country to recognise the inhabitants of its enclaves as its own citizens before exchange. An imbalance in the numbers on each side desiring resettlement will cause difficulties. But it would only repeat the injustices of the 1947 partition if an exchange was made without addressing the needs of the enclave inhabitants, and allowing them some input into the process. The enclaves also form the world’s most complicated boundary, and include the world’s only counter-counter-enclave: so another problem with exchange is heritage loss. Finally, an exchange of enclaves is also an admittance of failure.

Enclave exchange will remove a cartographic anomaly but it will not solve the underlying tensions in bilateral relations. The enclaves are not a problem in themselves but are simply a focus point for distrust and tension created elsewhere. Exchange may not improve the lives of the chhit mahalis, who may end up marginalised, landless and dispossessed by the exchange process. Even if able to remain on their lands, they will still be living in an economically and politically peripheral location. Therefore any exchange should be entered into only with the will of, and in full consultation with, the people involved, so as not to become a further injustice.

A third policy is to retain the enclaves but improve their situation. The 30 enclaves of Belgium and the Netherlands at Baarle, along with other enclaves of Europe and the Middle East, are a good model for this. The advantages are many. It would put the enclave dwellers in charge of their own destiny, leaving them on their lands, but able to engage fully as citizens of their own country.

The distances between each country and its own enclaves are small, often less than one kilometre, rarely more than two or three. Designated access routes, for foot, cart and motorised traffic, could be easily set up and policed. This would allow enclave dwellers to traverse the intervening country to reach the nearest schools and markets of their own country. The local district commissioners should be granted authority to meet frequently and at will to discuss any problems and work out local solutions, without having to refer to New Delhi or Dhaka. Officials such as teachers, doctors, district officials, electoral officers, census enumerators and police should also be permitted visa-free access on demand. Which country’s currency, excise laws, and postal system, electricity and other services are used in an enclave should be based on principles of efficiency, not on chauvinistic nationalism.

There is no reason why exchange of enclaves for customs and excise purposes made in the 1930s could not be readopted. Indian enclaves could be alcohol-free like surrounding Bangladesh, and Bangladeshi enclaves could be prohibited from slaughtering cows as in India. This is no more a threat to the sovereignty of either country than is the differing alcohol and tax regimes of the Indian states and territories. The unique border situation of the enclaves would encourage tourism to this forgotten region in both countries, offering new economic possibilities to an area devoid of industrial capability and development.

India and Bangladesh are not alone in wrestling with the problem of enclaves. Similar problems have been solved in most other enclaves around the world. The long-delayed exchange of the Cooch Behar enclaves, mooted since 1910 and agreed upon in 1958 may simplify the border itself, but it is unlikely to improve bilateral relations, assist economic development of the area or improve the lives of the enclave dwellers. The needs and desires of the chhit-mahalis must be taken into account, but action must be taken to remove their current effective statelessness. The examples of successful enclaves elsewhere in the world suggest that even if relations between two countries are not completely harmonious, enclaves can exist and be beneficial to the economic potential of the area and the prosperity of its inhabitants. These two aspects are the raison d’etre of government, hence it behoves the governments concerned to ensure that any solution to the enclave problem addresses these issues and not merely cartographic simplification, which may only cement the 1947 division more firmly.”

Brendan’s article was published in two parts on Sunday and Monday  July 22 2007 &  July 23 2007 with very slight alteration –except the splendid maps he had sent failed to be published!

“The Enclave Problem India, Bangladesh can and must solve this 300-year-old issue! By BRENDANWHYTE

There are 198 “enclaves” (chhit-mahals) between India and Bangladesh. Cooch Behar district has 106 enclaves in Bangladesh, and Bangladesh has 92 enclaves in India: 88 in Cooch Behar, 3 in Jalpaiguri, and 1 between Cooch Behar and Assam’s Dhubri district. The enclaves vary from clusters of villages to individual fields. The smallest Indian enclave may be Panisala, only 0.1093 ha; the smallest Bangladeshi enclave is Upan Chowki Bhajni #24 at 0.2870 ha. The largest are India’s Balapara Khagrabari at 25.95 sq. km, and Bangladesh’s 18.68 sq. km Dahagram-Angarpota. The 198 enclaves also include 3 Indian and 21 Bangladeshi counter-enclaves (enclaves within enclaves). India also possesses the world’s only counter-counter-enclave: a 0.69 ha jute field inside a Bangladeshi enclave inside an Indian enclave inside Bangladesh! Enclave population-sizes are unknown. The last census to include enclaves was conducted in 1951, although the Pakistani enumeration was incomplete. The population today is probably under 100,000 in total, 60% living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, the rest in Bangladeshi enclaves in India. The enclaves are 300 years old, originating during the Mughal wars against Cooch Behar in the late 1600s. A treaty was concluded in 1711 in which the Mughals obtained three chaklas from Cooch Behar, but the Subahdar of Bengal rejected the treaty and forced Cooch Behar to cede further lands in 1713, reducing it to about its present borders. This second treaty is the origin of the enclaves: as in feudal Europe, the holdings of kings and their vassals were not contiguous wholes but rather a patchwork of land parcels, so the ceded chaklas included lands inside the unceded areas and vice versa. The East India Company fixed the Bengal-Cooch Behar boundary about 1773, and by 1814 noted that the enclaves were safe havens for bandits. Yet the Company itself created more enclaves in 1817 when it adjudicated a territorial dispute between Cooch Behar and Bhutan, creating Cooch Behari enclaves in then-Bhutanese territory (now Alipurduar district of Jalpaiguri). These enclaves remained when the British annexed the Bhutanese lands in 1865. The British quashed the bandit menace but proliferation of liquor, ganja and opium shops in the enclaves became an excise problem between Bengal and Cooch Behar. After discussions, the main boundary of Cooch Behar became the customs and excise boundary. All Cooch Behar enclaves in British India fell under British excise control, while all British enclaves in Cooch Behar fell under Cooch Behari excise control. This practical solution to the problem in hand left the sovereignty of the enclaves intact. A full exchange of enclaves was suggested by the British in the early 1930s, to reduce the costs of the upcoming survey and demarcation of the Cooch Behar boundary but the idea was dropped in face of strong local objections, and all the enclaves were surveyed and demarcated with pillars by the late 1930s. Partition and independence in 1947, and the subsequent accession of Cooch Behar to India in 1949, elevated the enclaves to the international level. Initially this was unproblematic, with India and Pakistan concluding agreements on cross-border trade and movement in the enclave areas. The 1951 census included the enclaves. But Pakistan’s unilateral 1952 introduction of visa requirements, and immediate Indian reciprocation sealed the fate of the enclave dwellers. High-level politics subordinated the needs of enclave dwellers on both sides. Full exchange was again agreed upon by the 1958 Nehru-Noon accord, and this was reiterated in a modified form in the 1974 Indira-Mujib agreement between India and Bangladesh (Bangladesh would keep its largest enclave, Dahagram-Angarpota, to guarantee access to which, India would lease it a short corridor). But a succession of mainly Indian legal challenges regarding the constitutionality of both accords prevented implementation until 1992, when the Tin Bigha corridor was finally opened. The exchange of the remaining enclaves, agreed in 1958 and 1974 and cleared of legal challenges by 1990 remains unimplemented, despite constant Bangladeshi calls for India to implement the agreements fully. Meanwhile, since the 1950s the chhit mahalis, or enclave dwellers, have been effectively rendered stateless by the two governments abandoning responsibility for them. India’s fencing of its border with Bangladesh has added a physical dimension to the political isolation of its own enclaves. The chhit mahalis on both sides are unable to vote, to attend schools or markets, to be helped by NGOs working in either country, or to seek police help or medical attention. Each country claims its original citizens have been forced out of their enclaves by the population of the other country surrounding them, and so each country refuses to extend its governmental responsibilities to the supposed invaders. Simultaneously each denies it can legally assist the populations of the other country’s enclaves inside its own territory. Abandoned by both sides, the chhit mahalis struggle to survive without the ability to protect their rights, homes or lives. Bandits once more make use of the enclaves to escape the jurisdiction of the surrounding state. The problem is one of India and Bangladesh’s own making but it is not unique. Since 1996, when the Lithuanian enclave of Pogiry in Belarus (population: three) was exchanged for equivalent land, 259 enclaves have remained on the world map. Besides India-Bangladesh, there are 61 enclaves affecting 21 countries as owners or hosts. Most consist of a single farm, or a village and its surrounding farmland, inside a neighbouring country. Some approach the complexity of the Cooch Behar enclaves, such as 30 enclaves (including 8 counter-enclaves) belonging to Belgium and the Netherlands in the village of Baarle (population 8500). The Belgian-Dutch enclaves originated in a feudal agreement c.1198, and emerged at the international level when Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands in 1830. The enclaves were an annoyance to customs, police and foreign ministry officials; but arrangements allowed goods to pass into and through the enclaves, paying tax only if they were destined for the other country or its enclaves. Nevertheless, smuggling brought prosperity to a village on the economic and political periphery of both countries. Today the village park boasts a statue honouring the smugglers. The economic union of Belgium and the Netherlands and the subsequent European Union have eliminated the profitabililty of smuggling without the need for policing or fences. Different town halls and churches exist side by side. Several businesses and houses straddle the enclave boundaries, enjoying two postal addresses and two telephone connections. The policemen from each country share an office. The fire departments work together with special hose-coupling devices. Utilities, sewerage, road maintenance and rubbish collection are conducted by one country or the other for the population of both. Where a national law unduly inconveniences the enclaves, an exception is granted. Thus while Sunday shopping is illegal in the Netherlands, the shops in Baarle’s Dutch enclaves may open on Sundays to compete with the Belgian shops, and the village has a thriving Sunday market, drawing crowds from both countries. Before the Euro was introduced, all shopkeepers and government offices accepted both national currencies. Overall the village has boomed as a border market, increasingly tourism-oriented, marketing its enclaves as a tourist attraction. Without the enclaves Baarle would be a small unimportant village. The enclaves have allowed it to surpass its neighbouring villages in size and prosperity. Other enclaves are often placed inside the customs, postal or telephone jurisdiction of the surrounding country. Switzerland tolerates a casino in the Italian tax-haven enclave of Campione d’Italia, on condition that Swiss citizens have a daily betting limit. Germany’s village of Büsingen, also inside Switzerland, is inside the Swiss customs and currency area, not that of the EU. Passage from the UAE into the Omani enclave of Madha and into the UAE’s counter-enclave of Dahwa inside remain free of controls for locals and foreigners alike. On Cyprus, locals from two villages enclaved inside the British territory (and military base) of Dhekelia move about freely, and farm land under both British and Cypriot sovereignty. (To be concluded)

The enclave problem~II What can India and Bangladesh learn from these foreign enclave cases? They have three main options. The worst is to maintain the status quo, each country refusing to properly govern its own enclaves while also forbidding the other to govern its enclaves across the intervening territory. This “dog-in-the-manger” attitude has reduced the enclaves to poverty and despair, countenanced violence and oppression, fostered corruption, and encouraged the problems of criminal dens and drug-cultivation in the enclaves. The second option is an enclave exchange. Inhabitants should be given two independent options concerning citizenship and relocation. For up to two years after the enclave exchange, they should have the option to choose whether to retain their current citizenship or to become citizens of the other country. They should also have the independent option to remain owning and farming the land they occupy after its transfer to the other country, or of being resettled on land of equivalent value, size and productive capacity in their original country.

Dual nationality There is no reason why they should not be able to choose to stay in situ and retain their old citizenship, nor why they could not hold both citizenships: dual nationality is an increasingly common occurrence worldwide. The problems with this policy include a requirement for equivalent land for the resettlement of those wishing to relocate, and the need for each country to recognise the inhabitants of its enclaves as its own citizens before exchange. An imbalance in the numbers on each side desiring resettlement will cause difficulties. But it would only repeat the injustices of the 1947 Partition if an exchange was made without addressing the needs of the enclave inhabitants, and allowing them some input into the process. The enclaves also form the world’s most complicated boundary, and include the world’s only counter-counter-enclave: so another problem with exchange is heritage loss. Finally, an exchange of enclaves is also an admittance of failure. Enclave exchange will remove a cartographic anomaly but it will not solve the underlying tensions in bilateral relations. The enclaves are not a problem in themselves but are simply a focus point for distrust and tension created elsewhere. Exchange may not improve the lives of the chhit mahalis, who may end up marginalised, landless and dispossessed by the exchange process. Even if able to remain on their lands, they will still be living in an economically and politically peripheral location. Therefore any exchange should be entered into only with the will of, and in full consultation with, the people involved, so as not to become a further injustice. A third policy is to retain the enclaves but improve their situation. The 30 enclaves of Belgium and the Netherlands at Baarle, along with other enclaves of Europe and the Middle East, are a good model for this. The advantages are many. It would put the enclave dwellers in charge of their own destiny, leaving them on their lands, but able to engage fully as citizens of their own country. The distances between each country and its own enclaves are small, often less than one kilometre, rarely more than two or three. Designated access routes, for foot, cart and motorised traffic, could be easily set up and policed. This would allow enclave dwellers to traverse the intervening country to reach the nearest schools and markets of their own country. The local district commissioners should be granted authority to meet frequently and at will to discuss any problems and work out local solutions, without having to refer to New Delhi or Dhaka. Officials such as teachers, doctors, district officials, electoral officers, census enumerators and police should also be permitted visa-free access on demand. Which country’s currency, excise laws, and postal system, electricity and other services are used in an enclave should be based on principles of efficiency, not on chauvanistic nationalism. There is no reason why exchange of enclaves for customs and excise purposes made in the 1930s could not be readopted. Indian enclaves could be alcohol-free like surrounding Bangladesh, and Bangladeshi enclaves could be prohibited from slaughtering cows as in India. This is no more a threat to the sovereignty of either country than is the differing alcohol and tax regimes of the Indian states and territories. The unique border situation of the enclaves would encourage tourism to this forgotten region in both countries, offering new economic possibilities to an area devoid of industrial capability and development.

Economic potential

India and Bangladesh are not alone in wrestling with the problem of enclaves. Similar problems have been solved in most other enclaves around the world. The long-delayed exchange of the Cooch Behar enclaves, mooted since 1910 and agreed upon in 1958 may simplify the border itself, but it is unlikely to improve bilateral relations, assist economic development of the area or improve the lives of the enclave dwellers. The needs and desires of the chhit-mahalis must be taken into account, but action must be taken to remove their current effective statelessness. The examples of successful enclaves elsewhere in the world suggest that even if relations between two countries are not completely harmonious, enclaves can exist and be beneficial to the economic potential of the area and the prosperity of its inhabitants. These two aspects are the raison d’etre of government, hence it behooves the governments concerned to ensure that any solution to the enclave problem addresses these issues and not merely cartographic simplification, which may only cement the 1947 division more firmly.

(Concluded)”

I wrote to him immediately Hello, You were published in yesterday’s Sunday Statesman and continued in this morning’s edition, as the special article on the editorial page. I am enclosing the text as it appears on the Internet edition. Through some apparent editorial mishap, the illustrattions you sent never got published, and two photographs were used. I think you could follow it up with an invited talk in Kolkata. If you wish, I can look into that possibility. Send me a cv if you are interested and I shall see what I can do. Re working with me on the China-India problem, a visit from you might enable us to talk further. I am introducing you separately to the Editor’s assistant who should help with copies, money etc. Best wishes Subroto Roy

All that was between May and July 2007.

On 6 September 2011, Dr Manmohan Singh as India’s PM on a visit to Bangladesh apparently signed what the India’s Foreign Ministry calls the “2011 Protocol”. And now a few days ago, Prime Minister Sheik Hasina, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with the agreement of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, have all signed a comprehensive landmark “Land Boundary Agreement” between India and Bangladesh, solving the 300 year problem!  All’s well that ends well…

And yes, Excellencies, PM Sheikha Hasina, PM Narendra Modi, former PM Manmohan Singh, CM Mamata Banerjee: re the Land Boundary Agreement, Dr Brendan Whyte and I and The Statesman newspaper may all take a bow after you…

Nota Bene:  The Statesman for some reason did not publish along with Dr Whyte’s excellent article these important maps which are now published here below for the first time:

Eastmainwest

A personal note: The words “enclave” and “No Man’s Land” entered my vocabulary due to my father back in January 1965 when we crossed from India through No Man’s Land into what was then East Pakistan. He was with India’s diplomatic post in Dhaka and during the 1965 war would be acting head while his friend G Parthasarathi was head of Mission in Karachi [Correction November 2015: Parthasarathi left shortly before the war, replaced in August 1965 by Kewal Singh]. Half a dozen years later in the summer of 1971, I was a schoolboy volunteer in West Dinajpur helping in small ways the innumerable refugees who had poured across the porous boundary with East Dinajpur during the tyranny West Pakistan had unleashed in East Pakistan; there was effectively no boundary distinction left then. I dedicate my part of this work to my late father MK Roy 1915-2012.

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Silver Jubilee of “Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India”

May 29 2009:

It is a quarter century precisely today since my monograph Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India was first published in London by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

ppp1984

Its text is now available (in slightly rough form) at this site here.

Now in May 1984, Indira Gandhi ruled in Delhi, and the ghost of Brezhnev was still fresh in Moscow.   The era of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in America was at its height.   Pricing, Planning & Politics emerged from my 1976-1982 doctoral thesis at Cambridge though it came to be written in Blacksburg and Ithaca in 1982-1983.   It was the first critique after BR Shenoy of India’s Sovietesque economics since Jawaharlal Nehru’s time.

The Times, London’s most eminent paper at the time, wrote its lead editorial comment about it on the day it was published, May 29 1984.

londonti

It used to take several days for the library at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to receive its copy of The Times of London and other British newspapers.    I had not been told of the date of publication and did not know of what had happened in London on May 29 until perhaps June 2 — when a friend, Vasant Dave of a children’s charity, who was on campus, phoned me and congratulated me for being featured in The Times which he had just read in the University Library.  “You mean they’ve reviewed it?”  I asked him, “No, it’s the lead editorial.” “What?” I exclaimed.  There was worse.  Vasant was very soft-spoken and said “Yes, it’s titled ‘India’s Bad Example'” — which I misheard on the phone as “India’s Mad Example”  😀

Drat! I thought (or words to that effect), they must have lambasted me, as I rushed down to the Library to take a look.

The Times had said

“When Mr. Dennis Healey in the Commons recently stated that Hongkong, with one per cent of the population of India has twice India’s trade, he was making an important point about Hongkong but an equally important point about India.   If Hongkong with one per cent of its population and less than 0.03 per cert of India’s land area (without even water as a natural resource) can so outpace India, there must be something terribly wrong with the way Indian governments have managed their affairs, and there is.   A paper by an Indian economist published today (Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India by Subroto Roy, IEA £1.80) shows how Asia’s largest democracy is gradually being stifled by the imposition of economic policies whose woeful effect and rhetorical unreality find their echo all over the Third World.   As with many of Britain’s former imperial possessions, the rot set in long before independence.  But as with most of the other former dependencies, the instrument of economic regulation and bureaucratic control set up by the British has been used decisively and expansively to consolidate a statist regime which inhibits free enterprise, minimizes economic success and consolidates the power of government in all spheres of the economy.  We hear little of this side of things when India rattles the borrowing bowl or denigrates her creditors for want of further munificence.  How could Indian officials explain their poor performance relative to Hongkong?  Dr Roy has the answers for them.   He lists the causes as a large and heavily subsidized public sector, labyrinthine control over private enterprise, forcibly depressed agricultural prices, massive import substitution, government monopoly of foreign exchange transactions, artificially overvalued currency and the extensive politicization of the labour market, not to mention the corruption which is an inevitable side effect of an economy which depends on the arbitrament of bureaucrats.  The first Indian government under Nehru took its cue from Nehru’s admiration of the Soviet economy, which led him to believe that the only policy for India was socialism in which there would be “no private property except in a restricted sense and the replacement of the private profit system by a higher ideal of cooperative service.”  Consequently, the Indian government has now either a full monopoly or is one of a few oligipolists in banking, insurance, railways, airlines, cement, steel, chemicals, fertilizers, ship-building, breweries, telephones and wrist-watches.   No businessman can expand his operation while there is any surplus capacity anywhere in that sector.  He needs government approval to modernize, alter his price-structure, or change his labour shift.  It is not surprising that a recent study of those developing countries which account for most manufactured exports from the Third World shows that India’s share fell from 65 percent in 1953 to 10 per cent in 1973; nor, with the numerous restrictions on inter-state movement of grains, that India has over the years suffered more from an inability to cope with famine than during the Raj when famine drill was centrally organized and skillfully executed without restriction. Nehru’s attraction for the Soviet model has been inherited by his daughter, Mrs. Gandhi.  Her policies have clearly positioned India more towards the Soviet Union than the West.  The consequences of this, as Dr Roy states, is that a bias can be seen in “the antipathy and pessimism towards market institutions found among the urban public, and sympathy and optimism to be found for collectivist or statist ones.”  All that India has to show for it is the delivery of thousands of tanks in exchange for bartered goods, and the erection of steel mills and other heavy industry which help to perpetuate the unfortunate obsession with industrial performance at the expense of agricultural growth and the relief of rural poverty.”…..

I felt this may have been intended to be laudatory but it was also inaccurate and had to be corrected.  I replied dated June 4 which The Times published in their edition of  June 16 1984:

timesletter-11

I was 29 when Pricing, Planning and Politics was published, I am 54 now. I do not agree with everything I said in it and find the tone a little puffed up as young men tend to be; it was also five years before my main “theoretical” work Philosophy of Economics would be published. My experience of life in the years since has also made me far less sanguine both about human nature and about America than I was then. But I am glad to find I am not embarrassed by what I said then, indeed I am pleased I said what I did in favour of classical liberalism and against statism and totalitarianism well before it became popular to do so after the Berlin Wall fell. (In India as elsewhere, former communist apparatchiks and fellow-travellers became pseudo-liberals overnight.)

The editorial itself may have been due to a conversation between Peter Bauer and William Rees-Mogg, so I later heard. The work sold 700 copies in its first month, a record for the publisher. The wife of one prominent Indian bureaucrat told me in Delhi in December 1988 it had affected her husband’s thinking drastically. A senior public finance economist told me he had been deputed at the Finance Ministry when the editorial appeared, and the Indian High Commission in London had urgently sent a copy of the editorial to the Ministry where it caused a stir. An IMF official told me years later that he saw the editorial on board a flight to India from the USA on the same day, and stopped in London to make a trip to the LSE’s bookshop to purchase a copy. Professor Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University had been a critic of aspects of Indian policy; he received a copy  in draft just before it was published and was kind enough to write I had “done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems!”

Siddhartha Shankar Ray told me when  we first met that he had been in London when the editorial appeared and had seen it there; it affected his decision to introduce me to Rajiv Gandhi as warmly as he came to do a half dozen years later.

Within a few months though, by the Fall of 1984, I was under attack by the “gang of inert game theorists”  who had come to  Blacksburg following the departure of James Buchanan.  By mid 1985 I had moved to Provo, Utah, really rather wishing, as I recall,  to have left my India-work behind me.  But by late 1986, I was at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, where the perestroika-for-India and Pakistan projects that I and WE James led, had come to be sponsored by the University and the East West Center.

The unpublished results of the India-project reached Rajiv Gandhi by my hand on September 18 1990 as has been told elsewhere.  A week later, on September 25 1990,  Rajiv appointed a small group that included myself, to advise him.  It was that encounter with Rajiv Gandhi that sparked the origins of the 1991 economic reform.  Yet in 2007 one member of the group, declaring himself close to Sonia Gandhi, brazenly lied in public saying it was Manmohan Singh and not I who had been part of the group — a group of which I had been in fact the first member!  Manmohan Singh himself has never claimed to have been present and in fact was not even in India at the time it was formed.

I have explained elsewhere here why I believe this specific  lie  came to be told by this specific liar who shared membership with me in the group that Rajiv had formed:  because I had also pleaded with  many and especially within this group that Rajiv had seemed, to my layman’s eyes, very vulnerable to assassination, and none of them had lifted a finger to  do anything about it!  Such is how duplicity, envy and greed for power make people mendacious and venal in politics!

As for Pricing, Planning and Politics, Dr Manmohan Singh received a personal copy from my father whom he had long known through the Kaul brothers, Brahma and Madan, both of whom were dear friends of my father since the War and Independence.   From a letter Dr Singh wrote to my father,  he would have received his copy in late 1986 when he was heading the Planning Commission in his penultimate appointment before retirement from the bureaucracy.

Readers of Pricing, Planning and Politics today, 25 years after it was published, may judge for themselves what if any  part of it may be still relevant to the new government that Dr Singh is now prime minister of.   The work was mostly one of applied microeconomics or the theory of value; in recent years I have written much also of applied macroeconomics or the theory of money as it relates to India.  My great professor at Cambridge, Frank Hahn, was kind enough to say in 1985 that he thought my “critique of Development Economics was powerful not only on methodological but also on economic theory grounds”; that to me has been a special source of delight.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

Afghanistan should become a major manufacturer of morphine using its poppy

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy thinks the Senlis Council’s advice on regulating and licensing Afghanistan’s poppy market may be more important than trying to ham-handedly fight “drug wars” there…. Poppy may be best-suited to grow in that arid country which may not be otherwise able to feed itself.

Postcript: This report on regulating India’s poppy market for phramaceutical uses seems a good model.

Politics can be so entertaining :) Manmohan versus Sonia on the poor old CPI(M)!

My January 14 2007 article “On Land-Grabbing” started by saying:

“AT a business meet on 12 January 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh showered fulsome praise on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as “dynamic”, “the Nation’s Best Chief Minister”, whose “wit and wisdom”, “qualities of head and heart”, “courage of conviction and passionate commitment to the cause of the working people of India” he admired, saying “with Buddhadeb Babu at the helm of affairs it appears Bengal is once again forging ahead… If today there is a meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata, it is because the ideas that I and Buddhadebji represent have captured the minds of the people of India. This is the idea of growth with equity and social justice, the idea that economic liberalization and modernization have to be mindful of the needs of the poor and the marginalized.”  With such support of a Congress Prime Minister (as well as proximity to Pranab Mukherjee), Mr Bhattacharjee could hardly have feared the local Congress and Trinamul would pose any threat in the 2006 Assembly Elections despite having more potential voters between them than the CPI-M.  Dr Singh returned to the “needs of the poor and the marginalized” at another business meet on 8 January 2007 promising to “unveil a new Rehabilitation Policy in three months to increase the pace of industrialisation” which would be “more progressive, humane and conducive to the long-term welfare of all stakeholders”, while his businessman host pointedly stated about Singur “land for industry must be made available to move the Indian manufacturing sector ahead”.   The “meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata” seems to be that agriculture allegedly has become a relatively backward slow-growing sector deserving to yield in the purported larger national interest to industry and services: what the PM means by “long-term welfare of all stakeholders” is the same as the new CPI-M party-line that the sons of farmers should not remain farmers (but become automobile technicians or IT workers or restaurant waiters instead).  It is a political viewpoint coinciding with interests of organised capital and industrial labour in India today, as represented by business lobbies like CII, FICCI and Assocham on one hand, and unions like CITU and INTUC on the other. Business Standard succinctly (and ominously) advocated this point of view in its lead editorial of 9 January as follows: “it has to be recognised that the world over capitalism has progressed only with the landed becoming landless and getting absorbed in the industrial/service sector labour force ~ indeed it is obvious that if people don’t get off the land, their incomes will rise only slowly”. “

I went on to say

“Land is the first and ultimate means of production, and the attack of the powerful on land-holdings or land-rights of the unorganised or powerless has been a worldwide phenomenon ~ across both capitalism and communism.”

It is interesting and amusing to see today’s newspapers report that the person who appointed Dr Manmohan Singh to be India’s PM, namely Sonia Gandhi,  has taken a  180-degree turn on this subject while sitting beside Mamata Banerjee yesterday.

She apparently said:  “I am happy so be sharing the  dais with Mamata Banerjee once again….in Nandigram and Singur the State Government had unleashed dictatorship in the garb of democracy… . In the name of development (the CPI(M)) created terror in Nandigram and Singur.  In the name of development, they snatched the land from the poor people there.”

Now what is the poor old CPI(M) to think after all this! Politics can be so  entertaining.  😀

Subroto Roy

Could the Satyam/PwC fraud be the visible part of an iceberg? Where are India’s “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles”? Isn’t governance rather poor all over corporate India? Bad public finance may be a root cause

In a March 5 2007 article in The Statesman, I said:

“Our farmers are peaceful hardworking people who should be paying taxes and user-fees normally but should not be otherwise disturbed or needlessly provoked by outsiders. It is the businessmen wishing to attack our farm populations who need to look hard in the mirror – to improve their accounting, audit, corporate governance, to enforce anti-embezzlement and shareholder protection laws etc.”

In a September 23-24 2007 article in The Sunday Statesman I said:

“… Government, instead of hobnobbing with business chambers, needed to get Indian corporations to improve their accounting, audit and governance, and reduce managerial pilfering and embezzlement, which is possible only if Government first set an example.”

In a February 4 2007 article in The Statesman, I said:

“Financial control of India’s fiscal condition, and hence monetary expansion, vitally requires control of the growth of these kinds of dynamic processes and comprehension of their analytical underpinnings. Yet such understanding and control seem quite absent from all organs of our Government, including establishment economists and the docile financial press…. the actual difference between Government Expenditure and Income in India has been made to appear much smaller than it really is. Although neglected by the Cabinet, Finance Ministry, RBI and even (almost) the C&AG, the significance of this discrepancy in measurement will not be lost on anyone seriously concerned to address India’s fiscal and monetary problems.”

All three articles are available elsewhere here and are republished below together.  I have published elsewhere today my brief 2006 lecture on corporate governance.  (See also my “The Indian Revolution”, “Monetary Integrity & the Rupee”, “Indian Inflation”,  “The Dream Team: A Critique”, “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Growth & Government Delusion”, etc).

The fraud at Satyam amounts to it having been long bankrupt but not seemingly so.  The fact it was long bankrupt was apparently overlooked or condoned by its auditors Pricewaterhouse Coopers! This may be big news today but the response of corporate India and the Indian business media seems utterly insincere (and there has been a lot of fake pontificating on TV by some notorious frauds).  Remember the head of Satyam received awards with all the other honchos at those fake ceremonies that businessmen and the business media keep holding at this or that hotel.  (See my several articles here under the categories “Satyam corporate fraud”, “Corporate governance” etc.)

Government agencies, as enforcers of the law, must be seen in such circumstances to have greater credibility than the violators, but who can say that Government accounting and audit and corporate governance in India is not as bad as that of the private sector?    It may be in fact far, far worse.   Poor accounting, endless deficit finance, unlimited paper money creation, false convertibility of the rupee etc is what emerges from our supposedly wise economic policy-makers.

When was the last time some major businessman or top politician spoke publicly about the importance of “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles”?   The answer is never.   Government (of this party or that) has become well-oiled by political lobbyists and is hand-in-glove with organized business, especially in a few cities.  Until Government gets its own accounts straight, stops its endless deficit finance, reins in unlimited paper money-creation, creates an honest currency domestically and externally, there is no proper example or standard set for the private sector, and such scandals will erupt along with insincere responses from the cartels of corporate India.

What emerges from New Delhi’s economists seems often to have as much to do with economics as Bollywood has to do with cinema.

Subroto Roy

Fallacious Finance: Congress, BJP, CPI-M et al may be leading India to hyperinflation

by

Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, March 5 2007 Editorial Page Special Article http://www.thestatesman.net

It seems the Dream Team of the PM, Finance Minister, Mr. Montek Ahluwalia and their acolytes may take India on a magical mystery tour of economic hallucinations, fantasies and perhaps nightmares. I hasten to add the BJP and CPI-M have nothing better to say, and criticism of the Government or of Mr Chidambaram’s Budget does not at all imply any sympathy for their political adversaries. It may be best to outline a few of the main fallacies permeating the entire Governing Class in Delhi, and their media and businessman friends:

1. “India’s Savings Rate is near 32%”. This is factual nonsense. Savings is indeed normally measured by adding financial and non-financial savings. Financial savings include bank-deposits. But India is not a normal country in this. Nor is China. Both have seen massive exponential growth of bank-deposits in the last few decades. Does this mean Indians and Chinese are saving phenomenally high fractions of their incomes by assiduously putting money away into their shaky nationalized banks? Sadly, it does not. What has happened is government deficit-financing has grown explosively in both countries over decades. In a “fractional reserve” banking system (i.e. a system where your bank does not keep the money you deposited there but lends out almost all of it immediately), government expenditure causes bank-lending, and bank-lending causes bank-deposits to expand. Yes there has been massive expansion of bank-deposits in India but it is a nominal paper phenomenon and does not signify superhuman savings behaviour. Indians keep their assets mostly in metals, land, property, cattle, etc., and as cash, not as bank deposits.

2. “High economic growth in India is being caused by high savings and intelligently planned government investment”. This too is nonsense. Economic growth in India as elsewhere arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do in capital cities, but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing on part of the general population. Technological progress is a very general notion, and applies to any and every production activity or commercial transaction that now can be accomplished more easily or using fewer inputs than before. New Delhi still believes in antiquated Soviet-era savings-investment models without technological progress, and some non-sycophant must tell our top Soviet-era bureaucrat that such growth models have been long superceded and need to be scrapped from India’s policy-making too. Can politicians and bureaucrats assist India’s progress? Indeed they can: the telecom revolution in recent years was something in which they participated. But the general presumption is against them. Progress, productivity gains and hence economic growth arise from enterprise and effort of ordinary people — mostly despite not because of an exploitative, parasitic State.

3. “Agriculture is a backward sector that has been retarding India’s recent economic growth”. This is not merely nonsense it is dangerous nonsense, because it has led to land-grabbing by India’s rulers at behest of their businessman friends in so-called “SEZ” schemes. The great farm economist Theodore W. Schultz once quoted Andre and Jean Mayer: “Few scientists think of agriculture as the chief, or the model science. Many, indeed, do not consider it a science at all. Yet it was the first science – Mother of all science; it remains the science which makes human life possible”. Centuries before Europe’s Industrial Revolution, there was an Agricultural Revolution led by monks and abbots who were the scientists of the day. Thanks partly to American help, India has witnessed a Green Revolution since the 1960s, and our agriculture has been generally a calm, mature, stable and productive industry. Our farmers are peaceful hardworking people who should be paying taxes and user-fees normally but should not be otherwise disturbed or needlessly provoked by outsiders. It is the businessmen wishing to attack our farm populations who need to look hard in the mirror – to improve their accounting, audit, corporate governance, to enforce anti-embezzlement and shareholder protection laws etc.

4. “India’s foreign exchange reserves may be used for ‘infrastructure’ financing”. Mr Ahluwalia promoted this idea and now the Budget Speech mentioned how Mr Deepak Parekh and American banks may be planning to get Indian businesses to “borrow” India’s forex reserves from the RBI so they can purchase foreign assets. It is a fallacy arising among those either innocent of all economics or who have quite forgotten the little they might have been mistaught in their youth. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s balance of payments and are not akin to tax revenues, and thus are not available to be borrowed or spent by politicians, bureaucrats or their businessman friends — no matter how tricky and shady a way comes to be devised for doing so. If anything, the Government and RBI’s priority should have been to free the Rupee so any Indian could hold gold or forex at his/her local bank. India’s vast sterling balances after the Second World War vanished quickly within a few years, and the country plunged into decades of balance of payments crisis – that may now get repeated. The idea of “infrastructure” is in any case vague and inferior to the “public goods” Adam Smith knew to be vital. Serious economists recommend transparent cost-benefit analyses before spending any public resources on any project. E.g., analysis of airport/airline industry expansion would have found the vast bulk of domestic airline costs to be forex-denominated but revenues rupee-denominated – implying an obvious massive currency-risk to the industry and all its “infrastructure”. All the PM’s men tell us nothing of any of this.

5. “HIV-AIDS is a major Indian health problem”. Government doctors privately know the scare of an AIDS epidemic is based on false assumptions and analysis. Few if any of us have met, seen or heard of an actual incontrovertible AIDS victim in India (as opposed to someone infected by hepatitis-contaminated blood supplies). Syringe-exchange by intravenous drug users is not something widely prevalent in Indian society, while the practise that caused HIV to spread in California’s Bay Area in the 1980s is not something depicted even at Khajuraho. Numerous real diseases do afflict Indians – e.g. 11 children died from encephalitis in one UP hospital on a single day in July 2006, while thousands of children suffer from “cleft lip” deformity that can be solved surgically for 20,000 rupees, allowing the child a normal life. Without any objective survey being done of India’s real health needs, Mr Chidamabaram has promised more than Rs 9.6 Billion (Rs 960 crore) to the AIDS cottage industry.

6. “Fiscal consolidation & stabilization has been underway since 1991”. There is extremely little reason to believe this. If you or I borrow Rs. 100,000 for a year, and one year later repay the sum only to borrow the same again along with another Rs 40,000, we would be said to have today a debt of Rs. 140,000 at least. Our Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in this manner (in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banking system) but displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “ Fiscal Deficit” (see graph, also “Fiscal Instability”, The Sunday Statesman, 4 February 2007). More than two dozen State Governments have been doing the same though, unlike the Government of India, they have no money-creating powers and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union as well. The stock of public debt in India may be Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future. Mr Chidambaram’s announcement of a “Debt Management Office” yet to be created is hardly going to suffice to avert macroeconomic turmoil and a possible monetary collapse. The Congress, BJP, CPI-M and all their friends shall be responsible.

Against Quackery

First published in two parts in The Sunday Statesman, September 23 2007, The Statesman September 24 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net

By Subroto Roy

Manmohan and Sonia have violated Rajiv Gandhi’s intended reforms; the Communists have been appeased or bought; the BJP is incompetent

WASTE, fraud and abuse are inevitable in the use and allocation of public property and resources in India as elsewhere, but Government is supposed to fight and resist such tendencies. The Sonia-Manmohan Government have done the opposite, aiding and abetting a wasteful anti-economics ~ i.e., an economic quackery. Vajpayee-Advani and other Governments, including Narasimha-Manmohan in 1991-1996, were just as complicit in the perverse policy-making. So have been State Governments of all regional parties like the CPI-M in West Bengal, DMK/ AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, Congress/NCP/ BJP/Sena in Maharashtra, TDP /Congress in Andhra Pradesh, SP/BJP/BSP in Uttar Pradesh etc. Our dismal politics merely has the pot calling the kettle black while national self-delusion and superstition reign in the absence of reason.

The general pattern is one of well-informed, moneyed, mostly city-based special interest groups (especially including organised capital and organised labour) dominating government agendas at the cost of ill-informed, diffused anonymous individual citizens ~ peasants, small businessmen, non-unionized workers, old people, housewives, medical students etc. The extremely expensive “nuclear deal” with the USA is merely one example of such interest group politics.

Nuclear power is and shall always remain of tiny significance as a source of India’s electricity (compared to e.g. coal and hydro); hence the deal has practically nothing to do with the purported (and mendacious) aim of improving the country’s “energy security” in the long run. It has mostly to do with big business lobbies and senior bureaucrats and politicians making a grab, as they always have done, for India’s public purse, especially access to foreign currency assets. Some $300 million of India’s public money had to be paid to GE and Bechtel Corporation before any nuclear talks could begin in 2004-2005 ~ the reason was the Dabhol fiasco of the 1990s, a sheer waste for India’s ordinary people. Who was responsible for that loss? Pawar-Mahajan-Munde-Thackeray certainly but also India’s Finance Minister at the time, Manmohan Singh, and his top Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Montek Ahluwalia ~ who should never have let the fiasco get off the ground but instead actively promoted and approved it.

Cost-benefit analysis prior to any public project is textbook operating procedure for economists, and any half-competent economist would have accounted for the scenario of possible currency-depreciation which made Dabhol instantly unviable. Dr Singh and Mr Ahluwalia failed that test badly and it cost India dearly. The purchase of foreign nuclear reactors on a turnkey basis upon their recommendation now reflects similar financial dangers for the country on a vastly larger scale over decades.

Our Government seems to function most expeditiously in purchasing foreign arms, aircraft etc ~ not in improving the courts, prisons, police, public utilities, public debt. When the purchase of 43 Airbus aircraft surfaced, accusations of impropriety were made by Boeing ~ until the local Airbus representative said on TV that Boeing need not complain because they were going to be rewarded too and soon 68 aircraft were ordered from Boeing!

India imports all passenger and most military aircraft, besides spare parts and high-octane jet fuel. Domestic aviation generates near zero forex revenues and incurs large forex costs ~ a debit in India’s balance of payments. Domestic airline passengers act as importers subsidised by our meagre exporters of textiles, leather, handicrafts, tea, etc. What a managerially-minded PM and Aviation Minister needed to do before yielding to temptations of buying new aircraft was to get tough with the pampered managements and unions of the nationalized airlines and stand up on behalf of ordinary citizens and taxpayers, who, after all, are mostly rail or road-travellers not jet-setters.

The same pattern of negligent policy-behaviour led Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in an unprecedented step to mention in his 2007 Union Budget Speech the private American companies Blackstone and GE ~ endorsing the Ahluwalia/Deepak Parekh idea that India’s forex reserves may be made available to be lent out to favoured private businesses for purported “infrastructure” development. We may now see chunks of India’s foreign exchange reserves being “borrowed” and never returned ~ a monumental scam in front of the CBI’s noses.

The Reserve Bank’s highest echelons may have become complicit in all this, permitting and encouraging a large capital flight to take place among the few million Indians who read the English newspapers and have family-members abroad. Resident Indians have been officially permitted to open bank accounts of US $100,000 abroad, as well as transfer gifts of $50,000 per annum to their adult children already exported abroad ~ converting their largely untaxed paper rupees at an artificially favourable exchange-rate.

In particular, Mr Ratan Tata (under a misapprehension he may do whatever Lakshmi Mittal does) has been allowed to convert Indian rupees into some US$13,000,000,000 to make a cash purchase of a European steel company. The same has been allowed of the Birlas, Wipro, Dr Reddy’s and numerous other Indian corporations in the organised sector ~ three hundred million dollars here, five hundred million dollars there, etc. Western businessmen now know all they have to do is flatter the egos of Indian boxwallahs enough and they might have found a buyer for their otherwise bankrupt or sick local enterprise. Many newcomers to New York City have been sold the Brooklyn Bridge before. “There’s a sucker born every minute” is the classic saying of American capitalism.

The Sonia-Manmohan Government, instead of hobnobbing with business chambers, needed to get Indian corporations to improve their accounting, audit and governance, and reduce managerial pilfering and embezzlement, which is possible only if Government first set an example.

Why have Indian foreign currency reserves zoomed up in recent years? Not mainly because we are exporting more textiles, tea, software engineers, call centre services or new products to the world, but because Indian corporations have been allowed to borrow abroad, converting their hoards of paper rupees into foreign debt. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s international balance of payments and are not like tax-resources available to be spent by Government; India’s reserves largely constitute foreign liabilities of Indian residents. This may bear endless repetition as the PM and his key acolytes seem impervious to normal postgraduate-level economics textbooks.

Other official fallacies include thinking India’s savings rate is near 32 per cent and that clever bureaucratic use of it can cause high growth. In fact, real growth arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing of the general population ~ mostly despite not because of an exploitative parasitic State. What has been mismeasured as high savings is actually expansion of bank-deposits in a fractional reserve banking system caused by runaway government deficit-spending.

Another fallacy has been that agriculture retards growth, leading to nationwide politically-backed attempts at land-grabbing by wily city industrialists and real estate developers. In a hyperinflation-prone economy with wild deficit-spending and runaway money-printing, cheating poor unorganised peasants of their land, when that land is an asset that is due to appreciate in value, has seemed like child’s play.

What of the Opposition? The BJP/RSS have no economists who are not quacks though opportunists were happy to say what pleased them to hear when they were in power; they also have much implicit support among organised business lobbies and the anti-Muslim senior bureaucracy. The official Communists have been appeased or bought, sometimes so cheaply as with a few airline tickets here and there. The nonsensical “Rural Employment Guarantee” is descending into the wasteland of corruption it was always going to be. The “Domestic Violence Act” as expected has started to destroy India’s families the way Western families have been destroyed. The Arjun-DMK OBC quota corrodes higher education further from its already dismal state. All these were schemes that Congress and Communist cabals created or wholeheartedly backed, and which the BJP were too scared or ignorant to resist.

And then came Singur and Nandigram ~ where the sheer greed driving the alliance between the Sonia-Manmohan-Pranab Congress and the CPI-M mask that is Buddhadeb, came to be exposed by a handful of brave women like Mamata and Medha.

2. A Fiscal U-Turn is Needed For India to Go in The Right Economic Direction

Rajiv Gandhi had a sense of noblesse oblige out of remembrance of his father and maternal grandfather. After his assassination, the comprador business press credited Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh with having originated the 1991 economic reform. In May 2002, however, the Congress Party itself passed a resolution proposed by Digvijay Singh explicitly stating Rajiv and not either of them was to be so credited. The resolution was intended to flatter Sonia Gandhi but there was truth in it too. Rajiv, a pilot who knew no political economy, was a quick learner with intelligence to know a good idea when he saw one and enough grace to acknowledge it.

Rule of Law

The first time Dr Manmohan Singh’s name arose in contemporary post-Indira politics was on 22 March 1991 when M K Rasgotra challenged the present author to answer how Dr Singh would respond to proposals being drafted for a planned economic liberalisation that had been authorised by Rajiv, as Congress President and Opposition Leader, since September 1990. It was replied that Dr Singh’s response was unknown and he had been heading the “South-South Commission” for Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, while what needed to be done urgently was make a clear forceful statement to restore India’s credit-worthiness and the confidence of international markets, showing that the Congress at least knew its economics and was planning to take bold new steps in the direction of progress.

There is no evidence Dr Singh or his acolytes were committed to any economic liberalism prior to 1991 as that term is understood worldwide, and scant evidence they have originated liberal economic ideas for India afterwards. Precisely because they represented the decrepit old intellectual order of statist ”Ma-Bap Sarkari” policy-making, they were not asked in the mid-1980s to be part of a “perestroika-for-India” project done at a foreign university ~ the results of which were received, thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray, by Rajiv Gandhi in hand at 10 Janpath on 18 September 1990 and specifically sparked the change in the direction of his economic thinking.

India is a large, populous country with hundreds of millions of materially poor citizens, a weak tax-base, a vast internal and external public debt (i.e. debt owed by the Government to domestic and foreign creditors), massive annual fiscal deficits, an inconvertible currency, and runaway printing of paper-money. It is unsurprising Pakistan’s economy is similar, since it is born of the same land and people. Certainly there have been real political problems between India and Pakistan since the chaotic demobilisation and disintegration of the old British Indian Army caused the subcontinent to plunge into war-like or “cold peace” conditions for six decades beginning with a bloody Partition and civil war in J&K. High military expenditures have been necessitated due to mutual and foreign tensions, but this cannot be a permanent state if India and Pakistan wish for genuine mass economic well-being.

Even with the continuing mutual antagonism, there is vast scope for a critical review of Indian military expenditures towards greatly improving the “teeth-to-tail” ratio of its fighting forces. The abuse of public property and privilege by senior echelons of the armed forces (some of whom have been keen most of all to export their children preferably to America) is also no great secret.

On the domestic front, Rajiv was entirely convinced when the suggestion was made to him in September 1990 that an enormous infusion of public resources was needed into the judicial system for promotion and improvement of the Rule of Law in the country, a pre-requisite almost for a new market orientation. Capitalism without the Rule of Law can quickly degenerate into an illiberal hell of cronyism and anarchy which is what has tended to happen since 1991.

The Madhava Menon Committee on criminal justice policy in July proposed a Hong Kong model of “a single high-tech integrated Criminal Justice complex in every district headquarters which may be a multi-storied structure, devoting the ground floor for the police station including a video-installed interrogation room; the first floor for the police-lockups/sub-jail and the Magistrate’s Court; the second floor for the prosecutor’s office, witness rooms, crime laboratories and legal aid services; the third floor for the Sessions Court and the fourth for the administrative offices etc…. (Government of India) should take steps to evolve such an efficient model… and not only recommend it to the States but subsidize its construction…” The question arises: Why is this being proposed for the first time in 2007 after sixty years of Independence? Why was it not something designed and implemented starting in the 1950s?

The resources put since Independence to the proper working of our judiciary from the Supreme Court and High Courts downwards have been abysmal, while the state of prisons, borstals, mental asylums and other institutions of involuntary detention is nothing short of pathetic. Only police forces, like the military, paramilitary and bureaucracies, have bloated in size.

Neither Sonia-Manmohan nor the BJP or Communists have thought promotion of the Rule of Law in India to be worth much serious thought ~ certainly less important than attending bogus international conclaves and summits to sign expensive deals for arms, aircraft, reactors etc. Yet Rajiv Gandhi, at a 10 Janpath meeting on 23 March 1991 when he received the liberalisation proposals he had authorized, explicitly avowed the importance of greater resources towards the Judiciary. Dr Singh and his acolytes were not in that loop, indeed they precisely represented the bureaucratic ancien regime intended to be changed, and hence have seemed quite uncomprehending of the roots of the intended reforms ever since 1991.

Similarly, Rajiv comprehended when it was said to him that the primary fiscal problem faced by India is the vast and uncontrolled public debt, interest payments on which suck dry all public budgets leaving no room for provision of public goods.

Government accounts
Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banks while displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “Fiscal Deficit”. More than two dozen States have been doing the same and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union too. The stock of public debt in India is Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future.

There has been no serious recognition of this since it is political and bureaucratic actions that have been causing the problem. Proper recognition would entail systematically cleaning up the budgets and accounts of every single governmental entity in the country: the Union, every State, every district and municipality, every publicly funded entity or organisation, and at the same time improving public decision-making capacity so that once budgets and accounts recover from grave sickness over decades, functioning institutions exist for their proper future management. All this would also stop corruption in its tracks, and release resources for valuable public goods and services like the Judiciary, School Education and Basic Health. Institutions for improved political and administrative decision-making are needed throughout the country if public preferences with respect to raising and allocating common resources are to be elicited and then translated into actual delivery of public goods and services. Our dysfunctional legislatures will have to do at least a little of what they are supposed to. When public budgets and accounts are healthy and we have functioning public goods and services, macroeconomic conditions would have been created for the paper-rupee to once more become a money as good as gold ~ a convertible world currency for all of India’s people, not merely the metropolitan special interest groups that have been controlling our governments and their agendas.

Fiscal Instabilty

Interest payments quickly suck dry every year’s Budget. And rolling over old public debt means that Government Borrowing in fact much exceeds the Fiscal Deficit

by Subroto Roy

First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, February 4 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net

While releasing Mr Chidambaram’s book some days ago, our PM said that as Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister in 1991 he had caused “fiscal stabilization” of the country. Unfortunately, Dr Manmohan Singh may have been believing the flattery of his sycophants, since the facts point differently.

The Fiscal Deficit is new borrowing by Government added for a given year. In 1994-1995 for example, the Union Government’s expenditure net of operational and other income was some Rs 1,295 billion (1 billion = 100 crore). Rs. 674 billion was generated for the Union Government by taxation that year (Rs 184 billion from direct taxes, Rs 653 billion from indirect and miscellaneous taxes, less Rs 163 billion as the States’ share). The difference between Rs 1,295 billion and Rs. 674 billion, that is Rs. 621 billion had to be borrowed by the Government of India in the name of future unborn generations of Indian citizens. That was the “Fiscal Deficit” that year. If the stock of Public Debt already accumulated has been B,this Fiscal Deficit, C, adds to the interest burden that will be faced next year since interest will have to be then paid on B + C.

Interest payments on Government debt have dominated all public finance in recent decades, quickly sucking dry the budgets every year both of the Union and each of our more than two dozen States. Some Rs. 440 billion was paid by the Union Government as interest in 1994-1995, and this had risen to some Rs. 1,281 billion by 2003-2004. As a percentage of tax revenue, interest expenditure by the Government of India on its own debt rose from 40% in 1991 to 68% in 2004 ~ through the Finance Ministerships of Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh.

Financial control of India’s fiscal condition, and hence monetary expansion, vitally requires control of the growth of these kinds of dynamic processes and comprehension of their analytical underpinnings. Yet such understanding and control seem quite absent from all organs of our Government, including establishment economists and the docile financial press.

For example, contrary to the impression created by the Finance Ministry, RBI and Union Cabinet (whether of the UPA or NDA, while the Communists would only be worse), the Fiscal Deficit has been in fact very far from being all that the Government of India borrows from financial markets in a given year. The stock of Public Debt at any given moment consists of numerous debt-instruments of various sorts at different terms. Some fraction of these come to maturity every year and hence their principal amounts (not merely their interest) must be repaid by Government. What our Government has been doing routinely over decades is to roll over these debts, i.e. issue fresh public debt of the same amount as that being extinguished and more. For example, some Rs. 720 billion, Rs. 1,180 billion, Rs.1,330 billion and Rs. 1,390 billion were amounts spent in extinguishing maturing public debt in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996 respectively. No special taxes were raised in those years specifically for that purpose. Instead the Government merely issued additional new debt or “rolled over” or “converted” the old debt in the same amounts and more in the portfolios of the captive nationalized banking system (see graph).

Plainly, the Government of India’s actual “Borrowing Requirement”, as the difference between its Income and Expenditure, when accounted for properly, will be the sum of this rolled over old debt and the Fiscal Deficit (which is merely the additional borrowing required by a single year’s Budget). In other words, the Government’s Borrowing Requirement is the Fiscal Deficit plus the much larger amount required to annually roll over maturing debt. Because the latter expenditure does not appear at all in calculation of the Fiscal Deficit by the subterfuge of having been routinely rolled over every year, the actual difference between Government Expenditure and Income in India has been made to appear much smaller than it really is. Although neglected by the Cabinet, Finance Ministry, RBI and even (almost) the C&AG, the significance of this discrepancy in measurement will not be lost on anyone seriously concerned to address India’s fiscal and monetary problems.

On the expenditure side, Current Expenditure (anachronistically named “Revenue Expenditure” in India as it is supposed to be met by current revenue) meets recurrent liabilities from one budget-date to the next, like salaries of school-staff or coupon payments on Government debt.

Investment Expenditure “of a capital nature” is supposed to increase “concrete assets of a material and permanent character” like spending on a new public library, or reducing “recurring liabilities” by setting aside a sinking fund to reduce Government debt. Some public resources need to be spent to yield benefits or reduce costs not immediately but in the future. Besides roads, bridges and libraries, these may include less tangible investments too like ensuring proper working of law-courts or training police-officers and school-teachers.

Also, there has been large outright direct lending by the Government of India bypassing normal capital markets on the pattern of old Soviet “central planning”, whereby “credit” is disbursed to chosen recipients.

“Current”, “Investment” and “Loan” expenditure decisions of this kind are made on the same activities. For example, in 1994-1995, the Government of India spent Rs. 2.7 billion as “Loans for Power Projects” in addition to Rs. 9.8 billion under Current Expenditure on “Power” and Rs. 15.5 billion as Investment Expenditure on “Power Projects”. By 2003-2004, these had grown to Rs. 50.94 billion, Rs. 31.02 billion, Rs. 28.5 billion respectively. Yet the opaqueness of Government accounts, finances and economic decision-making today is such that nowhere will such data be found in one table giving a full picture of public expenditure on the Power sector as a whole. On the revenue side, Government’s “Current Income” includes direct and indirect taxes, operational income from public utilities (like railways or the post office), and dividends and profits from public assets. There has been a small “Investment Income” too received from sale of public assets like Maruti. Also, since loans are made directly, there has to be a category for their recovery.

“One must not take from the real needs of the people for the imaginary needs of the state”, said Montesquieu; while De Marco in the same vein said “the greatest satisfaction of collective needs” has to be sought by “the least possible waste of private wealth”. Even Mao Zedong reportedly said: “Thrift should be the guiding principle of our government expenditure”. The C&AG requires Government determine “how little money it need take out of the pockets of the taxpayers in order to maintain its necessary activities at the proper standard of efficiency”.

Yet India’s top politicians and bureaucrats spend wildly ~ driven by the organised special interest groups on whom they depend, while ostentatiously consuming public time, space and resources themselves “quite uselessly in the pleasurable business of inflating the ego” (Veblen).

For Government to do what it need not or should not do contributes to its failure to do what it must. Thus we have armies of indolent soldiers, policemen and bureaucrats and piles of rotting supplies in government warehouses while there are queues outside hospitals, schools, courts etc.

Parliament and State Legislatures need to first ask of an annual budget whether it is efficient: “Is expenditure being allocated to enhance the public interest to the greatest extent possible, and if not, how may it be made to do so?” National welfare overall should increase the same whichever public good or service the final million of public rupees has been spent on.

Fundamentally, government finance requires scientific honesty, especially by way of clear rigorous accounting and audit of uses and origins of public resources. That scientific honesty is what we have not had at Union or State level for more than half a century.

No Marxist MBAs? An amicus curiae brief for the Honourable High Court

Aren’t there any Marxist MBAs?

by

Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, August 29 2007, Frontpage comment, http://www.thestatesman.net

The West Bengal Government and Tata Motors have come into what appears to be a most bizarre financial agreement regarding 645.67 acres of agricultural land in Singur. What we are told from court documents submitted on August 27 by Tata’s counsel Mr Samaraditya Pal to the Honourable Division Bench of the Chief Justice Mr SS Nijjar and Mr Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose is that a complicated schedule of payments is being planned for 90 years.

First there is a plan for 30 years with changes occurring every five years, then there is a plan for another 30 years with changes occurring every ten years, and finally there is a plan for the last 30 years with no changes occurring at all. 90 years is a very long time. A child born today will likely not be alive when this agreement comes to end though his/her grandchildren could be.
Tata Motors itself is hardly today what it was ten years ago and is unlikely to be the same corporate body 50 or 90 years from now. The political entities known as West Bengal or for that matter the Republic of India itself may well be very different in 2047, one hundred years after Independence, let alone in 2097 when this purported agreement shall end. 90 years ago the Ford Motor Company was mass-producing its famous Model-T – any product that Tata Motors produces at Singur today is hardly going to be the same 90 years from now. Our great grand children may look back at all this when the agreement ends and say it all looks pretty ridiculous in retrospect.

Even so, the numbers that have been now released to the Honourable Court allow some simple calculations to take place. The first point is that a payment made in 2007 cannot be added directly to a payment made in 2008 or to one in 2009, etc. It is meaningless to do so. However, if, say, Rs 1000 is paid in each of these years, and the market interest-rate is, say, 10%, what we may do is add Rs. 1000 with Rs. 1000/(1.1) with Rs. 1000/(1.1) squared to obtain a summable stream of Rs. 1000+Rs.909+Rs826 = Rs. 2735.
That sum of Rs 2735 is the present-value of the stream of three payments of Rs 1000 in each of three years given a constant interest-rate of 10%. On such a basis, given the payment-structure stated to the Honourable Court by Tata Motors, and assuming a constant interest-rate of 8% per annum in each year for the next 90 years, the present-value of all the payments to be made by Tata to West Bengal for the 645.67 acres of Singur land comes to Rs. 274.13 million (Rs. 27.413 crore), or a price of about Rs. 0.4246 million (Rs. 4.246 lakh) per acre. That is the effective market price of the land as valued in the contract, assuming a constant interest-rate of, say, 8%. (If a variable market-determined interest-rate had been used e.g. some rate added to the London InterBank Offer Rate in a given year, we could not make such a calculation today.)

If we further assume that the value of paper-money relative to land and goods and services in general may itself deteriorate through inflation, this figure would change. If, for example, we assume a low rate of inflation of 4% per annum for each of 90 years, that would mean the relevant interest-rate to discount the stream of payments would have to be 8%+4% = 12%. On that assumption, the present value of the entire stream of payments proposed to be made by Tata to West Bengal comes to Rs. 140 million in current rupees, and the price per acre of land becomes Rs 0.217 million or Rs. 2.17 lakhs. If the rate of inflation was high, say 10% per annum, the present value becomes Rs. 81.7 million and the price per acre of land being paid by Tata Motors is Rs 0.126 million or Rs. 1.26 lakhs. In other words, the higher the rate of paper-money inflation that occurs in the future, the cheaper Tata has obtained the land (and, conversely, the worse off the original peasant owners of the land who have been left with paper money paid to them by the West Bengal Government).

The point is also clear that the higher the rate at which one discounts the future, the lower shall be the present-value of the land. And also the higher this discount-rate, the more irrelevant the future becomes to present decision-making.

It is astonishing that neither Tata Motors’ high-powered MBA embellished management cadre nor anyone entrenched in the Marxist academic or policy establishment of West Bengal seems to have made such obvious calculations for the Honourable Court to understand things easily. Instead they have “added” the total payments to be made “raw” and said that some Rs. 8.558 billion (Rs. 855.8 crores) is due to be paid over 90 years – a meaningless statement because no such addition over time makes any financial sense at all. Are there no Marxist MBAs, or are all MBAs being mistaught the basics in their finance-courses?

An Open Letter to Professor Amartya Sen about Singur etc

A letter to Prof. Sen

First published in The Statesman 31 July 2007, Editorial Page Special Article

Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University

Dear Professor Sen,

Everyone will be delighted that someone of your worldwide stature has joined the debate on Singur and Nandigram; The Telegraph deserves congratulations for having made it possible on July 23.

I was sorry to find though that you may have missed the wood for the trees and also some of the trees themselves. Perhaps you have relied on Government statements for the facts. But the Government party in West Bengal represents official Indian communism and has been in power for 30 years at a stretch. It may be unwise to take at face-value what they say about their own deeds on this very grave issue! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there are many candid communists who privately recognise this dismal truth about themselves. To say this is not to be praising those whom you call the “Opposition” ~ after all, Bengal’s politics has seen emasculation of the Congress as an opposition because the Congress and communists are allies in Delhi. It is the Government party that must reform itself from within sua sponte for the good of everyone in the State.

The comparisons and mentions of history you have made seem to me surprising. Bengal’s economy now or in the past has little or nothing similar to the economy of Northern England or the whole of England or Britain itself, and certainly Indian agriculture has little to do with agriculture in the new lands of Australia or North America. British economic history was marked by rapid technological innovations in manufacturing and rapid development of social and political institutions in context of being a major naval, maritime and mercantile power for centuries. Britain’s geography and history hardly ever permitted it to be an agricultural country of any importance whereas Bengal, to the contrary, has been among the most agriculturally fertile and hence densely populated regions of the world for millennia.

Om Prakash’s brilliant pioneering book The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal 1630-1720 (Princeton 1985) records all this clearly. He reports the French traveller François Bernier saying in the 1660s “Bengal abounds with every necessary of life”, and a century before him the Italian traveller Verthema saying Bengal “abounds more in grain, flesh of every kind, in great quantity of sugar, also of ginger, and of great abundance of cotton, than any country in the world”. Om Prakash says “The premier industry in the region was the textile industry comprising manufacture from cotton, silk and mixed yarns”. Bengal’s major exports were foodstuffs, textiles, raw silk, opium, sugar and saltpetre; imports notably included metals (as Montesquieu had said would always be the case).

Bengal did, as you say, have industries at the time the Europeans came but you have failed to mention these were mostly “agro-based” and, if anything, a clear indicator of our agricultural fecundity and comparative advantage. If “deindustrialization” occurred in 19th Century India, that had nothing to do with the “deindustrialization” in West Bengal from the 1960s onwards due to the influence of official communism.

You remind us Fa Hiaen left from Tamralipta which is modern day Tamluk, though he went not to China but to Ceylon. You suggest that because he did so Tamluk effectively “was greater Calcutta”. I cannot see how this can be said of the 5th Century AD when no notion of Calcutta existed. Besides, modern Tamluk at 22º18’N, 87º56’E is more than 50 miles inland from the ancient port due to land-making that has occurred at the mouth of the Hooghly. I am afraid the relevance of the mention of Fa Hiaen to today’s Singur and Nandigram has thus escaped me.

You say “In countries like Australia, the US or Canada where agriculture has prospered, only a very tiny population is involved in agriculture. Most people move out to industry. Industry has to be convenient, has to be absorbing”. Last January, a national daily published a similar view: “For India to become a developed country, the area under agriculture has to shrink, urban and industrial land development has to take place, and about 100 million workers have to move out from agriculture into industry and services. This is the only way forward for bringing prosperity to the rural population”.

Rice is indeed grown in Arkansas or Texas as it is in Bengal but there is a world of difference between the technological and geographical situation here and that in the vast, sparsely populated New World areas with mechanized farming! Like shoe-making or a hundred other crafts, agriculture can be capital-intensive or labour-intensive ~ ours is relatively labour-intensive, theirs is relatively capital-intensive. Our economy is relatively labour-abundant and capital-scarce; their economies are relatively labour-scarce and capital-abundant (and also land-abundant). Indeed, if anything, the apt comparison is with China, and you doubtless know of the horror stories and civil war conditions erupting across China in recent years as the Communist Party and their businessman friends forcibly take over the land of peasants and agricultural workers, e.g. in Dongzhou.

All plans of long-distance social engineering to “move out” 40 per cent of India’s population (at 4 persons per “worker”) from the rural hinterlands must also face FA Hayek’s fundamental question in The Road to Serfdom: “Who plans whom, who directs whom, who assigns to other people their station in life, and who is to have his due allotted by others?”

Your late Harvard colleague, Robert Nozick, opened his brilliant 1974 book Anarchy, State and Utopia saying: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”. You have rightly deplored the violence seen at Singur and Nandigram. But you will agree it is a gross error to equate violence perpetrated by the Government which is supposed to be protecting all people regardless of political affiliation, and the self-defence of poor unorganised peasants seeking to protect their meagre lands and livelihoods from state-sponsored pogroms. Kitchen utensils, pitchforks or rural implements and flintlock guns can hardly match the organised firepower controlled by a modern Government.

Fortunately, India is not China and the press, media and civil institutions are not totally in the hands of the ruling party alone. In China, no amount of hue and cry among the peasants could save them from the power of organised big business and the Communist Party. In India, a handful of brave women have managed to single-handedly organise mass movements of protest which the press and media have then broadcast that has shocked the whole nation to its senses.

You rightly say the land pricing process has been faulty. Irrelevant historical prices have been averaged when the sum of discounted expected future values in an inflationary economy should have been used. Matters are even worse. “The fear of famine can itself cause famine. The people of Bengal are afraid of a famine. It was repeatedly charged that the famine (of 1943) was man-made.” That is what T. W. Schultz said in 1946 in the India Famine Emergency Committee led by Pearl Buck, concerned that the 1943 Bengal famine should not be repeated following dislocations after World War II. Of course since that time our agriculture has undergone a Green Revolution, at least in wheat if not in rice, and a White Revolution in milk and many other agricultural products. But catastrophic collapses in agricultural incentives may still occur as functioning farmland comes to be taken by government and industry from India’s peasantry using force, fraud or even means nominally sanctioned by law. If new famines come to be provoked because farmers’ incentives collapse, let future historians know where responsibility lay.

West Bengal’s real economic problems have to do with its dismal macroeconomic and fiscal position which is what Government economists should be addressing candidly. As for land, the Government’s first task remains improving grossly inadequate systems of land-description and definition, as well as the implementation and recording of property rights.

With my most respectful personal regards, I remain

Yours ever

 

Suby