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.

Brady Bonds for Bengal….

From Facebook July 11 2011:

Subroto Roy introduced the idea, of course momentarily, of Brady Bonds for Bengal some six hours ago, and expects it will become part of policy-discussion in Bengal within six months.

From Facebook July 10 2011:

Subroto Roy is glad to read of Brady Bonds again — Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal needs them too but who is going to explain that much economics to her? Amartya Sen? Or his proteges?

“I’m on my way out”: Siddhartha Shankar Ray (1920-2010)

I  am grieved to hear of the death of Siddhartha Shankar Ray last night.

I was introduced to him by an uncle who had been his college-buddy, and he took up a grave personal matter of mine in the Supreme Court of India in 1990 with great kindness, charging me not a penny, being impressed by a little explicit “civil disobedience” I had had to show at the time towards Judge Evelyn Lance.

He also told me he and his wife had been in London on May 29 1984 and had seen *The Times*’s leader that day about my critique of Indian economic policy. He invited me to his Delhi home where I told him about the perestroika-for-India project I had led at the University of Hawaii since 1986, at which he, of his own accord, declared

“You must meet Rajiv Gandhi.  I will arrange a meeting”.

That led to my meeting with Rajiv Gandhi, then Congress President & Leader of the Opposition, on September 18 1990, which contributed to the origins of India’s 1991 economic reform as has been told elsewhere. https://independentindian.com/thoughts-words-deeds-my-work-1973-2010/rajiv-gandhi-and-the-origins-of-indias-1991-economic-reform/

Rajiv’s assistant George told me Rajiv had said he had not heard more fulsome praise.

In Bengal, he took me as a guest to visit the Legislative Assembly in session when he was Leader of the Opposition; it was the legislature of which my great grandfather, Surendranath Roy, had been a founder, being the first Deputy President and acting President too; Surendranath had been friends with his maternal grandfather, CR Das, leader of the Congress Party before MK Gandhi, and he said to me in the car heading to the legislature about that relationship in Bengal’s politics some seven decades earlier “They were friends”.

He introduced me to all the main leaders of the Bengal Congress at the time (except Mamata Banerjee who could not come) and I was tasked by him to write the manifesto for the State elections that year, which I did (in English, translated into Bangla by Professor Manjula Bose); the Communists won handily again but one of their leaders (Sailen Dasgupta) declared there had never been a State Congress manifesto of the sort before, being as it was an Orwell-like critique of Bengal’s Stalinism.

In a later conversation, I said to him I wished he be appointed envoy to Britain, he instead came to be appointed envoy to the USA.

In Washington in September 1993, he said “You must meet Manmohan Singh”, and invited me to a luncheon at the Ambassador’s Residence where, to Manmohan Singh and all his aides, he declared pointing at me

“The Congress manifesto (of 1991) was written on his (laptop) computer”.

In later years I kept him informed of developments and gave him my publications.   We last met in July last year where I gave him a copy, much to his delight, of *Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant*.

I said to him Bengal’s public finances were in abysmal condition, calling for emergency measures financially, and that Mamata Banerjee seemed to me to be someone who knew how to and would dislodge the Communists from their entrenched misgovernance of decades but not quite aware that dislodging a bad government politically was not the same thing as knowing how to govern properly oneself.

He,  again of his own accord, said immediately,

“I will call her and her main people to a meeting here so you can meet them and tell them that directly”.

It never transpired.

He and I were supposed to meet a few months ago but could not due to his poor health; on the phone in our last conversation I mentioned to him my plans of creating a Public Policy Institute — an idea he immediately and fully endorsed as being essential though adding

“I can’t be part of it,  I’m on my way out”.

“I’m on my way out”.   🙂

That was Siddhartha Shankar Ray — always intelligent, always good-humoured, always public-spirited, always a great Indian.

I shall miss a good friend, indeed my only friend among politicians other than the late Rajiv Gandhi himself.

 

Mistaken Macroeconomics: An Open Letter to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh 12 June 2009

 

 

12 June 2009

The Hon’ble Dr Manmohan Singh, MP, Rajya Sabha

Prime Minister of India

 

 

Respected Pradhan Mantriji:

 

In September 1993 at the residence of the Indian Ambassador to Washington, I had the privilege of being introduced to you by our Ambassador the Hon’ble Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Bar-at-Law. Ambassador Ray was kind enough to introduce me saying the 1991 “Congress manifesto had been written on (my laptop) computer” – a reference to my work as adviser on economic and other policy to the late Rajiv Gandhi in his last months. I presented you a book Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s created and edited by myself and WE James at the University of Hawaii since 1986 — the unpublished manuscript of that book had reached Rajivji by my hand when he and I first met on September 18 1990. Tragically, my pleadings in subsequent months to those around him that he seemed to my layman’s eyes vulnerable to the assassin went unheeded.

 

 

When you and I met in 1993, we had both forgotten another meeting twenty years earlier in Paris. My father had been a long-time friend of the late Brahma Kaul, ICS, and the late MG Kaul, ICS, who knew you in your early days in the Government of India. In the late summer of 1973, you had acceded to my father’s request to advise me about economics before I embarked for the London School of Economics as a freshman undergraduate. You visited our then-home in Paris for about 40 minutes despite your busy schedule as part of an Indian delegation to the Aid-India Consortium. We ended up having a tense debate about the merits (as you saw them) and demerits (as I saw them) of the Soviet influence on Indian economic “planning”. You had not expected such controversy from a lad of 18 but you were kindly disposed and offered when departing to write a letter of introduction to Amartya Sen, then teaching at the LSE, which you later sent me and which I was delighted to carry to Professor Sen.

 

 

I may add my father, back in 1973 in Paris, had predicted to me that you would become Prime Minister of India one day, and he, now in his 90s, is joined by myself in sending our warm congratulations at the start of your second term in that high office.

 

 

The controversy though that you and I had entered that Paris day in 1973 about scientific economics as applied to India, must be renewed afresh!

 

 

This is because of your categorical statement on June 9 2009 to the new 15th Lok Sabha:

 

 

“I am convinced, since our savings rate is as high as 35%, given the collective will, if all of us work together, we can achieve a growth-rate of 8%-9%, even if the world economy does not do well.” (Statement of Dr Manmohan Singh to the Lok Sabha, June 9 2009)

 

 

I am afraid there may be multiple reasons why such a statement is gravely and incorrigibly in error within scientific economics. From your high office as Prime Minister in a second term, faced perhaps with no significant opposition from either within or without your party, it is possible the effects of such an error may spell macroeconomic catastrophe for India.

 

 

As it happens, the British Labour Party politician Dr Meghnad Desai made an analogous statement to yours about India when he claimed in 2006 that China

 

 

“now has 10.4% growth on a 44 % savings rate… ”

 

Indeed the idea that China and India have had extremely high economic growth-rates based on purportedly astronomical savings rates has become a commonplace in recent years, repeated endlessly in international and domestic policy circles though perhaps without adequate basis.

 

 

 

1.   Germany & Japan

 

What, at the outset, is supposed to be measured when we speak of “growth”? Indian businessmen and their media friends seem to think “growth” refers to something like nominal earnings before tax for the organised corporate sector, or any unspecified number that can be sold to visiting foreigners to induce them to park their funds in India: “You will get a 10% return if you invest in India” to which the visitor says “Oh that must mean India has 10% growth going on”. Of such nonsense are expensive international conferences in Davos and Delhi often made.

 

You will doubtless agree the economist at least must define economic growth properly and with care — what is referred to must be annual growth of per capita inflation-adjusted Gross Domestic Product. (Per capita National Income or Net National Product would be even better if available).

 

West Germany and Japan had the highest annual per capita real GDP growth-rates in the world economy starting from devastated post-World War II initial conditions. What were their measured rates?

 

West Germany: 6.6% in 1950-1960, falling to 3.5% by 1960-1970 falling to 2.4% by 1970-1978.

 

Japan: 6.8 % in 1952-1960 rising to 9.4% in 1960-1970 falling to 3.8 % in 1970-1978.

 

Thus in recent decadesonly Japan measured a spike in the 1960s of more than 9% annual growth of real per capita GDP. Now India and China are said to be achieving 8%-10 % and more year after year routinely!

 

Perhaps we are observing an incredible phenomenon of world economic history. Or perhaps it is just something incredible, something false and misleading, like a mirage in the desert.

 

You may agree that processes of measurement of real income in India both at federal and provincial levels, still remain well short of the world standards described by the UN’s System of National Accounts 1993. The actuality of our real GDP growth may be better than what is being measured or it may be worse than what is being measured – from the point of view of public decision-making we at present simply do not know which it is, and to overly rely on such numbers in national decisions may be unwise. In any event, India’s population is growing at near 2% so even if your Government’s measured number of 8% or 9% is taken at face-value, we have to subtract 2% population growth to get per capita figures.

 

 

 

 

 

2.  Growth of the aam admi’s consumption-basket

 

 

The late Professor Milton Friedman had been an invited adviser in 1955 to the Government of India during the Second Five Year Plan’s formulation. The Government of India suppressed what he had to say and I had to publish it 34 years later in May 1989 during the 1986-1992 perestroika-for-India project that I led at the University of Hawaii in the United States. His November 1955 Memorandum to the Government of India is a chapter in the book Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s that I and WE James created.

 

At the 1989 project-conference itself, Professor Friedman made the following astute observation about all GNP, GDP etc growth-numbers that speaks for itself:

 

 

“I don’t believe the term GNP ought to be used unless it is supplemented by a different statistic: the rate of growth of the average consumption basket consumed by the ordinary individual in the country. I think GNP rates of growth can give very misleading information. For example, you have rapid rates of growth of GNP in the Soviet Union with a declining standard of life for the people. Because GNP includes monuments and includes also other things. I’m not saying that that is the case with India; I’m just saying I would like to see the two figures together.”

 

 

You may perhaps agree upon reflection that not only may our national income growth measurements be less robust than we want, it may be better to be measuring something else instead, or as well, as a measure of the economic welfare of India’s people, namely, “the rate of growth of the average consumption basket consumed by the ordinary individual in the country”, i.e., the rate of growth of the average consumption basket consumed by the aam admi.

 

 

It would be excellent indeed if you were to instruct your Government’s economists and other spokesmen to do so this as it may be something more reliable as an indicator of our economic realities than all the waffle generated by crude aggregate growth-rates.

 

 

 

 

3.  Logic of your model

 

Thirdly, the logic needs to be spelled out of the economic model that underlies such statements as yours or Meghnad Desai’s that seek to operationally relate savings rates to aggregate growth rates in India or China. This seems not to have been done publicly in living memory by the Planning Commission or other Government economists. I have had to refer, therefore, to pages 251-253 of my own Cambridge doctoral thesis under Professor Frank Hahn thirty years ago, titled “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”, where the logic of such models as yours was spelled out briefly as follows:

 

Let

 

 

Kt be capital stock

 

Yt be national output

 

It be the level of real investment

 

St be the level of real savings

 

By definition

 

It = K t+1 – Kt

 

By assumption

 

Kt = k Yt 0 < k < 1

 

St = sYt 0 < s <1

 

In equilibrium ex ante investment equals ex ante savings

 

It = St

 

Hence in equilibrium

 

sYt = K t+1 – Kt

 

Or

 

s/k = g

 

where g is defined to be the rate of growth (Y t+1-Yt)/Yt  .

 

The left hand side then defines the “warranted rate of growth” which must maintain the famous “knife-edge” with the right hand side “natural rate of growth”.

 

Your June 9 2009 Lok Sabha statement that a 35% rate of savings in India may lead to an 8%-9% rate of economic growth in India, or Meghnad Desai’s statement that a 44% rate of savings in China led to a 10.4% growth there, can only be made meaningful in the context of a logical economic model like the one I have given above.

 

[In the open-economy version of the model, let Mt be imports, Et be exports, Ft net capital inflows.

 

Assume

 

Mt = aIt + bYt 0 < a, b < 1

 

Et = E for all t

 

Balance of payments is

 

Bt = Mt – Et – Ft

 

In equilibrium It = St + Bt

 

Or

 

Ft = (s+b) Yt – (1-a) It – E is a kind of “warranted” level of net capital inflow.]

 

 

 

You may perhaps agree upon reflection that building the entire macroeconomic policy of the Government of India merely upon a piece of economic logic as simplistic as the

 

s/k = g

 

equation above, may spell an unacceptable risk to the future economic well-being of our vast population. An alternative procedural direction for macroeconomic policy, with more obviously positive and profound consequences, may have been that which I sought to persuade Rajiv Gandhi about with some success in 1990-1991. Namely, to systematically seek to improve towards normalcy the budgets, financial positions and decision-making capacities of the Union and all state and local governments as well as all public institutions, organisations, entities, and projects in general, with the aim of making our domestic money a genuine hard currency of the world again after seven decades, so that any ordinary resident of India may hold and trade precious metals and foreign exchange at his/her local bank just like all those glamorous privileged NRIs have been permitted to do. Such an alternative path has been described in “The Indian Revolution”, “Against Quackery”, “The Dream Team: A Critique”, “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Indian Inflation”, etc.

 

 

 

4. Gross exaggeration of real savings rate by misreading deposit multiplication

 

 

Specifically, I am afraid you may have been misled into thinking India’s real savings rate, s, is as high as 35% just as Meghnad Desai may have misled himself into thinking China’s real savings rate is as high as 44%.

 

 

Neither of you may have wanted to make such a claim if you had referred to the fact that over the last 25 years, the average savings rate across all OECD countries has been less than 10%. Economic theory always finds claims of discontinuous behaviour to be questionable. If the average OECD citizen has been trying to save 10% of disposable income at best, it appears prima facie odd that India’s PM claims a savings rate as high as 35% for India or a British politician has claimed a savings rate as high as 44% for China. Something may be wrong in the measurement of the allegedly astronomical savings rates of India and China. The late Professor Nicholas Kaldor himself, after all, suggested it was rich people who saved and poor people who did not for the simple reason the former had something left over to save which the latter did not!

 

 

And indeed something is wrong in the measurements. What has happened, I believe, is that there has been a misreading of the vast nominal expansion of bank deposits via deposit-multiplication in the Indian banking system, an expansion that has been caused by explosive deficit finance over the last four or five decades. That vast nominal expansion of bank-deposits has been misread as indicating growth of real savings behaviour instead. I have written and spoken about and shown this quite extensively in the last half dozen years since I first discovered it in the case of India. E.g., in a lecture titled “Can India become an economic superpower or will there be a monetary meltdown?” at Cardiff University’s Institute of Applied Macroeconomics and at London’s Institute of Economic Affairs in April 2005, as well as in May 2005 at a monetary economics seminar invited at the RBI by Dr Narendra Jadav. The same may be true of China though I have looked at it much less.

 

 

How I described this phenomenon in a 2007 article in The Statesman is this:

 

 

“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.”

 

 

An article of mine in 2008 in Business Standard put it like this:

 

 

“India has followed in peacetime over six decades what the US and Britain followed during war. Our vast growth of bank deposits in recent decades has been mostly a paper (or nominal) phenomenon caused by unlimited deficit finance in a fractional reserve banking system. Policy makers have widely misinterpreted it as indicating a real phenomenon of incredibly high savings behaviour. In an inflationary environment, people save their wealth less as paper deposits than as real assets like land, cattle, buildings, machinery, food stocks, jewellery etc.”

 

 

If you asked me “What then is India’s real savings rate?” I have little answer to give except to say I know what it is not – it is not what the Government of India says it is. It is certainly unlikely to be anywhere near the 35% you stated it to be in your June 9 2009 Lok Sabha statement. If the OECD’s real savings rate has been something like 10% out of disposable income, I might accept India’s is, say, 15% at a maximum when properly measured – far from the 35% being claimed. What I believe may have been mismeasured by you and Meghnad Desai and many others as indicating high real savings is actually the nominal or paper expansion of bank-deposits in a fractional reserve banking system induced by runaway government deficit-spending in both India and China over the last several decades.

 

 

 

 

5. Technological progress and the mainsprings of real economic growth

 

 

So much for the g and s variables in the s/k = g equation in your economic model. But the assumed constant k is a big problem too!

 

During the 1989 perestroika-for-India project-conference, Professor Friedman referred to his 1955 experience in India and said this about the assumption of a constant k:

 

“I think there was an enormously important point… That was the almost universal acceptance at that time of the view that there was a sort of technologically fixed capital output ratio. That if you wanted to develop, you just had to figure out how much capital you needed, used as a statistical technological capital output ratio, and by God the next day you could immediately tell what output you were going to achieve. That was a large part of the motivation behind some of the measures that were taken then.”

 

The crucial problem of the sort of growth-model from which your formulation relating savings to growth arises is that, with a constant k, you have necessarily neglected the real source of economic growth, which is technological progress!

 

I said in the 2007 article referred to above:

 

“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.”

 

In “Growth and Government Delusion” published in The Statesman last year, I described the growth process more fully like this:

 

“The mainsprings of real growth in the wealth of the individual, and so of the nation, are greater practical learning, increases in capital resources and improvements in technology. Deeper skills and improved dexterity cause output produced with fewer inputs than before, i.e. greater productivity. Adam Smith said there is “invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many”. Consider a real life example. A fresh engineering graduate knows dynamometers are needed in testing and performance-certification of diesel engines. He strips open a meter, finds out how it works, asks engine manufacturers what design improvements they want to see, whether they will buy from him if he can make the improvement. He finds out prices and properties of machine tools needed and wages paid currently to skilled labour, calculates expected revenues and costs, and finally tries to persuade a bank of his production plans, promising to repay loans from his returns. Overcoming restrictions of religion or caste, the secular agent is spurred by expectation of future gains to approach various others with offers of contract, and so organize their efforts into one. If all his offers ~ to creditors, labour, suppliers ~ are accepted he is, for the moment, in business. He may not be for long ~ but if he succeeds his actions will have caused an improvement in design of dynamometers and a reduction in the cost of diesel engines, as well as an increase in the economy’s produced means of production (its capital stock) and in the value of contracts made. His creditors are more confident of his ability to repay, his buyers of his product quality, he himself knows more of his workers’ skills, etc. If these people enter a second and then a third and fourth set of contracts, the increase in mutual trust in coming to agreement will quickly decline in relation to the increased output of capital goods. The first source of increasing returns to scale in production, and hence the mainspring of real economic growth, arises from the successful completion of exchange. Transforming inputs into outputs necessarily takes time, and it is for that time the innovator or entrepreneur or “capitalist” or “adventurer” must persuade his creditors to trust him, whether bankers who have lent him capital or workers who have lent him labour. The essence of the enterprise (or “firm”) he tries to get underway consists of no more than the set of contracts he has entered into with the various others, his position being unique because he is the only one to know who all the others happen to be at the same time. In terms introduced by Professor Frank Hahn, the entrepreneur transforms himself from being “anonymous” to being “named” in the eyes of others, while also finding out qualities attaching to the names of those encountered in commerce. Profits earned are partly a measure of the entrepreneur’s success in this simultaneous process of discovery and advertisement. Another potential entrepreneur, fresh from engineering college, may soon pursue the pioneer’s success and start displacing his product in the market ~ eventually chasers become pioneers and then get chased themselves, and a process of dynamic competition would be underway. As it unfolds, anonymous and obscure graduates from engineering colleges become by dint of their efforts and a little luck, named and reputable firms and perhaps founders of industrial families. Multiply this simple story many times, with a few million different entrepreneurs and hundreds of thousands of different goods and services, and we shall be witnessing India’s actual Industrial Revolution, not the fake promise of it from self-seeking politicians and bureaucrats.”

 

 

Technological progress in a myriad of ways and discovery of new resources are important factors contributing to India’s growth today. But while India’s “real” economy does well, the “nominal” paper-money economy controlled by Government does not. Continuous deficit financing for half a century has led to exponential growth of public debt and broad money, and, as noted, the vast growth of nominal bank-deposits has been misinterpreted as indicating unusually high real savings behaviour when it in fact may just signal vast amounts of government debt being held by our nationalised banks. These bank assets may be liquid domestically but are illiquid internationally since our government debt is not held by domestic households as voluntary savings nor has it been a liquid asset held worldwide in foreign portfolios.

 

 

What politicians of all parties, especially your own and the BJP and CPI-M since they are the three largest, have been presiding over is exponential growth of our paper money supply, which has even reached 22% per annum. Parliament and the Government should be taking honest responsibility for this because it may certainly portend double-digit inflation (i.e., decline in the value of paper-money) perhaps as high as 14%-15% per annum, something that is certain to affect the aam admi’s economic welfare adversely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Selling Government assets to Big Business is a bad idea in a potentially hyperinflationary economy

 

 

Respected PradhanMantriji, the record would show that I, and really I alone, 25 years ago, may have been the first among Indian economists to advocate  the privatisation of the public sector. (Viz, “Silver Jubilee of Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India”.) In spite of this, I have to say clearly now that in present circumstances of a potentially hyperinflationary economy created by your Government and its predecessors, I believe your Government’s present plans to sell Government assets may be an exceptionally unwise and imprudent idea. The reasoning is very simple from within monetary economics.

 

Government every year has produced paper rupees and bank deposits in practically unlimited amounts to pay for its practically unlimited deficit financing, and it has behaved thus over decades. Such has been the nature of the macroeconomic process that all Indian political parties have been part of, whether they are aware of it or not.

 

Indian Big Business has an acute sense of this long-term nominal/paper expansion of India’s economy, and acts towards converting wherever possible its own hoards of paper rupees and rupee-denominated assets into more valuable portfolios for itself of real or durable assets, most conspicuously including hard-currency denominated assets, farm-land and urban real-estate, and, now, the physical assets of the Indian public sector. Such a path of trying to transform local domestic paper assets – produced unlimitedly by Government monetary and fiscal policy and naturally destined to depreciate — into real durable assets, is a privately rational course of action to follow in an inflationary economy. It is not rocket-science to realise the long-term path of rupee-denominated assets is downwards in comparison to the hard-currencies of the world – just compare our money supply growth and inflation rates with those of the rest of the world.

 

The Statesman of November 16 2006 had a lead editorial titled Government’s land-fraud: Cheating peasants in a hyperinflation-prone economy which said:

 

 

“There is something fundamentally dishonourable about the way the Centre, the state of West Bengal and other state governments are treating the issue of expropriating peasants, farm-workers, petty shop-keepers etc of their small plots of land in the interests of promoters, industrialists and other businessmen. Singur may be but one example of a phenomenon being seen all over the country: Hyderabad, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, everywhere. So-called “Special Economic Zones” will merely exacerbate the problem many times over. India and its governments do not belong only to business and industrial lobbies, and what is good for private industrialists may or may not be good for India’s people as a whole. Economic development does not necessarily come to be defined by a few factories or high-rise housing complexes being built here or there on land that has been taken over by the Government, paying paper-money compensation to existing stakeholders, and then resold to promoters or industrialists backed by powerful political interest-groups on a promise that a few thousand new jobs will be created. One fundamental problem has to do with inadequate systems of land-description and definition, implementation and recording of property rights. An equally fundamental problem has to do with fair valuation of land owned by peasants etc. in terms of an inconvertible paper-money. Every serious economist knows that “land” is defined as that specific factor of production and real asset whose supply is fixed and does not increase in response to its price. Every serious economist also knows that paper-money is that nominal asset whose price can be made to catastrophically decline by a massive increase in its supply, i.e. by Government printing more of the paper it holds a monopoly to print. For Government to compensate people with paper-money it prints itself by valuing their land on the basis of an average of the price of the last few years, is for Government to cheat them of the fair present-value of the land. That present-value of land must be calculated in the way the present-value of any asset comes to be calculated, namely, by summing the likely discounted cash-flows of future values. And those future values should account for the likelihood of a massive future inflation causing decline in the value of paper-money in view of the fact we in India have a domestic public debt of some Rs. 30 trillion (Rs. 30 lakh crore) and counting, and money supply growth rates averaging 16-17% per annum. In fact, a responsible Government would, given the inconvertible nature of the rupee, have used foreign exchange or gold as the unit of account in calculating future-values of the land. India’s peasants are probably being cheated by their Government of real assets whose value is expected to rise, receiving nominal paper assets in compensation whose value is expected to fall.”

 

Shortly afterwards the Hon’ble MP for Kolkata Dakshin, Km Mamata Banerjee, started her protest fast, riveting the nation’s attention in the winter of 2006-2007. What goes for government buying land on behalf of its businessman friends also goes, mutatis mutandis, for the public sector’s real assets being bought up by the private sector using domestic paper money in a potentially hyperinflationary economy. If your new Government wishes to see real assets of the public sector being sold for paper money, let it seek to value these assets not in inconvertible rupees that Government itself has been producing in unlimited quantities but perhaps in forex or gold-units instead!

 

 

In the 2004-2005 volume Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant, edited by myself and Professor John Clarke, there is a chapter by Professor Patrick Minford on Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal and monetary policy (macroeconomics) that was placed ahead of the chapter by Professor Martin Ricketts on Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation (microeconomics). India’s fiscal and monetary or macroeconomic problems are far worse today than Britain’s were when Margaret Thatcher came to power. We need to get our macroeconomic problems sorted before we attempt the  microeconomic privatisation of public assets.

 

It is wonderful that your young party colleague, the Hon’ble MP from Amethi, Shri Rahul Gandhi, has declined to join the present Government and instead wishes to reflect further on the “common man” and “common woman” about whom I had described his late father talking to me on September 18 1990. Certainly the aam admi is not someone to be found among India’s lobbyists of organised Big Business or organised Big Labour who have tended to control government agendas from the big cities.

 

With my warmest personal regards and respect, I remain,

Cordially yours

Subroto Roy, PhD (Cantab.), BScEcon (London)

 

see also https://independentindian.com/thoughts-words-deeds-my-work-1973-2010/rajiv-gandhi-and-the-origins-of-indias-1991-economic-reform/did-jagdish-bhagwati-originate-pioneer-intellectually-father-indias-1991-economic-reform-did-manmohan-singh-or-did-i-through-my-e/

Posted in 15th Lok Sabha, Academic economics, Academic freedom, Academic research, Adam Smith, Banking, Bengal, Big Business and Big Labour, BJP, Cambridge Univ Economics, Capital and labour, China's macroeconomics, China's savings rate, China's Economy, Congress Party, Deposit multiplication, Economic Policy, Economic Theory, Economic Theory of Growth, Economic Theory of Value, Economics of Public Finance, Enterprise and entrepeneurship, European Community, Financial Management, Financial markets, Foreign exchange controls, General equilbrium theory, Germany, Governance, Government accounting, Government Budget Constraint, Government of India, Growth rates (economic), India's Big Business, India's Government economists, India's savings rate, India's 1991 Economic Reform, India's Banking, India's Budget, India's bureaucracy, India's Capital Markets, India's corporate governance, India's Economy, India's farmers, India's Government Budget Constraint, India's Government Expenditure, India's grassroots activists, India's inflation, India's Land, India's Lok Sabha, India's Macroeconomics, India's Monetary & Fiscal Policy, India's Parliament, India's political lobbyists, India's political parties, India's poverty, India's Public Finance, India's Reserve Bank, India's Revolution, India's State Finances, India's Union-State relations, Inflation, Inflation targeting, Interest group politics, Japan, London School of Economics, Mamata Banerjee, Manmohan Singh, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher's Revolution, Martin Ricketts, Milton Friedman, Monetary Theory, Money and banking, Non-Resident Indians, OECD savings rates, Paper money and deposits, Parliamentary Backbenchers, Political Economy, Public Choice/Public Finance, Rahul Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Redeposits, Siddhartha Shankar Ray. 1 Comment »

How tightly will organised Big Business be able to control economic policies this time?

The power of organised Big Business over New Delhi’s economic policies (whether Congress-led or BJP-led) was signalled by the presence in the audience at Rashtrapati Bhavan last week of several prominent lobbyists when Dr Manmohan Singh and his senior-most Cabinet colleagues were being sworn-in by the President of India. Why were such witnesses needed at such an auspicious national occasion?

Organised Big Business (both private sector and public sector) along with organised Big Labour (whose interests are represented most ably by New Delhi’s official communist parties like the CPI-M and CPI), are astutely aware of how best to advance their own economic interests; this usually gets assisted nicely enough through clever use of our comprador English-language TV, newspaper and magazine media. Shortly after the election results, lobbyists were all over commercial TV proposing things like FDI in insurance and airports etc– as if that was the meaning of the Sonia-Rahul mandate or were issues of high national priority. A typical piece of such “pretend-economics” appears in today’s business-press from a formerly Leftist Indian bureaucrat: “With its decisive victory, the new Manmohan Singh government should at last be able to implement the required second generation reforms. Their lineaments (sic) are well known and with the removal of the Left’s veto, many of those stalled in the legislature as well as those which were forestalled can now be implemented. These should be able to put India back on a 9-10 per cent per annum growth rate…”

Today’s business-press also reports that the new Government is planning to create a fresh “Disinvestment Ministry” and Dr Singh’s chief economic policy aide is “a frontrunner among the names short-listed to head the new ministry” with Cabinet rank.

Now if any enterprising doctoral student was to investigate the question, I think the evidence would show that I, and I alone – not even BR Shenoy or AD Shroff or Jagdish Bhagwati — may have been the first among Indian economists to have argued in favour of the privatisation of India’s public sector. I did so precisely 25 years ago in Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, which was so unusual for its time that it attracted the lead editorial of The Times of London on the day it was published May 29 1984, and had its due impact on Indian economic policy then and since, as has been described elsewhere here.  In 1990-1991 while with Rajiv Gandhi, I had floated an idea of literally giving away shares of the public sector to the public that owned it (as several other countries had been doing at that time), specifically perhaps giving them to the poorest panchayats in aid of their development.  In 2004-2005, upon returning to Britain after many years, I helped create the book Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant, and Margaret Thatcher if anyone was a paragon of privatisation.

That being said, I have to say I think a new Indian policy of creating a Ministry to privatise India’s public sector is probably a very BAD idea indeed in present circumstances — mainly because it will be driven by the interests of the organised Big Business lobbies that have so profoundly and subtly been able to control the New Delhi Government’s behaviour in recent decades.

Such lobbyist control is exercised often without the Government even realising or comprehending its parameters. For example, ask yourself: Is there any record anywhere of Dr Manmohan Singh, in his long career as a Government economist and then as a Rajya Sabha MP, having ever proposed before 2004-2005 that nuclear reactors were something vitally important to India’s future? And why do you suppose the most prominent Indian business lobby spent a million dollars and registered itself as an official lobbyist in Washington DC to promote the nuclear deal among American legislators? Because Big Business was feeling generous and altruistic towards the “energy security” of the ordinary people of India? Hardly.  Indian Big Business calculates and acts in its own interests, as is only to be expected under economic assumptions; those interests are frequently camouflaged by their lobbyist and media friends into seeming to be economic policy for the country as a whole.

Now our Government every year produces paper rupees and bank deposits in  practically unlimited amounts to pay for its practically unlimited deficit financing, and it has behaved thus over decades. Why we do not hear about this at all is because the most prominent Government economists themselves remain clueless — sometimes by choice, mostly by sheer ignorance — about the nature of the macroeconomic process that they are or have been part of.  (See my  “India’s Macroeconomics”, “The Dream Team: A Critique” etc elsewhere here). As for the Opposition’s economists, the less said about the CPI-M’s economists the better while the BJP, poor thing, has absolutely no economists at all!

Briefly speaking, Indian Big Business has acquired an acute sense of this long-term nominal/paper expansion of India’s economy, and as a result acts towards converting wherever possible its own hoards of paper rupees and rupee-denominated assets into more valuable portfolios for itself of real or durable assets, most conspicuously including hard-currency denominated assets, farm-land and urban real-estate, and, now, the physical assets of the Indian public sector. Such a path of trying to transform local domestic paper assets – produced unlimitedly by Government monetary and fiscal policy and naturally destined to depreciate — into real durable assets, is a privately rational course of action to follow in an inflationary economy.  It is not rocket-science  to realise the long-term path of the Indian rupee is downwards in comparison to the hard-currencies of the world – just compare our money supply growth and inflation rates with those of the rest of the world.

The Statesman of November 15 2006 had a lead editorial titled Government’s land-fraud: Cheating peasants in a hyperinflation-prone economy. It said:

“There is something fundamentally dishonourable about the way the Centre, the state of West Bengal and other state governments are treating the issue of expropriating peasants, farm-workers, petty shop-keepers etc of their small plots of land in the interests of promoters, industrialists and other businessmen. Singur may be but one example of a phenomenon being seen all over the country: Hyderabad, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, everywhere. So-called “Special Economic Zones” will merely exacerbate the problem many times over. India and its governments do not belong only to business and industrial lobbies, and what is good for private industrialists may or may not be good for India’s people as a whole. Economic development does not necessarily come to be defined by a few factories or high-rise housing complexes being built here or there on land that has been taken over by the Government, paying paper-money compensation to existing stakeholders, and then resold to promoters or industrialists backed by powerful political interest-groups on a promise that a few thousand new jobs will be created. One fundamental problem has to do with inadequate systems of land-description and definition, implementation and recording of property rights. An equally fundamental problem has to do with fair valuation of land owned by peasants etc. in terms of an inconvertible paper-money. Every serious economist knows that “land” is defined as that specific factor of production and real asset whose supply is fixed and does not increase in response to its price. Every serious economist also knows that paper-money is that nominal asset whose price can be made to catastrophically decline by a massive increase in its supply, i.e. by Government printing more of the paper it holds a monopoly to print. For Government to compensate people with paper-money it prints itself by valuing their land on the basis of an average of the price of the last few years, is for Government to cheat them of the fair present-value of the land. That present-value of land must be calculated in the way the present-value of any asset comes to be calculated, namely, by summing the likely discounted cash-flows of future values. And those future values should account for the likelihood of a massive future inflation causing decline in the value of paper-money in view of the fact we in India have a domestic public debt of some Rs. 30 trillion (Rs. 30 lakh crore) and counting, and money supply growth rates averaging 16-17% per annum. In fact, a responsible Government would, given the inconvertible nature of the rupee, have used foreign exchange or gold as the unit of account in calculating future-values of the land. India’s peasants are probably being cheated by their Government of real assets whose value is expected to rise, receiving nominal paper assets in compensation whose value is expected to fall.”

Mamata Banerjee started her famous protest fast-unto-death in Kolkata not long afterwards, riveting the nation’s attention in the winter of 2006-2007.

What goes for the government buying land on behalf of its businessman friends also goes, mutatis mutandis, for the public sector’s real assets being bought up by the private sector using domestic paper money in a potentially hyperinflationary economy.  If Dr Singh’s new Government wishes to see real public sector assets being sold, let the Government seek to value these assets not in inconvertible rupees which the Government itself has been producing in unlimited quantities but rather in forex or gold-units instead!

Today’s headline says “Short of cash, govt. plans to revive disinvestment ministry”. Big Business’s powerful lobbies will suggest  that real public assets must be sold  (to whom? to organised Big Business of course!) in order to solve the grave fiscal problems in an inflationary economy caused precisely by those grave  fiscal problems! What I said in 2002 at IndiaSeminar may still be found to apply: I said the BJP’s privatisation ideas “deserve to be condemned…because they have made themselves believe that the proceeds of selling the public sector should merely go into patching up the bleeding haemorrhage which is India’s fiscal and monetary situation… (w)hile…Congress were largely responsible for that haemorrhage to have occurred in the first place.”

If the new Government would like to know how to proceed more wisely, they need to read and grasp, in the book edited by myself and Professor John Clarke in 2004-2005, the chapter by Professor Patrick Minford on Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal and monetary policy (macroeconomics) before they read the chapter by Professor Martin Ricketts on Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation (microeconomics).  India’s fiscal and monetary or macroeconomic problems are far worse today than Britain’s were when Thatcher came in.

During the recent Election Campaign, I contrasted Dr Singh’s flattering praise in 2005 of the CPI-M’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with Sonia Gandhi’s pro-Mamata line in 2009 saying the CPI-M had taken land away from the poor.  This may soon signal a new fault-line in the new Cabinet too on economic policy with respect to not only land but also public sector privatisation – with Dr Singh’s pro-Big Business acolytes on one side and Mamata Banerjee’s stance in favour of small-scale unorganised business and labour on the other.  Party heavyweights like Dr Singh himself and Sharad Pawar and Pranab Mukherjee will weigh in one side or the other with Sonia being asked in due course to referee.

I personally am delighted to see the New Rahul Gandhi deciding not to be in Government and to instead reflect further on the “common man” and “common woman” about whom I had described his father talking to me on September 18 1990 at his home. Certainly the “aam admi” is not someone to be found among India’s organised Big Business or organised Big Labour nor their paid lobbyists in the big cities.

Subroto Roy

Posted in Academic research, AD Shroff, Asia and the West, Big Business and Big Labour, BR Shenoy, Britain, Britain in India, British history, Economic Policy, Economic quackery, Economic Theory, Economics of exchange controls, Economics of Public Finance, Economics of real estate valuation, Financial Management, Financial markets, Foreign exchange controls, Government Budget Constraint, Government of India, India's Big Business, India's Banking, India's bureaucracy, India's Capital Markets, India's corporate finance, India's corporate governance, India's corruption, India's currency history, India's Economic History, India's Economy, India's Government Budget Constraint, India's Government Expenditure, India's Industry, India's inflation, India's Macroeconomics, India's Monetary & Fiscal Policy, India's nomenclatura, India's peasants, India's political lobbyists, India's Politics, India's pork-barrel politics, India's poverty, India's Public Finance, Inflation, Land and political economy, Macroeconomics, Mamata Banerjee, Manmohan Singh, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher's Revolution, Martin Ricketts, Mendacity in politics, Microeconomics, Monetary Theory, Money and banking, Mumbai financial world, New Delhi, Patrick Minford, Political cynicism, Political Economy, Political mendacity, Political Science, Politics, Pork-barrel politics, Power-elites and nomenclatura, Practical wisdom, Principal-agent problem, Privatisation, Public Choice/Public Finance, Public property waste fraud, Rajiv Gandhi, Rational decisions, Singur and Nandigram, Sonia Gandhi, Statesmanship, The Statesman, The Times (London), University of Buckingham. Leave a Comment »

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

Anarchy in Bengal

Anarchy in Bengal

Intra-Left bandh marks the final unravelling of “Brand Buddha”

First published in The Sunday Statesman, 10 February 2008, Editorial Page Special Article   http://www.thestatesman.net

by

SUBROTO ROY

Once upon a time, not very long ago, there was something called “Brand Buddha”. The basic idea was that the CPI-M had quietly reformed itself, passing the baton from old unreconstructed communists like Jyoti Basu and Harkishan Surjeet to a new generation of pragmatists and modernists represented by Prakash Karat’s JNU coterie at the national level and the smartly dressed bhadralok persona of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Kolkata itself.

Big businessmen and their foreign collaborators were no longer the “comprador bourgeoisie” but rather were allies to whom government subsidies and concessions, especially land, would be and should be granted. The “investment climate” and “work culture” under a CPI-M government would be among the best in India. High employment levels would be the hoped-for result, especially employment for those associated positively with the CPI-M and its friends. The usual set of academics, journalists, film and TV actors, dancers, sportsmen, singers, NRIs etc who were directly or indirectly recipients of the largesse of the West Bengal Government helped to contribute to the idea that a viable political brand had been identified and it represented the unique way forward for the State. “You are either with us or against us” has always been the brief philosophy of communist and fascist parties around the world ~ joining up with Brand Buddha meant you were part of the bandwagon of progress, if you did not join up you would be left behind. (No one thought Brand Buddha could be or would come to be actively opposed.)

At the national level, the old Indira Gandhi-Communist alliance was restored by way of a new one led by Sonia Gandhi. Jyoti Basu had frankly described Sonia as “a housewife” but now that the housewife was running the country and needed the Communists’ help in doing so, the opportunity was not to be missed to extract whatever price was possible. The main broker between 10 Janpath and West Bengal’s Communists was Pranab Mukherjee who was most familiar with the old Indira-style of opportunistic Indian politics, and who was given the mandate of appeasing the Communists with whatever they needed while also being the pointman to make a phone call to his friend Buddhadeb to see to it, e.g., that the CPI-M like everyone else enjoyed the American and Indian air force show at Kalaikunda.

The “enemy” (for, after all, every unholy alliance must have an identifiable enemy) was the wicked old BJP. Everyone from Sonia Gandhi via Pranab Mukherjee to Jyoti Basu would voice the fear that if they did not join hands in socialist secularist unity, the BJP Boogeyman was destined to return to power. And of course the BJP did nothing and had little positive in its record to dissipate those fears. It was indeed filled with old men and it had indeed behaved wickedly while in power. From negligence in the Graham Staines murder in Orissa to the pogrom in Gujarat, there was little to suggest the BJP’s leadership had any clear ideas or principles about right and wrong governance. In office from 1998-2004, its macroeconomic record was woeful, mainly because it knew no better than maintain the same economic bureaucrats as its predecessors, and allow its finance and other economic ministers to be wholly manipulated by big business lobbies. Now when those bureaucrats and big business lobbies created, endorsed and marketed Brand Buddha itself, the BJP found it had been successfully finessed and could hardly speak a word in opposition. If the BJP thinks it can win in 2009 by its discredited leaders merely recycling anti-Muslim or anti-Christian formulae as before, it may be in for a surprise and a disappointment.

Brand Buddha reached its pinnacle when Sonia Gandhi’s Prime Minister endorsed it personally at a big business meeting in Kolkata on 12 January 2005. But the contradiction involved in Sonia Gandhi then giving merely a perfunctory speech on behalf of the West Bengal Congress in the 2006 election campaign could not be covered up and did not escape the notice of her local partymen.

Brand Buddha started to unravel when Mamata Banerjee realized that all the CPI-M really had was a brand being marketed, not something based on any new and fresh political and economic reality. Mamata has never accepted Sonia’s right to lead the Congress which is what had led to the Trinamul breaking away ~ at the same time, even when she was allied to the BJP, no one could accuse her of being anti-Muslim or anything but secular in her political identity. Her three-week long fast over Singur blocked Metro Channel and riveted the country’s political attention while TV broadcasts of the police-behaviour at Singur acted as a signal to the people of Nandigram to prepare for the same or worse.

The fact the Nandigram peasants who feared losing their land were mostly Muslim caused the central Sonia-Pranab-Buddhadeb myth to explode that only they stood to protect Muslims from the BJP. Once that myth had exploded, the fact the emperor was naked came to be seen by all. There never had been a viable political or economic product behind the brand that was being so heavily advertised and endorsed. If Buddhadeb and his party had been genuinely confident of possessing a constructive new economic policy for West Bengal, they should have transparently and honestly discussed it in detail and gone to the people to ask for a mandate on it before the 2006 elections.

Or when the issue boiled over and Mamata went on her fast at the end of 2006, Buddhadeb could have dissolved the Assembly and gone for fresh elections asking for a specific mandate from Bengal’s voters. Instead, the Chief Minister or his senior ministers not once found the need or courage to address all of West Bengal’s people on television even though the State came to be rocked by violence, mayhem and tragedy – hardly a climate for investment and new employment.

2007 saw the CPI-M and its New Delhi Congress friends being revealed to be bunglers, who could not cope with things as small as Rizwanur’s love-marriage or Taslima’s writings except with heavy-handed repression. The CPI-M’s own unions had crippled their own Government and the State before with bandhs, but not until the Cooch Behar firings has the anarchy become complete. The Forward Bloc protesters were, after all, merely asking for implementation of Sonia Gandhi’s favourite scheme of rural employment guarantees! Anarchy is the absence of government and when a government is so divided that its members cannot decide if they are the government or the opposition, it has to be said there is an absence of government.

Recovery requires candour which in turn requires honesty and introspection, all of which may be qualities too difficult to find. What Brand Buddha could have and should have been about is this: the CPI-M cutting waste, fraud and abuse of publicly owned resources from all the organs, departments and projects of the West Bengal Government that they have controlled for decades, and drastically improving the productivity of all those receiving State government wages or contracts. Real governance does not require any phony advertising because success advertises itself.

Against Quackery

Against Quackery

 

 

First published in two parts in The Sunday Statesman, September 23 2007, The Statesman September 24 2007

 

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.

 

 

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.

Posted in Accounting and audit, asymmetric information, Banking, Big Business and Big Labour, BJP, Communists, Congress Party, Deposit multiplication, DMK, Economic Policy, Economic quackery, Economics of Public Finance, Governance, Government accounting, Government Budget Constraint, Government of India, India's Big Business, India's savings rate, India's stock and debt markets, India's 1991 Economic Reform, India's aviation, India's balance of payments, India's Banking, India's Budget, India's Capital Markets, India's communists, India's corporate governance, India's corruption, India's Democracy, India's Economic History, India's Economy, India's Energy, India's Exports, India's Families, India's Foreign Exchange Reserves, India's Foreign Trade, India's Government Budget Constraint, India's Government Expenditure, India's Industry, India's inflation, India's Judiciary, India's Land, India's Macroeconomics, India's Monetary & Fiscal Policy, India's nomenclatura, India's political lobbyists, India's Politics, India's Polity, India's pork-barrel politics, India's poverty, India's Public Finance, India's Reserve Bank, India's State Finances, India's Union-State relations, India-Pakistan peace process, India-US Nuclear Deal, Indira Gandhi, Inflation, Interest group politics, Mamata Banerjee, Manmohan Singh, Mendacity in politics, Non-Resident Indians, Pakistan, Balochistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Political corruption, Political cynicism, Political Economy, Political mendacity, Political Philosophy, Politics, Pork-barrel politics, Power-elites and nomenclatura, Public Choice/Public Finance, Public property waste fraud, Rajiv Gandhi, Reason, Redeposits, Singur and Nandigram, Sonia Gandhi, Unorganised capital markets, Welfare Economics. 2 Comments »

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

Bengal’s Finances

BENGAL’S FINANCES

First published in The Sunday Statesman February 25 2007, Editorial Page  Special Article, www.thestatesman.net

There is urgent need for calm, sober thought, not self-delusion. Foreign trade, world politics are not what State Governments are constitutionally permitted to do.

By SUBROTO ROY

Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is fond of saying his hoped for industrialization plans will lead to jobs for “thousands” of unemployed young men and women emerging from West Bengal’s many schools, colleges and universities.

Now ever since JM Keynes’s time, economists have understood the phenomenon of unemployment quite well. Some unemployment is voluntary: where someone declines to accept a job at the prevailing wage or chooses leisure instead, e.g. withdraws from the labour-force in order to go to college or care for children or family or be involved in search for a better job. Some unemployment is seasonal, as in agriculture ~ where there often is “overfull” employment at harvest-time. Some unemployment may be frictional or structural, depending on dynamic unpredictable industrial or technological changes. In none of these cases is any large role defined for government investment using public resources, though there can be smaller roles like providing job-information, advice and training.

Keynes himself was concerned with systematic “involuntary” unemployment, where masses of people are willing but unable to find work at the going wage because there has been a general collapse of the market economy, as arguably happened in the 1930s in the Western countries. There has been no such situation in independent India.

And it is important to remember our labour markets are mostly unrestricted by State boundaries: unlike totalitarian China, we do not have internal passports in the country, and Indians are mostly free to work anywhere they wish to. Talk from CPI-M, Congress, BJP or other politicians of alleged Keynesian “multiplier” effects arising from government expenditure is mostly talk. And as for Sonia Gandhi’s “National Rural Employment Guarantee”, to the extent it was argued for at all by Amartya Sen’s disciples like Jean Drèze, the argument was not on Keynesian grounds but of a purportedly more equitable distribution of government expenditure.

What then is the Bhattacharjee Government supposed to be doing?

Chandrababu Naidu started a trend among Chief Ministers flying off to exotic foreign vistas, addressing international conferences and signing memoranda with foreign businessmen. But world politics, international relations and foreign trade are not what Indian State Governments are permitted by our Constitution to be engaged in doing. Nelson Mandela is a great man of history but Jyoti Basu’s Government had no constitutional right or business to gift him five million American dollars of West Bengal public money after he was released from jail in South Africa in 1990 by De Klerk.

Our Constitution is crystal clear that the legitimate agenda of India’s State Governments is something very mundane and wholly unglamorous: State Governments are supposed to be managing Courts of Law; the Police, Civil Order, Prisons; Water, Sanitation, Health; State Debt Service; Intra-State Infrastructure & Communications; Local Government; Liquor & Other Public Sector Industry; Trade, Local Banking & Finance; Land, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry; Libraries, Museums, Monuments; State Civil Service & Administration. In addition, “concurrent” with the Union Government are Criminal, Civil & Family Law, Contracts & Torts; Forests & Environmental Protection; Unemployment & Refugee Relief; Electricity; Education. It is relative to that explicit agenda that State Government performances around the country must be evaluated.

The finances of the West Bengal Government and those of every other State of the Union appear in a condition of Byzantine confusion. Even so, it is not impossible for any citizen to understand them with a little serious effort. The State receives tax revenues, income from State operations (like bus fares, lottery tickets etc), and grants transferred from the Union. Of the State’s total revenues, more than 80% arise from taxation. Of those taxes, about 30% is collected by the Union on behalf of the State in accordance with the Finance Commission’s formulae; 70% is collected by the State itself, and about 60% of whhat the State collects is Sales Tax. On the expenditure side, more than 60% goes in repaying the State’s debts as well as interest owed on that debt. The remainder gets distributed as summarily shown in the table. (What would be revealed at a higher level of detail is that e.g. Rs. 2.63 Bn is spent in collecting Rs. 9.93 Bn of land revenue!) The wide difference between the State’s income from all sources and its expenditures implies the State must then issue new public debt. That typically has been a larger and larger sum every year, greater than the amount of maturing debt being amortised or extinguished. The potentially grave consequence of this will be obvious to any householder, and makes it imperative that calm, sober thought and objective analysis occur about the State’s financial condition and budget constraint. There is no room for self-delusion, especially on the part of the Bhattacharjee Government. We are still paying interest on the money we borrowed to make Nelson Mandela a gift seventeen years ago.

Govt. of W. Bengal’s Finances 2003-2004
Rs Billion (Hundred Crore)
EXPENDITURE ACTIVITIES:
government & local government 8.68 1.68%
judiciary 1.27 0.25%
police (including home guard etc.) 13.47 2.61%
prisons 0.62 0.12%
bureaucracy 5.69 1.10%
collecting land revenue & taxes 4.32 0.84%
government employee pensions 26.11 5.05%
schools, colleges, universities, institutes 45.06 8.72%
health, nutrition & family welfare 14.70 2.84%
water supply & sanitation 3.53 0.68%
roads, bridges, transport, etc. 8.29 1.60%
electricity (mostly loans to power sector) 31.18 6.03%
irrigation, flood control, environment, ecology 10.78 2.09%
agricultural subsidies, rural development, etc. 7.97 1.54%
industrial subsidies 2.56 0.50%
capital city development 7.29 1.41%
social security, SC, ST, OBC, labour welfare 9.87 1.91%
tourism 0.09 0.02%
arts, archaeology, libraries, museums 0.16 0.03%
miscellaneous 0.52 0.10%
debt amortization & debt servicing 314.77 60.89%
total expenditure 516.92

tax revenue 141.10
operational income 6.06
grants from Union 18.93
loans recovered 0.91
total income 167.00
INCOME SOURCES:

GOVT. BORROWING REQUIREMENT
(total expenditure
minus total income ) 349.93

financed by:
new public debt issued 339.48
use of Trust Funds etc 10.45
349.93
From the author’s research and based on latest available data published by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India

On Land-Grabbing

ON LAND-GRABBING

Dr Singh’s India, Buddhadeb’s Bengal, Modi’s Gujarat have notorious US, Soviet and Chinese examples to follow ~ distracting from the country’s real economic problems

By SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Jan 14 2007

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”.

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.

In the mid-19th Century, white North America decimated hundreds of thousands of natives in the most gargantuan land-grab of history. Defeated, Chief Red Cloud of the Sioux spoke in 1868 for the Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Iroquois and hundreds of other tribes: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept any except one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.”

Half a century later, while the collapse of grain prices contributed to the Great Depression and pauperisation of thousands of small farmers in capitalist America in the same lands that had been taken from the native tribes, Stalin’s Russia embarked on the most infamous state-sponsored land-grab in modern history: “The mass collectivisation of Soviet agriculture (was) probably the most warlike operation ever conducted by a state against its own citizens…. Hundreds of thousands and finally millions of peasants… were deported… desperate revolts in the villages were bloodily suppressed by the army and police, and the country sank into chaos, starvation and misery… The object of destroying the peasants’ independence…was to create a population of slaves, the benefit of whose labour would accrue to industry. The immediate effect was to reduce Soviet agriculture to a state of decline from which it has not yet recovered… The destruction of the Soviet peasantry, who formed three quarters of the population, was not only an economic but a moral disaster for the entire country. Tens of millions were driven into semi-servitude, and millions more were employed as executants…” (Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism).

Why did Stalin destroy the peasants? Lenin’s wishful “alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry” in reality could lead only to the peasants being pauperised into proletarians. At least five million peasants died and (Stalin told Churchill at Yalta) another ten million in the resultant famine of 1932-1933. “Certainly it involved a struggle ~ but chiefly one between urban Communists and villagers… it enabled the regime to obtain much of the capital desired for industrialization from the defeated village… it was the decisive step in the building of Soviet totalitarianism, for it imposed on the majority of the people a subjection which only force could maintain” (Treadgold, 20th Century Russia).

Mr Bhattacharjee’s CPI-M is fond of extolling Chinese communism, and the current New Delhi establishment have made Beijing and Shanghai holiday destinations of choice. Dr Singh’s Government has been eager to create hundreds of “Special Economic Zones” run by organised capital and unionised labour, and economically privileged by the State. In fact, the Singur and Nandigram experiences of police sealing off villages where protests occur are modelled on creation of “Special Economic Zones” in China in recent years.

For example, Chinese police on 6 December 2005 cracked down on farmers and fishermen in the seaside village of Dongzhou, 125 miles North East of Hong Kong. Thousands of Dongzhou villagers clashed with troops and armed police protesting confiscation of their lands and corruption among officials. The police immediately sealed off the village and arrested protesters. China’s Public Security Ministry admitted the number of riots over land had risen sharply, reaching more than seventy thousand across China in 2004; police usually suppressed peasant riots without resort to firing but in Dongzhou, police firing killed 20 protesters. Such is the reality of the “emergence” of China, a totalitarian police-state since the Communist takeover in 1949, from its period of mad tyranny until Mao’s death in 1976, followed by its ideological confusion ever since.

Modern India’s political economy today remains in the tight grip of metropolitan “Big Business” and “Big Labour”. Ordinary anonymous individual citizens ~ whether housewife, consumer, student, peasant, non-union worker or small businessman ~ have no real voice or representation in Indian politics. We have no normal conservative, liberal or social democratic party in this country, as found in West European democracies where the era of land-grabbing has long-ceased. If our polity had been normal, it would have known that economic development does not require business or government to pauperise the peasantry but instead to define and secure individual property rights and the Rule of Law, and establish proper conditions for the market economy. The Congress and BJP in Delhi and CPI-M in Kolkata would not have been able to distract attention from their macroeconomic misdeeds over the decades ~ indicated, for example, by increasing interest-expenditure paid annually on Government debt as a fraction of tax revenues (see Table). This macroeconomic rot originated with the Indira Gandhi-PN Haksar capriciousness and mismanagement, which coincided with the start of Dr Singh’s career as India’s best known economic bureaucrat.

Hypocrisy of the CPI-M

Hypocrisy of the CPI-M

Political Collapse In Bengal: A Mid-Term Election/Referendum Is Necessary

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, January 9 2007,

By Subroto Roy

For the 1991 Assembly elections, I happened to draft the West Bengal Congress’s election manifesto although I was not then or ever a member of that or any other party. There was no Trinamul but its future leader had made her jibe of there being watermelons who were red inside and green outside, aptly in case of a few senior leaders. The manifesto quoted George Orwell’s denunciation of communist ruling classes, and was so hard-hitting that the CPI-M’s Sailen Dasgupta came out with a statement he had never read a Congress manifesto that had been so harsh on them; privately, I took that to be a compliment though the Congress of course lost the election. There is no one in Bengal who does not want to see Bengal prosper, and the most candid vigorous political conversation is necessary to discover what in fact is true and what ought or not to be done.

Democratic norms

The functioning of the Basu-Bhattacharjee CPI-M is quite utterly amazing. It deserves to be called such because of the seamless transfer of power that occurred between the two men in November 2000. The Chief Minister in a parliamentary democracy is supposed to have the confidence of the House, yet when Jyoti Basu stopped being CM and anointed Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to succeed him, not even a perfunctory vote of confidence was asked for in the House ~ a fact I brought to the attention of the-then editor of The Statesman who agreed with me it signified the CPI-M’s contempt for the parliamentary institution they have been ruling over for decades. By contrast, there is already talk in Britain of an early general election as soon as Gordon Brown takes over from Tony Blair.

It is the same contempt for democratic parliamentary norms that Mr Bhattacharjee and company reveal today in pushing through their diabolical plan to acquire farmers’ lands on behalf of their businessmen friends.

All of 37% of those voting in the 2006 Assembly Elections voted for the CPI-M. By contrast, 41.2% voted for Trinamul and Congress together. Add also the 11.4% of those who voted for the Forward Bloc, RSP and CPI all of whom though part of the Left Front have been opposing the CPI-M on this cardinal issue. That constitutes prima facie evidence that a majority of 52.6% vs. 37% of voters may oppose the CPI-M’s present course of action. Mr Bhattacharjee heads a Government that is supposed to act not merely in the interest of members or groups of his own party or those who have flattered or financed it, but everyone in West Bengal including those who voted against the CPI-M as well as those who did not vote at all.

Gerhard Schröder dissolved the German Bundestag in 2005 though his own party held a majority there. He did so merely because his party lost a provincial election and he felt that indicated loss of confidence in it at the federal level also. Such is how genuine modern democracies work. In India to the contrary, we have had notorious misuse of the Constitution when State Governments were dissolved merely because they were ruled by parties opposed to that which had won a Union-level General Election. Even so, India remains a Parliamentary democracy at Union and State levels, and the Government of the day may advise the Head of State to dissolve the House and call for new elections to be held. It may do so even when there is no legal necessity to do so, i.e., even when it is secure with a majority of seats. It may do so because a political necessity has arisen for doing so.

If Mr Bhattacharjee is a genuine democrat, as he wishes to convey an impression of being, he should advise the Governor to dissolve the Assembly because the CPI-M wishes to go to the people to seek a mandate for its plans for the State’s industrialisation and forced acquisition of farm lands towards that end. The Trinamul, Congress, SUCI, Maoists and others including perhaps the CPI, FB, RSP and others will state their opposition, while he, Mr Nirupam Sen and their party will be able to articulate for West Bengal’s voters exactly what they propose to do and why. The CPI-M is adamant its cause is right while the Opposition have been agitating in the streets for months, and miniature civil war conditions now prevail in parts of rural Bengal; worse may be yet to come. There is only one way in a supposedly democratic society like ours to discover what should be done, and that is to dissolve the Assembly and call an election. Both sides will have a chance to articulate their positions to the public, and a vote will be held. There the matter would end. It is the one constructive way forward for the State, and indeed for the nation as a whole. (Alternatively, the Governor could be advised to request the Election Commission to administer India’s first referendum on a single agreed-upon question like “The West Bengal Government’s industrialisation and land-acquisition plan deserves citizens’ support: Yes/No”.)

If an Assembly election comes to be called and the CPI-M falls below a pre-set target of the vote-share, say 33%, or the Left Front below, say, 45%, then Mr Bhattacharjee, even if he commands a majority of seats again, will know he has no mandate and that he must stop and reconsider what he is doing. As I have said in these columns, West Bengal’s main economic problems are financial, having to do with Rs. 92 billion (Rs 9,200 crore) being paid as annual interest on the State Public Debt in 2004, and this may reach Rs 200 billion shortly. Economic development of the State has precious little to do with private businessmen making small cars or motorcycles or putting up buildings for information technology institutes, as Mr Bhattacharjee and his Government have deluded themselves into believing.

CPI-M 2003 statement
Besides its lack of democratic mandate, what surprises most about the modern CPI-M is its sheer hypocrisy. This is a party whose “Central Committee” in June 2003 in Kolkata condemned “non-Left State Governments” for allegedly “giving away thousands of hectares of land either on sale or on lease at throw-away prices to multinational companies and domestic monopolists”, and the Union Government for allegedly issuing “a circular calling for forcible eviction of lakhs of adivasis from the land”. The Basu-Bhattacharjee CPI-M is now clearly hoist with its own petard. Tilak said that what Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow. It was not for nothing that he said it. If the CPI-M refers the land-acquisition question to the people in a free and fair election or referendum today, it will set a positive precedent for other States and parties in the country. If instead it pushes forward its current diabolical plans, the example it will have set will be one of initiating a class war in reverse, where the poor shall become poorer and the rich richer. India’s poorest consist of those rural inhabitants without land, and Government would have deliberately contributed to their numbers swelling.

(Author’s Note March 2007: The original article in its first paragraph referred mistakenly to Promode Dasgupta when Sailen Dasgupta had been meant, an error corrected in the next day’s paper.)

Land, Liberty & Value

LAND, LIBERTY & VALUE

Government must act in good faith treating all citizens equally ~ not favouring organised business lobbies and organised labour over an unorganised peasantry

By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, December 31 2006,

EVERY farmer knows that two adjacent plots of land which look identical to the outsider may be very different in character, as different as two siblings of the same family. Adjacent plots may differ in access to groundwater and sunlight, in minerals and salts, in soil, fertilisers, parasites, weeds or a dozen other agronomic factors. Most of all, they will differ in the quality and ingenuity of thought and labour that has gone into their care and cultivation over the years, perhaps over generations.

John Locke said: “Whatsoever that (a man) removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property… For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no one but he can have a right to what that once joined to, at least where there is enough and as good left in common for others” (Second Treatise of Government). Plots of land are as specific as the families that have “mixed” their labour with them. Locke wrote of labour being something “unquestionably” the labourer’s own property; in the same libertarian vein, Robert Nozick opened Anarchy, State and Utopia saying “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”.

But as we recognise the universal sanctity of the individual person and his/her private property, we have to start qualifying it. If you purchase a field, forest or estate through which runs a pathway traditionally used by the public to get from one side to the other then even as the new owner you may not have a right to forbid the public’s use of the pathway. By extension, it is clear the State, the community of which you are a citizen, may approach you and demand there should be and will be a public road or thoroughfare through your property in the common interest. Such is the sovereign’s right of “eminent domain” recognised throughout the world, not only in times of war or natural disaster but also in normal times where private property may be taken for public use. The individual’s right to free use of his/her property is circumscribed as a result.

What may be certainly expected though in all matters is that the State will act in good faith, i.e., that it has conducted proper technical surveys and cost-benefit analyses as well as transparent public hearings, and has honestly decided that the road must be constructed using this route and no other. The doctrine of eminent domain implies that while the right to private property may be basic, it is not absolute, as indeed no right is, not even the right to one’s own life. In India, one key difference between the landmark Golaknath (AIR 1967 SC 1643) and Kesavananda Bharati (AIR 1973 SC 1461) rulings had to do precisely with the former recognising the right to property being fundamental as in our original 1950 Constitution, while the latter consented to the Indira Parliament’s denial of this.

When private property is taken, fair compensation must be paid. For example, the American Constitution says “no private property may be taken for public use without just compensation”. What is just compensation? Typically it would be the “fair market value” — but that must be properly adjudged accounting for the best future use of the land, not merely the historical or traditional past use of the land.

Consider, in a mature urban real-estate market, a plot made vacant because a warehouse located on it has accidentally burned down. What is the value of the plot now? Another warehouse could be built, but other bids could come in too for construction of offices or residential flats or a multi-storey garage. The plot’s value would differ depending on which use it is ultimately put to. And this value would be ascertained by calculating the expected cash flows into the future from each of these possibilities, discounted appropriately to account for the fact the future is less valuable than the present, with the highest value alternative being chosen. That is how a mature private real-estate market works in theory, though in practice there would be zoning and environmental restrictions to account for the traditional nature of the neighbourhood as well as possible pollution by effluent waste etc.

In India, Government departments and ministries have inherited prime urban real estate from British times. Amidst the highest value real estate in Kolkata, Bangalore, Delhi etc. will be found a military camp or flats built for military personnel, having nothing whatsoever to do with furtherance of the nation’s defences today. The appalling state of government accounting and audit of our public property and institutions includes the fact that neither the Union nor State Governments and municipalities have the faintest idea of assets, including real estate, that they own. These public assets are frequently open to abuse by managerially uncontrolled government employees.

Fallacies even more curious seem to be currently at work in Indian policy-making, whether by this or that political party. The “eminent domain” doctrine requires a public purpose to exist for acquisition of private property by the State: e.g. construction of a road, bridge, dam, airport or some other traditional public good which is going to be used by the public. In India as elsewhere, “land reform” did involve taking an absentee landlord A’s land and distributing it to B, C, D and E who worked as peasants on it. But nowhere else outside formerly communist China has land been forcibly taken from peasants B, C, D and E and handed over to this or that private capitalist in name of economic development (in a reverse class war)!

Eminent domain doctrine requires good faith on part of the State with respect to its citizens and that implies treating all citizens’ interests equally – not e.g. favouring an organised business lobby or organised industrial labour over the unorganised peasantry uneducated in the wiles of city people.

Also, there is no reason why Government should be interested in a particular product-mix emerging out of a given private factory (such as the so-called inflation-unadjusted “Rs one lakh car” instead of telecom equipment or garments or textiles). Dr Manmohan Singh’s statement last week that he wishes to see “employment-intensive” industries merely added to Government confusion: from Henry Ford to Japanese “lean business” today, everyone knows the direction of change of technology in the automobile industry has been towards robotics, making modern manufacturing less and less manpower-intensive! The Tatas themselves underwent a major downsizing and restructuring in the last decade, hiving off industries not considered part of their “core competence”.

Traditional agriculture of Singur’s sort represents the most labour-intensive employment-generating kind of rural economy. While such rural life may appear unsatisfying to the urban outsider, there is, as Tolstoy, Rabindranath, Gandhi and others knew, subtle happiness, contentment and tranquility there absent in alienated industrial sprawls. “Surplus” labour occurs in agriculture because of technological improvements in quality and delivery of agricultural inputs as well as new education and awareness (Theodore W. Schultz,Transforming Traditional Agriculture). It is mostly seasonal and all hands are used during the harvest when even urban migrants flock back to help. Industry did not leave Bengal in the 1960s and 1970s because of Mamata Banerjee but because of urban unrest, the culture of gheraos and lockouts, and bad regulations of the labour and capital markets associated largely with Ms Banerjee’s Left Front adversaries.

The basic fiction the Union and State Governments have made themselves believe is that their idea of an industrialisation plan is necessary for economic development. It is not. Real economic problems in West Bengal and elsewhere are financial to do with State budgets. “Debt overhang is there” is how the RBI Governor apologetically put it last week. Interest payments on the West Bengal State public debt consume larger and larger fractions of the revenue: these payments were at Rs 13 Bn in 1995 but grew to Rs. 92 Bn by 2004, and may jump to Rs 200 Bn in the next decade. The communists have been in power thirty years and no one but they are responsible. Making the State’s budget healthy would require tackling the gargantuan bureaucracy, slashing ministerial extravagance (foreign trips, VIP security) etc. It is much easier to hobnob with the rich and powerful while tear-gassing the peasants.