Forwarding mail received from Rekesh in reply to my mail but forgot put on
sarai list simultaneously.
From: Rakesh Iyer [mailto:***@gmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, April 15, 2010 4:53 PM
To: Bipin Trivedi
Subject: Re: NAREGA
Note (for all including Bipin): This is an extremely long mail. If you lose
patience while reading this, I apologize, but please read it if you can, as
I try to explain my points properly.
Let me answer each and every point of yours in detail:
1) I have not credited Sonia Gandhi for NREGA in the sense you have put. I
would say that she is the only one in this government setup who had the
understanding to think about it, probably with the view of winning
2) You are stating that NDA was right in implementing infrastructure
projects for the development of a country. I would not completely disagree
with you. The Golden Quadrilateral scheme is one of the best schemes we
could have ever conceived of, and one should not forget that it was the NDA
which had thought of introducing such a scheme not only in roadways, but
also in railways, which was shelved (though I couldn't find who had shelved
it, the NDA or the UPA). You also state that UPA has not thought of
long-term vision as it has gone for NREGA.
Firstly, I am not against such infrastructure projects like Golden
Quadrilateral, but infact wholeheartedly support them. Construction of
highways is an utmost priority for us, so also construction of roads, be it
in urban or rural areas. Moreover, we do need construction of good quality
houses, and other kinds of infrastructure like railways and ports as well.
The way you put your point across seems to me like you are claiming that the
way is either MGREGA or highways. That's wrong. Both can go together
simultaneously. The Golden Quadrilateral should simultaneously go on with
MGREGA. We need both. The question then comes as per the point raised: why
You have said that if infrastructure development takes place, then there
will be a labour boom and therefore we don't need MGREGA. That unfortunately
is belied. It is certainly true that an infrastructure boom will lead to
demand for labor in India. However, most of the infrastructure boom will
also employ large no. of machines which are required to ensure quality
construction. Those works will not be undertaken by laborers simply because
it requires substantial investment in laborers (in terms of both money and
time) to ensure they get the required skills to conduct those operations,
and secondly, many of these operations can't be done by laborers (like
laborers can't do the work of heavy cranes and bulldozers). Therefore, the
labor boom being talked about is not going to employ a huge chunk of people
as being claimed, when compared with labor supply of India. And you won't
get quality construction if you employ labor at the cost of machines.
Secondly, the history of capitalism across the nations, not just in India,
tells us that with increase in profits, capital becomes cheaper than labor.
It's cheaper to invest more money rather than employ more labor. And
therefore, with time, many companies come to the conclusion that it's better
to invest in labor-saving machines rather than employ labor. Moreover, since
companies prefer not to pay too much in wages to labor (unless absolutely
necessary) and also fear labor unions (since they would like to pay as low
wages as possible), there is less requirement for labor. The end result is
that with increasing economic output, we will see lesser and lesser labor
being employed. This can be seen in the employment pattern as well.
Therefore, the requirement for such labor will go down over a period of
time. And the labor which will be required will be specialized labor, whose
no. as per requirement will also decrease with time. Hence, such unskilled
workers will be left nowhere. Already this can be seen in the case of our IT
and services sector, where an uneducated person can't do anything, whereas
at least in industries, an uneducated person can still be doing manual labor
work like in iron and steel industry for transportation.
As demand for labor goes down, and supply is increasing due to increasing
population, with majority increase among those who are poor and therefore
uneducated and unskilled, we will see a fall in wages. (Demand-supply
economics). Therefore, such people have to engage in labor for long hours
with low wages. They don't get any protection through labor laws, and there
are no safety nets to fall on in case there are accidents or any mishaps
during working. They are not given any monetary compensation (companies are
not legally liable) in case they suffer physically or mentally or both
during accidents. And the contractors who employ them also don't pay them
entire salary for the day but keep a part of it with them to ensure that the
laborers don't run away to villages after the work is over and work can be
done at cheap rates to ensure fatter profits for the contractors themselves.
To force people to come out of rural areas so that they do manual labor at
petty wages with no social security nets is against the basic human right to
lead a life with dignity. This should be corrected, and if a MGREGA is
needed to address this anomaly, so be it. The right path for industries and
capitalists is not to protest the scheme but increase the wages as well as
lobby with the govt. to introduce labor laws so that accordingly laborers
can feel the need to work in these companies.
3) You have a completely irrational logic of parliamentary democracy. In a
democracy, where the rule is to get a majority to be in power, all parties,
be it the Congress, BJP, DMK, SP, BSP etc. have to win the trust of people.
Since most of the parties today can't claim to be universally doing well for
all people, they have to gain trust of certain sections of the society in
order to win elections. And this they do so on an all-out basis. And by the
way vote bank politics is practised by all political parties not only in
India, but also by parties in other countries.
In USA, the Republicans have a vote bank in the form of Christian
fundamentalists and evangelists who voted against Obama in the 2008
elections for US president. The Democrats on the other hand always have the
Blacks (African-Americans) voting for them. This is vote-bank politics.
In Britain, the Labour party generally gets the votes of the migrants (those
from outside England who have become citizens, like Indians and Pakistanis),
while the Conservatives get the votes of those who feel such migration
should be banned and migrants should be deported to their native countries.
In India, similarly, Muslims don't vote for the BJP. And Congress tries to
get certain sections of the society behind it. BJP on the other hand tries
to ensure that all Hindus vote for it en-bloc so that it can win elections.
The BSP asks Dalits and Brahmans to vote for it. So do the other political
parties with their sphere of influences and castes.
Vote-bank politics in India is wrong because it ensures that you don't have
to work to win elections. You just have to be a member of a group or party
or some set and that ensures you get some votes. I accept that
wholeheartedly. But to say that vote-bank politics is only played by the
Congress is a misperception. Everybody does it.
Politics should be developmental, not vote-bank based in the sense it has
been, because such politics is narrow and pits groups against groups and
only leads to animosity amongst them. Once this animosity sets in amongst
people, then it's extremely difficult to break this cycle and feeling. But
it can be done, as the BSP showed it when they won in 2007 elections by
bringing Brahmans over to their side. And everybody does it and has done it
in the past.
But to say that it's only in India or done by Congress which is wrong.
But vote-bank politics is also not wrong necessarily, because if I don't
know any of the candidates, I will trust the person who is from my group, be
it caste, gender, religion or others since I don't know who is good and who
is bad. So therefore, the right thing should be greater awareness of the
candidates and also understanding of their positions and debates. Every
election in India should be like the US parliamentary election with debates
amongst all candidates on what they intend to do and questions asked of them
to judge them. That will be a good way to go.
4) The MGREGA is being used to develop infrastructure in countryside indeed.
Wells are being constructed, as also other ways of irrigation. Moreover,
work is being done to construct roads, which are then supplemented by cement
road construction with labor work providing better strength to the roads.
They are also helping in plantation of trees and thus combating both climate
change and environmental degradation, as announced by India at Copenhagen.
Even constructing schools, providing services like Mid-day meal cooking or
cleaning buildings, goes a long way in providing or maintaining
infrastructure. And that should be appreciated.
5) If you don't believe that the standard of living of poor has improved,
may be you should undertake a rural tour of Andhra Pradesh with P.Sainath.
This famous journalist writes in the Hindu (the rural areas correspondent of
the Hindu), and is generally spending on an average about 300 days in a year
in rural areas of Andhra Pradesh and also rest of the country. He has
himself seen accounts of how Telangana, one of the most backward regions of
the country, has been benefited by NREGA, how people from Karimnagar,
Adilabad and other backward districts in the region have stopped migrating
to Mumbai and able to lead lives in their own village and work in nearby
areas, and thereby being able to send their children to the school so that
the children can enjoy the Mid-day meal as well as get some education.
Do read him regularly. He is one person you can read in the Hindu, and I
eagerly wait for his articles. The Hindu may be a Communist newspaper under
N. Ram, but Sainath is one person who goes to rural areas to know the truth.
And I don't think people commenting on this forum regularly go to rural
areas at his frequency to know about them.
Yes there is corruption, but as I said, think of implementing transparency
measures rather than advising what the World Bank said: dismantle the govt.
machinery. The poor of India have become more deprived of nutrition and
other basic needs once the govt. has relegated its social responsibilities
to the market.
6) This is an interesting point since it comes for discussion regularly.
Firstly, those who can employ agricultural labor are actually the rich and
middle farmers, since small farmers don't have the money to employ labor.
Moreover, you don't have any statistics to back your claim that agricultural
productivity has gone down since the implementation of NREGA. Infact, to
suppress your point, let me state that in 2007 and 2008 (years in which
NREGA was being implemented across the nation), the agricultural
productivity was at record levels for cereals and pulses as well as other
It's only in 2009 that the agricultural productivity has gone down, and the
govt. has claimed that drought is the major reason for this (both in terms
of climate and lack of availability of water).
If farmers are not able to employ labor, then other methods can be thought
about. One way could be mechanisation of agriculture or even making
agriculture cooperatives where farmers can pool resources to use machines to
increase the production. This can be accompanies by sound techniques as well
like intensification of growing crops (used in rice crop in Tamil Nadu).
Instead, you seem to claim that some people should continue to work at petty
wages per day so that the agricultural productivity of India can be high,
even if it means that they are not able to enjoy 3 sound meals per day. I
would disagree. What's the use of me working as an agricultural laborer and
growing grains for others if I can't feed my own family properly?
As for food prices and inflation, this is mainly because the retail prices
are high compared to the wholesale prices. The farmers are not able to get
the advantage of these high prices, and it's the middlemen who are
responsible for such high prices. The correct step is to completely remove
middlemen and instead set up agricultural cooperatives monitored by the govt
which can buy from the farmers and directly sell food to the consumers. That
will comprehensively bring down inflation. Simple. There is no role of
agricultural labor reduction in all this.
And what I say here is already there in Outlook and Tehelka magazine as well
as other places.
Plus this capitalist way of opening essential commodities to futures trading
should be banned. That is something you may not agree with, but that's
7) The scheme is meant to ensure that people are provided work by the govt.
The people will only become lazy if the scheme doesn't provide work to
people. The schemes for any village are decided upon by the Gram Sabha in a
publicly organized meeting which has to be well attended and everybody must
have information about the meeting. Moreover, the schemes are monitored and
social audits can be undertaken by any organization, or any individual. Even
you can undertake them.
Going further ahead, you can use the RTI to get information about how the
NREGA is functioning in any village of this country even if you don't belong
to that village. You can ask about the material-labor component and
construction works done as well as stages in which the works are going on,
through usage of the RTI.
If you have any proof of people becoming lazy, do put it. Till now, not a
single instance of such a thing has been stated by anybody who has gone to a
village to study the working of NREGA. I would be most surprised if I were
to hear anybody finding one.
8) Your final point was about land reforms. Firstly, land reforms are not
meant to improve agricultural productivity. They are meant to ensure that
everyone has some land in his/her own name. The question may come: Why?
Simple. Land is an asset, particularly for a rural family. One can fall back
on this rural land resource in times of distress, by renting it or by using
it to feed fodder to animals so that they can generate some milk or meat
which could be sold or other ways. That's why land is an asset, and
everybody wants land.
Land reforms bring about equitable distribution of land so that families are
able to have some land for themselves. West Bengal conducted the Operation
Barga during Jyoti Basu's CM-ship to bring about partial land reforms. There
were problems in implementation of land reforms and mismanagement and
corruption were also seen, which is why they were partial finally and not as
effective as required. Full land reforms would have also involved formation
of cooperatives and bringing together land of all for increasing
agricultural productivity. This was done in Communist China and it brought
about huge increases in agricultural productivity there. Here in India it
was avoided and didn't bring about significant changes.
But Gujarat never brought about land reforms for equitable distribution of
land. And that ironically led to higher productivity for a certain section
of farmers who are rich and can afford irrigation facilities and use of
scientific techniques, whereas for the rest it has brought nothing. Gujarat
state governments have only concentrated on bringing about more growth in
the economy rather than also think of redistributing the benefits of
economic growth, and the result is this:
a) Out of all the BJP-ruled states, Gujarat is the most prosperous and yet,
it has the highest income-equality of all, since income distribution was
never a priority for the governments there in general. (as per NFHS - 3,
b) The under-five mortality rate of Gujarat is only marginally below Madhya
Pradesh, while it is above Maharashtra. Also, there is larger
health-inequality in Gujarat than other states which have lower prosperity.
And this is primarily because some get rich and the benefits of this
economic growth don't reach as they should for all sections of the society.
c) Farmer suicides are taking place in Gujarat, and this is as per the
Gujarat govt's own information. While the farmer suicides are of not the
level of Vidarbha or Andhra Pradesh or even Kerala, they are increasing.
Now please dont' crib that the data is for 2005-06. The National Family
Health Survey is undertaken by the Health Ministry after certain intervals,
and I can't ask the Central Govt. to undertake this survey again.
I don't say that agricultural productivity should not be high. But yes,
redistribution of income to the poor is something even Modi would not have
the guts to oppose. That is what is required.
On a further comprehensive article or mail on Gujarat, I would certainly do
that after reading the necessary resources in the summer as I would be busy
with exam. But yes, we can do it not only for Gujarat but for other states
as well (and we should do it I feel).
As for NREGA, I stated what I had to.
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