Tuesday, 28 January 2014

When helplessness becomes a learned behavior

Nearly everyone is stunned by the performance of AAP in Delhi and have the same question "wow, how they pulled off?". Lets try to find out what was the secret recipe for success of AAP? And what is the thing that has brought a common man to the so called Janta Darbar.
Lets start from a small conversation:

Two men travelling in a bus:
Man1: Few days ago, I went to get my son's driver license. And we just end up going to the division of motor vehicles repeatedly.
Man2: Oh, yes. You are right. This torture due to corruption sucks. We need to get rid of it.
Man1: But what else can we do apart from watching. The law and order is also pathetic here. Its hard to get out of it once you are there. 
Man2: Hmm. Lets just wait for some miracle or believe in some God to who can free us.

The above conversation shows the situation of "learned helplessness". According to psychologists learned helplessness is where people who have been put in a prolonged situation where they are unable to get results from their actions, give up trying, and thereafter, helplessness becomes a learned behavior. This behavior can be better illustrated from the scenario before independence. Initially the people were helpless and low in confidence having a prejudice that we shall never be able to compete and fight back with these inevitable British Sarkar. But once the wave of independence get into the nerves of the Indians, it was able to completely destroy the British kingdom, the path may be full of barriers but they succeed because they were determined to, because they had begun the journey from helplessness to empowerment. And this journey is one-way street, one cannot go back to feeling helpless or powerless even if they wish to. The contribution of leaders cannot be denied as they helped to remove the barriers of caste, creed, gender and brought whole India into one thread.

This scenario can be compared to the present day where a common man is fighting back to corruption which currently seems to be inevitable. But like any typical problem, it too have a solution. What we can see at the present time is the requirement of change. But what type of change? Experts in change management talk of two ways that you can make change happen. 1. By putting in place "drivers" that create a force towards the desired future state or 2. By removing the "hurdles" or barriers that prevent a system from moving to the desired future state. Its often easier to change a system by removing "barriers" rather than putting "drivers". As we could see who doesn't want a corruption free country(except few who are making profit out of it). But despite the desire of a majority of Indians for a corruption free country, there was a sense of helplessness or powerlessness, a belief that it's the way it is and nothing going to stop it and nothing can change it. Here the desire of people is the "driving" force to change, but the belief became a key barrier to this change. It is critical to remove this barrier to allow the system to change. Large section of Indians had succumbed to the phenomenon of learned helplessness and felt powerless to change the state of affairs regarding corruption in the country. Here comes the role of AAP. The main task was to undo this sense of helplessness and make people feel empowered to rise up and fight for their cause. Many key messages of the party were focused on this task only.

First of all, the name of the party created this sense of empowerment. It gives the sense of ownership of party to whomsoever wear the cap. Essentially, the topi became the crown that made them feel like the king of the party.

The first message on their website also their slogan or "mantra" is "A corruption free India is not our request, but our demand and obsession". This clarity and firmness of the purpose has brought people into confidence.
 Other messages of the party were also built on this feeling of empowerment. "the aam aadmi will be selected as a candidate", "the aam aadmi will got to the parliament and clean corruption", "the aam aadmi has won from this constituency and will live not as a minister but as an aam aadmi rejecting all the VIP culture". These messages give people a sense of being heard. The voice of aam aadmi has been irreverent in the past several decades resulting in increasing number of troubles. Politics became a business of votes to win elections and then putting the very people, their views, their priorities into a corner making their lives difficult.

The unique thing about the campaign of AAP was its door-to-door campaign that brought the feeling of being heard and empowered. Mohalla sabha of AAP to create Assembly manifestos was another good illustration. A great lesson that could be learnt from AAP is the real meaning of empowerment. Lets wait for the upcoming miracles to happen while being honest on our part.

On a common man's end what he can do to fight along in this battle is to follow the mool mantra-"We should not accept a favor, which is not our right". Moreover, a strong belief of being woken up will make the fight complete.
Once empowered, the people cannot go back to feeling helpless or powerless. The people of India have woken up; they feel empowered and will not settle for less any more. They will demand clean candidates, they will demand transparent political funding, and they will demand that money be spent on the needs of the aam aadmi. They will insist on their voice being heard and participating in the political process. 

Hail to the power of the people in the world’s largest democracy!

Changing the rules of game

Monday, 27 January 2014

Glass Ceiling effect on women in corporate sector

Gone are the days when "Frailty and feeble, Thy Name is Woman!". Women, the noblest creation of God, making up half of the world, has been gifted with compassion, tender-heartedness, emotions and concern for others. Women plays an all-enveloping character of a mother, wife, daughter, guide and partner. But owing to these basic attributes they have always been considered as second to man, and their role was always underplayed. In recent times, women have been absolutely determined, firm and excelling in all sphere of life which ranging from administration of a country, education, R&D, corporate sector, defense  to reaching out in the Space. However, prevalence of social dogma and traditional factors have continuously threaten their progress. Let us examine the women of 21st century and their emergence in real terms while focusing on ground realities. Before that, lets have an eye over the past.

The ideology of the Vedic civilization "Prosperity resides there, where women are respected" is the bedrock of the Indian culture. In Vedic times, women used to enjoy equal status in every parlance of the society. Gargi, Mayitri in Vedic period, Razia begum in Delhi sultanate period are few of the names one could look upon. But, gradually this status got declined during the course of medieval history. Due to centuries of abjection and abuse of women, the condition of women was pitiable at the eve of independence. Keeping this is mind, the founding fathers of Constitution enshrined the principles of equality in Article 14, prohibition of discrimination based on gender in Article 15 and universal adult suffrage in Article 326. But due to social and cultural phenomena, gender inequality is also deep ingrained in the psyche of our society and it has increasingly become difficult to get rid of these clutches.

Present day women are characterized by self independence having footprints in almost all the arenas. Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto in politics; Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Williams in space; Mother Teresa in social services; Chanda Kocchar(ICICI), Indra Nooyi, Schauna Chauhan, Shikha Tandon in corporate world; Deepika Kumari, Krishna in sports are few to be named. With the advent of Globalization and post LPG reforms in 1990s, Indian economy leapfrogged in to and accelerating growth trajectory resulting in large number of opportunities and quality jobs giving financial stability. This financial support has empowered women to lead an independent life and destroyed the old tradition of financial dependency on men. Their contribution in service sector is also commendable. Sectors like Information and communication technology (ICT) and financial services become the central point of attracting a large amount of female workforce.

This era saw a rise of few women in the top echelons of corporate sector few of them listed above. But unfortunately, these names are exceptions rather than the norm. Though banking and financial services sector have seen rise in female managers, corresponding IT sector is remarked by absence of single female CEO in top 10 IT companies in India. If we skip the top level management, there is dearth of women in the middle management for various corporate firms. Even in corporate boards, only 1% of women find the place that too due to family reasons. Thus, there is a colloquial 'glass ceiling' in our corporate sector, which though seems invisible from a distance, but restricts women in their efforts to push upward in the organizational hierarchy. What might be the possible reasons or the scenarios causing this? Though India is a signatory to United Nations Convention of elimination of all kinds of discrimination against women(CEDAW), though we have many legislations like 'Equal Remuneration Act' & 'Maternity Benefits Acts', though there are safety and security concerns of women working in organization in Vishaka guidelines given by SC. But our society still hasn’t accepted the changing role of women in workforce. The social acculturation process is not letting us go from the deep rooted prejudices we have from our generations. Their ability and meritocracy is often doubted and ridiculed in their workgroups. Orders from the female supervisors are considered to be a matter of pride and honor. Moreover, inflexible work hours and in-conducive work environment makes the problem worse. Last but not the least, irrespective of the stringent laws and policies, harassment of women at workplace is a widespread problem. And it has plagued all the corners of government ranging from executive to judiciary, from organized to unorganized sector. Recent case of harassment of law interns under their supervisor judge is a testimony to this. After having a toothless law of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (SHW), which raises more questions than it answers, we  could hardly rely on the legislative measures undertaken by the government. Executives like Tarun tejpal have been accused of misbehaving with women. All of the above stories cast a shadow of doubt on the state of affairs in the management of corporate firms .

Way Forward
There is need to give women a fair chance to come up in their life. They have to be assured of safety in the society. Implementation of Verma committee recommendation are a step in this direction. Stringent laws have to be adopted for crime against women in workplace. Ethical and moral education has to be imparted to change the mindset of male dominant society. Improving basic amenities for women in schools, colleges, workplace etc. could help them better. Social acceptance of a rape victim has to be improved. Women's reservation bill would usher in empowerment of women in India. Women reservation policy has to be extended to other constitutional bodies. Facilities like health services for pregnant women, crèche in workplace has to be improved. Women should be assured of their financial independence and provided with equal share in ancestor property. Provision exclusive to women like Rastriya Mahila kosh, all women bank (in budget 2013), all-women recruitment drive by MNCs should be encouraged. These will primarily recruit female employees and will provide them chance to rise rapidly and high in the hierarchy. Moreover, Corporates should be sensitized and incentivized for promoting female employees.

The ground reality suggests that new emerging women power is like a drop in ocean and there is a lot of scope for improvement. They have been subjected by the society to inequality, injustice and oppression through the ages, nevertheless, they came out as strong being fighting against all the odds. To improve the image of India as an "equal opportunity employer" we need both legal and ethical frameworks. Lets strive hard for a greater women emancipation and empowerment and shatter this glass ceiling.

"One woman can change anything! Many women can change everything!"

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Problem with Plenty- Is Food Security Bill is the solution?

After much hues and cries, National Food Security Bill was signed into law in September,2013 with retroactive effect from July 5th,2013. The broad aim of the law is to avail food to approximately two thirds of India's population. Passing through many controversies like introduction into the parliament in 2012, promulgation as ordinance in July,2013 and finally enacted as law in September 2013. The major controversial concern was that if the country would have inadequate food to sustain a near-universal food security system offering food for all at subsidized price. Another concern was-"Will this bill really be able to step forward to PDS reforms?"  How much truth it contains, and how far it goes, lets try to make some point out of this.

Before going deep into the scenario in India, lets understand the term- Food security. According to WHO, food security stands on 3 pillars- accessibility, availability and utilization with the definition-"Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life". FAO adds one more pillar that is stability of the above 3 pillars over the time.  

Now lets try to figure out the significance of food security in India where it is a very distressful and complex phenomenon, because even with the slightest increase in the income of people over time they are forced to cut down their food consumption to meet other new demands of health and education which were not of much importance in the past. India's malnutrition figures have not came down despite a number of government programs, says a new report released by World Food Programme. This research point out the need for a revamped and revitalized public distribution system and greater public investment to address the artificial scarcity of food grains. Looking into the past, India achieved self sufficiency in food grains in 1970s and has sustained since then. But this trend has not been percolated to the ground level, to the individual household. Though growing indebtedness and rising suicides among farmer indicates the crisis in agriculture sector of India, but the production growth depicts some other picture. The compound annual rate of growth of food grains production has accelerated from 0.8% during 2000-01 to 2005-06, to 2.9% during 2005-06 to 2012-13. Production in agricultural year 2012-13 is estimated to be 255.4 million tonnes. But the per capita production was just 164.9 kgs in 2011 which was below its peak of 171 kgs in 2008(The net availability of food grains is estimated at 87.5% of gross production due to requirement of seeds, animal feed and waste adjustments). In essence there was no excess production of food grain. The thing which seems to be surprising is that the government has been burdened with a rising stock of food grain, due to its inability to distribute the amount it procures from the farmers. Procurement had reached a record of 64.2 mT(million tonnes) in March 2013 from mere 42.5 mT till 2007-08.Increasing procurement should have helped in increased allocations through PDS. But the reverse happened. Net off -take through PDS fell down from 49.3 mT in 2003-04 to 36.8 mT in 2007-08. Off-take in January still seems to be satisfactory with 53 mT. Still the discrepancy between the procurement and net off take has resulted in an extra accumulation of stocks in government warehouses, where a new problem has risen-storage. Government does not have sufficient warehousing facilities to store the grain. And much of the grain is vulnerable to rotting or attacks from rodents resulting in increased wastage.
The paradox of scarcity with plenty can be understood from the following facts:
  1. The government has chosen to stick with its Minimum Support Price scheme to procure which is calculated on a cost-plus basis and little more than the effective cost. Thus the farmers have been selling their majority of output to procurement agencies. And this is happening because in the open market traders are not finding it adequately profitable to purchase the produce from farmers to trade in the produce. Thus the demand for grain at an MSP-linked issue price do not have adequate takers. So the government subsidy depends on sustaining off-take from the PDS.
  2. On the other hand, Govt is committed to reducing the subsidy on food via 3 ways:
  1. Adoption of TPDS- which separates the population in to a minority of households below the poverty line(BPL) and a majority above the poverty line(APL).
  1. It reduces the subsidy on the sale to APL population, making it unaffordable for the people who are just above the line(APL)
  1. Further, govt restricts allocations to the states of subsidy-linked quotas, where a strong PDS serves APL population well.
The result of all these is that even in periods of reasonable harvest, sale of PDS grain does not rise in proportion to the procurement, and ultimately leading to the discrepancy between procurement and off-take from the PDS. Another question arises- subsidy bill should be lower when grain is not released through the PDS. Is it? No, the subsidy remains high in order to cover the transportation costs, finance the cost of storage and waste and often resulting in subsidize to the trader and intermediaries, who is sold grain at price lower than MSP, and not the consumers.
  1. The another problem is restrictive nature of the BPL list, which left many households excluded. And this exclusion error results in more cost than the inclusion error because the APL quota is treated as a dumping ground for excess food grain stocks.
  1. In recent years, food grain procurement has increased by leaps and bounds, but distribution under the BPL quotas has remained the same, since allocations are fixed and lifting is close to 100% leaving no scope for increase. To moderate this accumulation of excess stocks, the Central Government has been pushing larger amount of food grain into APL quota, which is almost equal to the BPL Quota (around 20 mT in 2012-13). This results in unclear and unstable entitlements of APL households which can also be termed as ad hoc handouts without any accountability. This gives middlemen a free space to work and eat away in between.

As discussed above, as of now and certainly for the near future there is sufficient food grain production and stock with the government. The need is to keep the  stock moving in healthy condition. And it would be only possible when subsidy bill is expanded to make sure that subsidized food is available and affordable while maintaining the MSP to ensure the food production.  And the adverse impact of expanding the scope of scheme on Union Budget deficit can be mitigated by increasing efficiency gains through issue of food stamps, increasing vigilance by reducing leakages. Thus the common requirements to bring transparency, computerization, eliminating red-tap-ism cannot be denied.

Can food security bill bring any change or will it only be a burden to public exchequer?
In real terms, the food bill is a grand scheme and will cost around 1.1- 1.35% of GDP. And there is need for around 62 mT grains. Even if we assume the grain quantity to be fixed each year, the subsidy will keep increasing annually because the rising input cost to the farmers will put pressure on raising MSP. This will increase in effective cost of the grain to the government; and the selling price at the TPDS is unlikely to change and its sustainability comes under a big question mark. But isn't it too exaggerated - The cost of the bill to the government is likely to be Rs. 1.25- 1.30 lakh crore each year. But this entire amount is not a new expenditure for the government. India is already spending close to Rs 1.16 lakh crore on schemes that are listed as -entitlements under Food Security bill like food subsidy, midday meal scheme, Integrated Child Development Scheme(ICDS) and maternity entitlements. Thus additional expenditure of around Rs. 10000 crore will hardly matter when a much bigger amount is wasted annually by rotting food grains stocked under unsafe conditions in the godowns of FCI( that too short in number). 

The food bill is an opportunity to clean up this mess in one way by curing two  basic defects of PDS: large exclusion errors, and the leaky nature of the APL quota. In effect, the bill will abolish the APL quota and gives common entitlement
s to a majority of the population. Indeed, wide coverage and clear entitlements are two pillars of the fair and efficient PDS reforms that have been carried out in many States in recent years. Further, significant savings from the expenditure of the FCI are possible if it rationalizes the process of procurement and distribution policies.

Keeping this is light, the bill can be a good move not only for food security, but also from the point of view of ending a huge waste of public resources under government warehouses and APL Quota.

(Don’t) Waste the Thunder, Recycle

6:30 PM, I pressed the doorbell of my flat. As I was waiting for my brother to open the door, my eyes fell on a dozen cold drink bottles ...