Spare a thought!

Last month I got an opportunity to visit this village named Tarankop. It is a small hamlet, around 30 odd kilometers ahead of Panvel.  Cause – a medical /food distribution camp in the nearby adivasi padas.

Spare a thought

The kids having a nice time on a tree

Well, these adivasi padas consists of around 40-50 families each. The condition of the people over here is a shocking example of how little India has achieved even after over 60 years of independence. With a mega city like Mumbai, dreaming to be a financial hub for the region, just 100 kms away the difference cannot be more contrasting.

Education for poor

The school in the background has just one classroom and an open veranda

We had carried some some food stuff which was to be distributed amongst the villagers followed by their medical check-up. Along with this, we also provided them with basic medicines, where ever necessary.

Out of the 20 – odd small mud houses there was one small structure with a board, which read  “Pradhan mantri Sarv shiksha abhiyan”(meaning Prime Minister’s Educate All Program).
This was the primary school for the village kids. The villagers told us there was a single teacher who conducts all the classes simultaneously in one single room. The entire setup is very demotivating and hardly any child ends up completing the primary level. Even if a kid completes it, the secondary school is almost five kilometers away from the village. As we traversed more through this place, we realized how the entire area has been left way behind as far as development of infrastructure and human resource is concerned. With not even a pucca road to the village, expecting public transport would be a bit too much. Children are required to walk their way to school daily. Apart from this, the acute poverty forces the villagers to put there children to work and in case of girls, just marry them off.

free medical check up

Basic medical checkup followed by medicine and tonic

Even basic necessity like food is considered a luxury over here. A small pack of Parle-G brought so much joy on their face. The only reason why the kids go to school is for the lunch which is served as part of the governments “mid-day meal” program.  A local social worker has made arrangement for water from a nearby water pipeline. Electricity is being shared from the connection to school and a small GramPanchayat office. Each home wouldn’t be having more than one or two bulbs. Most of the kids here appeared to be undernourished. The village does not have medical facility anywhere nearby.  Kids have bruise marks which take long time to heal without medication. Women have no one to approach with their medical issues and their men could not afford taking them to nearby town for regular checkups.

Most of the villagers depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihood. But unlike other farmers they do not have land of their own. For generations they have been forced to work on other people’s farm. The region is not very much blessed as far farm irrigation is concerned. Hence farming activities happen only in the monsoon period. For the other part of the year they do not have dependable source of earning. Add to this the meager wages they earn and scene appears a lot more serious.  With such a hand to mouth situation these people are hardly left with anything which they can save and utilize sometime later. They do not have access to banks. They do not know what investment is, not even postal schemes. For occasions like marriages, pregnancies or any other emergency they are forced to  take loans from local elites on very high interest rates as banks do not lend to them. Paying back such loans eats up most of their lifetime else it is passed on to their children.

Children of a lesser GOD

This is the plight of two hamlets which we happened to visit. But certainly there are thousands of such villages/hamlets in India where the situation is similar if not worse. With India having more than 50% of its population in the 15-55 years age group, most of our population is in the working age group. But with children not getting opportunities to learn and educate themselves, how can they, and in turn the entire country, gain from this Demographic dividend? On one side the country is thinking of competing with major economies like the US, China, UK etc, yet  60% of our population is still dependent on agriculture, Which again is heavily dependent on monsoon. The plight of these young children is pathetic. With lack of  appropriate opportunities, one realizes how a crucial resource is being wasted.

Countries like Japan, Italy, France etc are experiencing reduction in their population. Also they have more number of people in the non-working age group i.e. they have more number of people who are dependent on the working age group compared to countries like India, China and the US. India which will be experiencing purple patch of demographic dividend for next few decades. This gives her a unique opportunity which needs to be carefully capitalized on.

With the economy growing at a blistering pace and government initiating programs like UID, NREGA etc, some positive changes shall certainly happen. But we from our end can also do our bit. It’s not always money which stands as a constraint in development. People like these adivasis are basically just uninformed. They are not aware of many things which are available to them. Guiding them, making them aware of different employment possibilities will certainly help them. More than contributing money, spending some time on planning and executing shall go a long way. A similar case study is availaible in the article : The Real Deal  on “Economic Times” . Lets do our bit in our individual capacity. Let’s try and bring some joy on these faces.poor children

Reaping the Demographic Dividend

INDIA has been experiencing steady and moderately high GDP growth rates during most years since the economic liberalization. This has encouraged optimistic projections about India’s future growth potential. The argument is that India can now move to a new growth trajectory where growth could average as much as 9 per cent per annum. Needless to say, such projections must be based on an assessment identifying potential sources of the new dynamism.

One such assessment turns on the demographic advantages that India currently has relative to the developed countries and also countries such as China. India is and will remain for some time one of the youngest countries in the world. A third of India’s population was below 15 years of age in 2000 and close to 20 per cent were young people in the 15-24 age groups.

In 2020, the average Indian will be only 29 years old, compared with 37 in China and the US, 45 in West Europe and 48 in Japan.

This trend is significant on the grounds that what matters is not the size of the population, but its age structure. A population “bulge” in the working age groups, however large the total population, is seen as an inevitable advantage characterized as a “demographic dividend”. A nation’s population can be divided into those in the labour force (say, the 15-64 age group) and those outside it. Since those outside the workforce would be consuming part of what is produced by currently employed workers, the ratio of those outside the workforce to those in it (the dependency ratio) would be among the factors influencing the surplus available for investment after current consumption. Hence, everything else remaining the same, the higher the share of workers to non-workers, the larger would be the surplus. And for given unemployment rates, the higher the ratio of those in the labour force to those outside it, the larger would be the surplus. If this larger surplus is mobilised for investment, growth would accelerate.

According to demographers, initially, the death rate tends to decline because of declines in infant and child mortality resulting from improved “public health interventions related to water and sanitation, and to medical interventions such as vaccine coverage and the use of antibiotics.” Improved knowledge and reduced costs allow for these factors to be exploited even at relatively low levels of per capita income so long as political pressure or the political will to provide basic social services and rudimentary health facilities exist. At a later stage the decline in the death rate and increases in average life expectancy result from reduced death rates in the middle and older age groups because of higher incomes, improved lifestyles and better and more expensive medical technology. As compared with this, birth rate reductions depend on the age of marriage and the fertility rate. Both of these depend on the level of development to a far greater degree. Development often leads to the dilution of social norms prescribing early marriage, and fertility rates within marriage decline as higher child survival rates, female education and labour market opportunities associated with development reduce the desired family size. Though social policy can make a substantial difference to child survival rates and female education, and family planning programmes can influence the desired fertility rate, the observed decline in birth rates tends to begin well after the decline in death rates sets in. The difference in the relationship between death and birth rates, on the one hand, and development, on the other, affects not just the rate of population growth but the age structure of the population.

Finally, the bulge enters the old age bracket, as is happening in the developed countries like Japan,Italy etc currently.

Implications for growth

Shifting age structure can have significant implications for economic growth. Periods characterised by a low dependency ratio would be characterised by higher growth, if the inducement to invest surpluses exists, whereas periods characterised by a high dependency ratio would be characterised by a slowing of growth, unless productivity increases raise the output of a smaller proportion of workers enough to neutralise the demographic deficit.

But if the “window of opportunity” available when the population bulge enters the working age groups is to result in an acceleration in growth, the processes of development which in part created this bulge must have been such as to ensure that the quality of those entering the workforce is of the desired level and that these workers find employment opportunities as and when they enter the labour force. To understand what kinds of policies can help exploit the window of opportunity created by a demographic bulge in the working age groups, it is necessary to recognise that the dependency ratio must be defined not as the ratio of the nonworking age to working age population but the ratio of actual non-workers to workers. The difference between the two is determined by the extent of absorption into work of the available labour force, which must take account of underemployment besides unemployment.

Since unemployment and underemployment are typically the outcome of demand-side constraints, even if the presumption that increased longevity would be accompanied by higher savings rates is right, there could be scenarios in which investment rates fall short of savings rates and result in deflation rather than growth. What is more, even in periods when the population bulge is not in the working age groups we may have large-scale unemployment and inadequate expenditure on education both by the government and by households. This would only erode the ability of countries to exploit the demographic dividend as and when it emerges.

The Indian case

India is indeed in the midst of a process where it faces the window of opportunity created by the demographic dividend. During the first two decades of post-Independence development, while infant mortality rates fell significantly, the fertility rate was more or less stagnant. This would have increased the population of young people significantly, merely because of greater child survival. In the three decades since then, though the fertility rate has been declining, the infant mortality rate has fallen quite sharply, with possibly the same effect. One consequence of these trends is the sharper fall in the crude death rate than the birth rate, though declining mortality in the higher age groups would have influenced this as well. The effect of these trends on the dependency ratio has been along expected lines. The total dependency rose initially because of a rise in the child dependency ratio and stagnation in the old-age dependency ratio. Subsequently, it began to fall (from 79) in 1970 as the child dependency ratio fell with the baby boomer generation moving into working age groups and with old-age dependency rising only marginally because of reduced death rates in older age groups. It is estimated to have fallen to 64 in 2005. Thus India had begun to reap the demographic dividend around 1980. But the process is likely to extend well into this century with the dependency ratio projected to fall to 48 in 2025 because of continued fall in the child dependency ratio and then rise to 50 by 2050 because of an increase in the old-age dependency ratio as the bulge moves forward and the death rate in the older income groups declines.

Impact on the youth

This is true of India’s young population as well. The rate of growth of employment in the 15-30 age group, which stood at around 2.4 per cent a year between 1987 and 1994 for both rural and urban males, fell to the 0.7 for rural males and 0.3 per cent for urban males during 1994 to 2004. This deceleration in employment growth suggests that the advantage offered by a young labour force has not been exploited.

The shortfall in youth employment relative to the youth population is not as much a problem because it partly reflects a restructuring of the labour force in the direction of greater education. Second, it suggests that the challenge set by the demographic dividend is that of meeting the aspirations for education of a generation that is currently rapidly expanding. Finally, it implies that the system must readjust itself so as to offer a greater number of jobs for an educated workforce that is now bound to make new demands. Therefore, as of now, the expectation that the demographic dividend would itself trigger processes that would help exploit its benefits does not seem to be warranted in the Indian case. Thus far, the task of absorbing an increasingly youthful workforce has been postponed rather than undertaken. If the challenge is not met soon, the dividend can prove a liability. The implication is clear. Just as the “excess population” argument failed to recognise the benefits that can be garnered if these excess workers could be put to work, the “demographic dividend” argument ignores the fact that available workers are not automatically absorbed to deliver high growth. Strategies exist to exploit the demographic window of opportunity that India has today. But they need to be adopted and implemented.

*This blog is based on my readings of various articles from internet, magazines and  newspapers.

Leveraging IT for inclusive growth

Everybody is talking about India being the second fastest growing economy in the world. We would probably be the third largest economy in the world in a few decades. We are part of the elite group of emerging nations (BRIC– Brazil, Russia, India & China) whose influence in global politics is increasing rapidly.

But is India growing uniformly? Are the fruits of liberalization and high growth reaching every Indian? Is the per capita income increasing at the same pace throughout? In fact are all Indians even aware of this growth? The answer to the above is unfortunately a – No.

Since independence we had a couple of revolutions viz. Green Revolution and White Revolution. They were huge successes in their respective domains.  The green revolution brought with it high yielding variants of paddy, cereals etc. States like Punjab, Haryana & UP benefited from revolution White revolution on its part propelled India to the largest producer of milk in the world. Successful though but these had impact on a section of our population. The others were kept starved from a fair share of this growth.

India now needs more such revolutions to pull its huge population out of poverty. To sustain the high growth which India has been experiencing for last few years, she should be able to turn her huge population to its own advantage. Demographic dividend is what we should be able to reap.

Fortunately in the 21st century we have the tools and the wherewithal which can help us achieve our ultimate dream.

Telecom & Broadband: With telecom penetration in our country reaching to more than 50% level in just fifteen years, it is time we start using this stupendous growth for the advantage of our masses. The thousands of kilometres of Fibre optic can be used to take broadband to the remote areas of the country. The price of hardware too has come down to a reasonable level. Cost of low end laptops have been bought to Rs.1500. Even smart phones & palmtops are now available at reasonable cost. With the advent of 3G and WiMax intelligent applications can be made available on phones and computers at a very low cost.

Inclusive growth

e-Choupal” has made wonders for the thousands of farmers in rural India. Traditionally the middleman use to make most of the profits. ITC Limited has now provided computers and Internet access in rural areas across several agricultural regions of the country, where the farmers can directly negotiate the sale of their produce with ITC Limited. This online access enables farmers to obtain information on mandi prices, and good farming practices, and to place orders for agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilizers. This helps farmers improve the quality of their products, and helps in obtaining a better price.

Similar initiatives can be taken to bring distance education to hundreds of thousands of boys and girls in remote places. Making available various courses so as to make them better equipped for employment. This way we can shift a huge workforce from farming to other allied services.

Broadband and mobile banking can be used to take financial services to the nooks and corners of the country. These initiatives could save financial institutions crores of rupees which otherwise they would have to invest in having physical infrastructure like branches and trained staff. Thus serving people residing in far flung areas would be a more viable preposition. The obvious outcome of these would be financial inclusion.

With the UID becoming a reality in some time, it would be easy to collect information pertaining to citizens. Individuals on their part could get access to services like e-governance and other related services. In our democratic setup, individuals can raise their concerns without going through the bureaucratic red tape.

In simple words, broadband can be a great enabler.

Cloud Computing: The excitement is similar to what it was in the last decade when the Internet was assuming the shape we see it in today. Just as we cannot imagine a world sans the World Wide Web now, the cloud could rapidly change the way we view and use information technology.
A cloud can basically be defined as ‘a standardised IT capability, such as software, app platform or infrastructure, delivered via Internet technologies in a pay-per-use and self-service way’. People have been using the cloud for years. Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail have been on the cloud for a while now. The difference between then and now lies is just who is using it, and the volume and the type of data that is involved.

Today’s notion of cloud computing is about taking online services to enterprise networks, not just to solitary consumers. This also means that the volume of data that is being processed and stored online is of a gigantic magnitude.
In fact, if we were to break down the services that the cloud today provides, they can be classified into:

  1. Software-as-a-service (SaaS): It comprises end-user applications delivered as a service rather than traditional on-premise software.
  2. Platform-as-a-service (PaaS): It provides an independent platform as a service on which developers can build and deploy customer applications.
  3. Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS): It primarily comprises the hardware and technology for computing power, storage, operating systems or other infrastructure delivered as an on-demand service rather than a dedicated onsite resource.

Cloud computing can fundamentally transform government services, scientific exploration and discovery, and economic and social development. For example, the cloud can expand and support an e-government services platform and a research and development platform for eco-friendly services wherever applicable. Companies like Microsoft are completely committed to the cloud, their services and solutions come with the reliability, security and global reach that customers deserve and demand (Windows azure being an example).

Longer term, cloud computing is turning out to bring a transformative change in the business landscape. It is aiding the making of a new generation of products and services, creating a new awareness of the greater Internet, and Web 2.0 in particular, and supporting a more self-service IT architecture. Developers can write basic cloud applications that work in all of the major cloud platforms so as to achieve interoperability.

This is just the beginning. New and additional standards will emerge as new and inventive scenarios develop from evolving platforms, standards and technologies. But this will work well and in our favour only if we make technology both personal and democratic.

In the Indian context, cloud computing holds greater potential because of an obvious reason: we have no legacy systems that need to evolve or move into the cloud. For instance, both our state and central governments are in the process going digital, and the time is just right to implement the cloud right off. While keeping costs low, the cloud will not just put an efficient document management system in place, but will also ensure efficiency in service delivery.     So, yes, cloud computing is an Idea whose time has come.