Monday, 23 May 2011

Cuts in major projects: Is it new?

I recently had a casual talk with a construction company which has on-going projects all over India.  Fresh from a reading of open page in Hindu newspaper, which dealt with articles on corruption this week, in my talk with the representative of the company, out of curiosity I inquired about the amounts of money the contractors pay the public servants as cuts.  Though not unexpected, his revelation brought some clarity on the problem.
There are two aspects to the problem, one traditional, the other modern.  Traditionally, all construction companies of major infrastructure projects, across all the states of India, over the last many decades, have been paying percentages to the engineering personnel of the respective Governments.  The break-up when averaged across the States runs something like this: 0.3% to Junior Engineer, 0.25% to Deputy Executive Engineer, 0.2% to Executive Engineer, 0.1% to Superintendent Engineer, 0.1% to Chief Engineer.  Besides the engineering personnel, the treasury office takes 0.125%, the quality checking staff 0.1% and the Vigilance and monitoring staff 0.04%, totaling around 1.2% - 1.3% on an average.  It is said that these percentages are specific to the major infra projects and those for the minor infra projects are much higher.  Percentages when worked out in major projects will run into crores of rupees, hence in some states one or two months salary is paid traditionally to all the engineering personnel involved in the project every month, in place of the percentages.  However, of late the engineers have been demanding percentage based payments even in large infra projects.  The more the number of agencies involved in checking or monitoring the projects, the higher is the out go by way of cuts.  A classic case is that of third party quality control.  During earlier days, the quality control was conducted by the respective engineering departments, but now many State governments have been engaging private agencies to conduct third party QC.  The private employees of the third party QC agency also have got accustomed to this percentage system today.  The vigilance department too has its cut in every bill received by the company.  When asked what compels an honest and genuine contractor to pay the cuts, it was replied that even to complete the work in time, supervision of departmental staff is necessary on day to day basis.  If any company refuses to pay the cuts, the staff refuse to cooperate and work gets slowed down thereby resulting in huge payments for the idle men and machinery of the contractor.  Therefore, it makes practical sense for even the professional company to see that its expenditure on idle men and machinery, interest payments, arising out of delays in work dont exceed the cut payments to engineers.
The other problem, recent in origin, is that of payments to the elected heads of Governments while receiving large bill payments for the work done.  The increases in election expenditure has a role to play in this.  In the recent election to various states, it is learnt that some political parties paid up to Rs.2000 to each voter.  Any ambitious politician wanting to get reelected will necessarily have to mobilise resources during the time he is in office for the next election. When asked about the position in other countries, it is said that even in some developed nations, the contracting companies, through some way benefit the elected decision making head.  However, its hidden from public view, and doesnt affect either the lives of common man or the quality of the project.  

When I heard this, I didnt know whether I have to be happy because we are moving in the foot steps of advanced democracies where kick backs are confined to the top, or due to the fact that there is fair and equitable distribution of cuts even at the bottom. This problem is visible to public eye only because of the many poor quality projects being executed, non-commissioned projects, land being acquired unfairly for non-starter projects, active press and media.  Besides this, India is in a take-off stage today where a large number of mega-infra projects, each costing thousands of crores of rupees, are coming up.  Now, even the 1-2% in such projects will run into hundreds of crores, and in a country still suffering under the weight of the 60% poor and unstable families, cuts running into crores of rupees to its large number of lower-level officials is bound to attract public attention. 

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Gratitude in public

Public servants (elected representatives and officials), through out their careers, are presented with the opportunity of dispensing good to the community or the individuals.  The Government compensates them for doing the job presented to them in terms of a fair salary.  However, we come across a number of public servants deciding and extracting their own compensation from the recipients of the public good.  A question which comes to mind is, in case people come across a public servant who does his job without expecting anything in return, do they really hold any gratitude in their hearts for the service rendered by the public servant.  In case they do, does that gratitude really motivate a public servant to work for the sake of gratitude in place of illegal gratification.

That the public hold gratitude is amply demonstrated through a number of elections in independent india, where the kith and kin of a deceased public representative is elected out of sympathy.  Hence, values like sympathy, gratitude etc. are part of public virtue and can be taken for granted. But, the question is, how does one gain the gratitude of people? In public life, there is no short-cut to the lengthy process of entry into the world of the voting-majority; a world moving in its own direction at its own pace.  This process of syncing with this world has four steps, entry phase, engagement phase, transformation phase, and action phase.

Unknown to many, a world of the voting and suffering majority exists around us.  A person with the noble intention of dispensing good to the majority surrounding us and become a leader, has to first initiate the process of entry into the majority world through a declaration of his intention to all concerned.  We often find a person who intends to run for election, visiting marriages, birth/ death ceremonies.  Some enterprising people throw big parties in villages, contribute to the village festivals, public infrastructure facilities with a view to gaining some initial good will among the people.  Once the process of entry and establishing an identity is complete, he moves on to the next phase of aggressively engaging with the day-to-day lives of the public.  Any accident, flood, calamity in this world will immediately see the person landing up at the place and offering condolences and promises for help to the victims.  Taking part in the happy and sad moments of those in that world becomes a daily routine for him.  This phase takes the leader to all the places where problems exist in this world.  The most essential part in confidence building among the people is a physical visit to the problem location.  Even the most insensitive human being is bound to react once he is presented with a scene of human suffering before his eyes; such is the nature of humans.  No one knows this better than the common man.  Therefore, a public servant is often compelled by public to visit the problem area.  After getting into the world, instead of playing a passive role, an active engagement with the life in that world will make him more knowledgeable about the concerns there.  After some time a stage is reached where the leader is totally in sync with the world around him, fully aware of all the difficulties and life on a day to day basis.  He is totally transformed into a successful and active member of the world.  Next comes the action phase where he needs to find solutions for the concerns there.  Through an aggressive process of agitation and confrontation with the  Government, good is extracted and distributed to the needy by the leader.  Once the leader is being seen as someone who is identifying with them, fighting for their causes, and delivering what they aspire for, the bond and trust between the leader and the public becomes strong.  Feeling of gratitude, affection, awe etc. get generated from this continuing process of dispensation of good to the people.

The question of motivation of public servants from this gratitude alone is however not certain.

Unstable lives: Are they really a means of personal gain for rulers

The general impression of the thinking classes about the expectations of a common man, from Government, revolve around good governance, honesty, law and order, development, etc.  The baffling instances of dishonest public servants(includes elected representatives), finding support from the people, question this belief.  There is an impression gaining ground among persons in public life that the people really aren't concerned about corruption in public service as long as it doesnot touch their lives.

In order to examine this hypothesis, we need to first look at the expectations of the voters.  There are two classes of people in our society, the voting majority whose livelihoods are quite unstable and at the mercy of nature or factors beyond their control, and a mostly non-voting minority who have secure livelihoods.  People from the rural areas mostly involved in traditional livelihoods and the urban working classes, are the majority who participate in the democratic process out of a sense of compulsion- a compulsion driven by hope of finding that special someone, who will be able to pull them out of the uncertainty in their lives.  A majority of the thinking class sceptics, find this belief in our democratic system as innocent and misplaced.  However, for those whose lives hang precariously, there is no alternative except to put faith in the public servants, in the hope of gaining some stability in their lives.  For someone who is starving, any agent who comes forward to satisfy their hunger becomes their God and their embodiment of good.   Action matters here, not the intention.  As long as the agent's acts are good his intention is not looked into.  Since the immediate concern of the needy man is his need, he cannot afford to look into the merits or demerits of the agent who comes forward to mitigate his problems.  Such is the power of immediate needs and hunger.  Just as it didn't matter for the people whether Robin Hood plundered someone to provide for them, so also the vast majority of needy people aren't in a position to care about the virtue in their Government.  If someone understands this situation to mean that virtue is not necessary for the rulers or that people don't care about their misdeeds elsewhere, then its the greatest folly that they are committing.

Those with a selfish interest, take care of the peoples meagre needs and occupy positions of power.  Thereafter starts exploitation of the seats of authority for personal gain.  It has to be kept in mind that the twin actions of taking care of peoples needs at one place, and plunder in other sectors hidden from public view, are in fact contradictory in nature.  Once a person gets a taste of being in power, like a tiger which tasted human blood, will try to remain in that seat forever, which in turn requires taking care of peoples needs endlessly.  This will in course of time result in either of the two things.  A sustained implementation of welfare policies such as, housing for all, employment guarantee schemes, pensions, will result in bringing some stability to the lives of the majority.  Once the immediate needs are taken care of, people start thinking about the next thing that is good for them, and realise that their provider whom they have been revering till today is in fact a fellow with selfish interests.  The realisation will make them search for a better and selfless alternative to rule them.  Alternatively, if in course of time the stability which they are looking for from the current ruler, doesn't step into their lives, impatience steps in.  This impatience again makes them search for a better alternative.  Therefore, a public servant who is motivated by selfish interests can never find favour with people permanently in the long run. 

Todays politics finds the needy people as means for personal gain.  Peoples needs are subject to exploitation during election times by unscrupulous contestants, through offers of cash-for-vote.  It would be foolish to imagine that any election to a public office, in such circumstances, is an endorsement of the view that a vast majority are not bothered about virtue in those elected.  It could mean that either the people are so preoccupied with the current concerns in their lives that they are unable to focus on larger issues concerning the virtue of their public servants, or that they have not been well informed about their virtue.  

A snapshot of the forces that dictate the expectations of the two classes of citizens from his government is given in the table below.
1. Livelihood
Yes; agricultural support(loan, inputs,irrigation), employment guarantee, min. wages etc.
No; self-sufficient
2. Good Governance
3. Food Subsidy(ration card)
4. Housing subsidy
5. Free health care
6. Pensions for old and infirm
7. Education
8. Corruption at top
9. Rule of law
10. Roads
11. Traffic
12. Village/town infrastructure
Yes; very poor infrastructure
Yes; but relatively better infrastructure
13. Drinking water
Yes; big concern
Yes; but manageable
14. Modernisation of economy
Yes; not high on priority
Yes; priority item.

Corruption or virtue of the public servants doesnt find a place on the agenda of the voting majority in our State.  This does not mean, as discussed earlier, that they endorse the short-sighted selfish behaviour of the rulers.  It can only mean that though important, it is not in the current agenda of the voting majority, and the non-voting minority have to keep up their efforts to bring the item of good governance on to the agenda of the voting-majority.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Some Socratic Definitions

Good= That which is expedient for man

Virtue= Knowledge

Elements of Virtue= Wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice

Knowledge= The true thoughts that are recovered/recollected from our soul, when it has the realisation that it is in a state of ignorance, through a process of questioning.

Pure Love= Imparting of knowledge

Friendship= Love which by reason of the presence of evil, -the neither good nor evil has of the good, either in the soul, or in the body, or anywhere.

Hope= Good or cessation of evil of the future

Courage= Knowledge of the fearful and hopeful

Figure= The only thing which always follows colour = that in which the solid ends (limit of solid)

Colour= Effluence of form, commensurate with sight and palpable to sense.

Envy= Pleasure which we feel at the misfortune or ignorance of our friends/enemies and is a pain of the soul.

Pleasure= That 'generation(opposed to destruction)' without true being which takes place for the sake of the essence of Good. 

Rhetoric= Universal art of enchanting the mind by arguments in courts, public assemblies, private houses etc. having to do with all matters.

Praise= Insincere expression of men uttering falsehoods contrary to their conviction.

Land transaction fraud: what can buyers and Government do?

A large of number of cheating cases arising out of the buying-selling of lands are recorded during recent times in Andhra Pradesh.  A society which is aiming to find a place along side the societies of developed nations, a society calling itself as the place to shop for the largest pool of technical manpower, a nation calling itself just, cannot keep quiet for long in matters of injustice, touching the lives of its citizens.  There are questions which spring in a persons mind when he seeks to purchase any piece of land; questions relating to whether the land in question belongs to the seller, the claim of Government on the land, genuineness of the documents etc.  People are used to verifying the encumbrance certificate(EC) issued by the registration department alone, before any purchase.  Revelation that the land belongs to Government or to a different owner at a post-purchase date will make them subjects of injustice at the hands of unscrupulous persons and Government inaction.  If registration department and the link documents are one side of the story of any piece of land, there is another side, much more ancient and interesting, that is narrated by the records of revenue department.  It is therefore in the interest of buyers to have a look at the other side of the story.  The Government also has a major role in proactively revealing the history of all the lands as well as the real-time changes as they happen minute to minute, to its citizens, with the aid of current day technology.

There are sufficient records available at the Tehsildar's Office, Revenue Divisional Office and the Collectorate which help us determine the history of the land.  All the villages had undergone some kind of survey and settlement operations(process of demarcating the various parcels of land in the possession of the ryots, preparation of sketches of each parcel to scale and establishing the ownership of the parcel), in the past, either during British time or afterwards, which established clearly the nature and the history of any piece of land.  There are two primary types of old records available for this purpose.

Survey Land Record (prepared by the survey teams)
The old record available with any village consists of the record prepared by the survey team at the time of survey settlement operations.  This record can be identified by the fact that it has around 30 columns, the first half of the columns on the left hand side page of the record showing details brought forward from the previous record, and the other half of the columns on the right hand side page showing the details of the current survey; it further has stamps of the survey team with number, the signatures of the survey officials. This is called as the Survey Land Register(SLR- in case of Inam or Estate villages) or Rough Land Register(RLR- in case of Government Villages).  This record is like a draft which show the ownership details subject to confirmation by the revenue officials; however the details relating to the survey part are authentic.  The survey team also prepares Field Measurement Books(FMB) and Rough Village Map(RVM) along with the SLR. 

Resettlement Register (prepared by revenue authorities)
Once the preparation of 30 column survey land register is complete after survey settlement operations, the revenue authorities finalised the Resettlement Register (RSR- in case of Government villages) or Fair Adangal (Fair Land Register- FLR- in case of Inam or Estate Villages).  This record is identifiable by the fact that it consists of around 12 columns, which indicate the new and old survey numbers, the nature of the land(wet/dry/poramboke etc.), irrigation source, nature of the soil, and most importantly the ownership.  This record has signatures of the tehsildars or other revenue authorities.  In certain Government villages, old printed Diglot registers from a 1920 vintage survey called Gilman Survey are also available, with details of survey number, sketches from triangulation survey, extents; this gives further information about the history of the land.  In case of Inam villages, old Inam Registers also called B-register, identifiable by their huge size, are available in Collectorates.

The history and nature of the land in question is revealed by perusing the following records.

Mistaken Records
Often people mistake certain other records for the above two.  Certain records were being maintained by the Karanam/Patwari, called karanam copy of the RSR/Fair Adangal in olden days, for their personal use.  In many cases such old records are mistaken for the original RSR today, even by the tehsildar's office staff.  Some original records prepared for enhancement of land revenue in olden days are at times mistanken for the RSR or Permanent A register.  Hence care needs to be taken to distinguish one from the other.

The other registers of importance are:

Permanent A Register(Setwar): This register is a working true copy of the RSR/FLR with changes duly certified and appended at the end every year.

10(1) record: This is a copy of all the individual accounts of farmers, with each account showing the details of all the lands on that farmer's name.  This record is not available in many offices.

1(B) record: This is the current day version of the 10(1) register.

POB(Prohibitory Order Book): This contains all the lands which cannot be sold or purchased by anyone, such as water bodies, burial grounds.  All the mandals have computerised copies of all the survey numbers and extents falling in this category.

Adangal or Permanent Account Number 3:  This is a record which is maintained every year by the village revenue officer(VRO) with details of survey number, extent, the crop there in , the owner of the land , the current enjoyer among other things.  Out of the 10 accounts that need to be maintained by the VRO, this is the most important.  There have been cases of tampering of records by VROs by recording the wrong ownership and extents here.

Government has scanned all the available SLR/equivalent  and RSR/equivalent records along with FMBs for all the villages in the State.
Certain measures will go a long way in reducing the cases of cheating and litigation.
1.  Placing of entire scanned old record in public domain district wise, mandal wise& revenue village wise.
2.  Maintaining the adangals/pahanis online, with real-time data updation for every cropping season, with the use of mobile phone applications by VROs.
3. Enabling the public to print any record they require, through internet, by incorporating appropriate authenticating mechanisms such as bar codes etc.
4.  Linking up the already computerised database of registration department with the database of revenue accounts with the revenue department, enabling real-time updation of all sales in revenue records. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Marriage dilemma of a Sarpanch

While we were busy dealing with some work today, in the hot afternoon, inside the office room, someone sent a visiting card which indicated the name of a Sarpanch from Gara.  Shortly afterwards, he was shown the way in; an old man appeared at the doorway with some papers in hand.  Expecting them to be some petition, seeking the usual housing or pensions for his village, I took the papers from his hand and saw a different kind of printed application.  On closer examination, I realised that its an application to register a couple for the ensuing 'Kalyanamastu', mass marriages being conducted by Tirumala Tirupati Devastanams(TTD), with the photo of the groom, in a colourful pink striped shirt and dark hair, affixed there.  As the Sarpanch is the head of the village, I was asking him if there was some marriage of social significance that he wanted to perform in the mass marriages. Before I could get finish my sentence, I was abruptly cut short by the photo in the application which resembled someone I knew.  To my horror, I found that the age column under the groom's name read 60 yrs, that of the bride read 23, and the photo belonged to none other than the fellow standing in front of me.  It was a photo with his white hair dyed black.  Recovering from the shock, gathering myself again I gave a dirty look at the fellow, unable to understand how such a senior politician and village elder could intend to do such a thing.  

The inquisitive part in me wanted to know what went in his mind to take such a decision of marriage at such a ripe old age with a young girl. I sat alone with him and said "What happened to your first wife?".
He took off.  "I was married for 30 years with my first wife without kids.  Though she was mentally ill we spent 30 yrs together and she passed away 7months ago due to long term illness.  When I was struggling with her loss, this brilliant idea struck me".  The 'brilliance' of this idea produced uncontrollable laughter inside me, was suppressed with great difficulty, without allowing it to escape my lips.  I said, " why did you not adopt a child?".  He continued, " I put forth two proposals in front of my wife a couple of times, either to adopt a child or to get a second wife for me. She never agreed to either of them saying that she isnt in a position to look after any child, that there is still the possibility of having kids for us.  As a husband I should not do something my wife is against, hence I dropped either of the ideas".  I inquired, "Now that she is no more, why cant you do the same thing of adopting a kid or a grownup son of your brothers?".  Struggling to withhold his tears, he said "you dont know how miserable it is to be lonely.  After cooking, while you are alone eating, there would be no one to fetch a glass of water when I was chocked. All my brothers and relatives whom I gave money and lands  were nowhere to be seen, even to ask me if I had my food.  Even when I was bed ridden not single soul was there to give me a cup of coffee.  I am a landed man.  While I was on the bed I realised that I needed a wife and son to take care of me, my name and my property.  Therefore I decided to marry again and adopt a son".  To this I asked, "You can marry an older lady who is of your age to take care of loneliness. That will serve your purpose. Dont you feel you are doing injustice to the young girl?".  He replied, "I considered that option too.  If I marry an old lady, her health will be an additional burden on me. Grown up boys never take care of us.  Hence I proposed to this girl, who agreed in order to educate and marry her two younger sisters and take care of her elder disabled sister".  

The young girl's fate was paining me when his phone rang.  He said with excitement, "Since the time I proposed to her, she has not been leaving me. Lovely girl calls me every few hours and inquires about my well being".  After going aside and exchanging some sweet nothings, he returned and continued,  "You need a young female to take care of the adopted boy and the property.  She too likes the idea of adopting a child for us and bringing him up.  I will have a son to carry my name, and all my lands into the future, and most importantly my political heir.  Dont you agree?".  Saying this he departed with a victorious smile leaving me behind wondering whether I need to send someone to stop this marriage from happening or to keep quiet as both of them are majors.

The question: Is this marriage just?

From the girls stand point: Her destiny has thrust upon her the responsibility of taking care of her disabled elder sister and education/marriage needs of two younger sisters, in the absence of a father.  She decided not to marry in order to take care of her elder sister.  For such a girl, the option of getting some means to support her siblings, as well as get an adopted son of her own is a good.

From the old man's stand point: Its obviously good for him from his argument.

From the stand point of marriage: Does this union server the purpose of a marriage?  Marriage as I understand, is an institution which aims at producing and nurturing the future torch bearers of the family and society, in an emotionally, socially and financially secure environment. 

In the end, I decided not to interfere.  But the dilemma continues in my mind.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Is this farmer wise?

The unprecedented December 2010 rains overnight converted lush green paddy fields ripe for harvesting, into vast extents of brown coloured water logged lands.  One could see smelly rotten paddy sheaves floating like dead corpses, on the water, waiting for someone to cremate them.  Cries forcing their way to the innermost depths of ones ears were audible in every village without exception; cries at the loss of their four month toil, cries at the sight of  enormous debts for their small lives, cries of families whose masters had committed suicides.  Wailing women wading in waist deep waters gathering the stinking floating paddy debris,  unmindful of their mud covered sarees struggling to protect their modesty, on one side, and their men folk mourning at that sight were everywhere to be seen.  A few days later, a group of agriculture officials landed in one such village near Burja to assess the extent of paddy damaged, that needed to be procured.  They came across a farmer whose one acre semi-dried rotten paddy sheaves were heaped at one place on the threshing floor, which on examination revealed that any attempt to thresh it and convert it into paddy would yield only one bag of paddy in place of the 20 bags he would otherwise have got.  Considering that the farmer had already spent Rs.12000 till that day in return for the rotten heap of paddy sheaves, that it would cost a further Rs. 2000 to thresh it and convert it into a bag of paddy, that the bag so produced would not fetch him more than Rs.400 at Government price, he was advised by the agricultural officials to burn his rotten paddy heap and limit his loss to Rs.12000.  Little did they know at that time that we would be talking to that same very farmer after some 60 days.

On one cool winter morning, when all the Government machinery was busy with procuring the damaged paddy, a group of us visited a damaged paddy procurement centre in Burja.  Getting down from our vehicles  we witnessed a heated argument going on between the paddy assessment expert and a farmer.  On arrival the dispute automatically landed up in our lap.  The assessment officer had assessed a cost of Rs.600 per quintal of the discoloured paddy sample brought by the farmer whereas he was asking for atleast Rs.1000.  The agricultural officer suddenly recognised this farmer and asked him where he brought this sample from when his total crop was destroyed and he was advised to set it on fire.  It was revealed by him that a bag(80kg) of discoloured paddy was salvaged from the large heap of rotten sheaves by spending Rs.3000.  I asked him why he spent additional money in threshing, knowing fully well that he is only going to increase his loss of Rs.12000.  He replied with a puzzled face, "Dont you understand? the rest of the villagers would have laughed at me had I set fire to the paddy heap", to which I enquired "why so?".  "I am a farmer and a farmer is one who extracts produce from the field. If knowing fully well that some paddy howsoever little, could be extracted from the heap, I set it on fire, then how can I be called a farmer?".  Everyone remained silent for a short while.  All of us moved on to the next location in a confused state, trying to understand what the farmer said. 

Now the question: Is the farmer right?

Thinking, as we usually do like one with common sense, we are tempted to say the farmer had done a wrong thing.

But on second thoughts, if we look at the profession of a farmer, it is agriculture.  Now, the art of agriculture involves preparation of soil, sowing of seed, raising of crop etc., and finally the extraction of produce from the soil.  The purpose of agriculture then happens to be the extraction of produce, doesnt matter whether its one grain or a 1000 kg;  A tag of a true farmer can be attached to a person, if and only if he is able to fulfill the purpose of the art of agriculture, i.e. extracting some grains even if he is thrown in the middle of a forest with no seed or fertilizer.  Difficulties, big or small such as rains or no rains; high prices or low prices; insect or pest; ill health or injury; wild boars or thieves; debt or suicide; all are to be overcome in order to extract some produce from the soil. Then, and only then can a farmer be said to be to be a true farmer; one who can do justice to agriculture.  Such a man carries with him the true art of agriculture which makes him produce crop even in the most adverse environments.  The bag of paddy brought by him in the eyes of Government is worth only Rs.600, whereas the just value of the bag as demanded by the art of agriculture is Rs.15000(Rs12000 till harvesting +Rs 3000 for threshing).

Now, the question is whether our State values this art of agriculture residing in our farmers who practice it in true spirit.  There is no self-respecting State which can answer in the negative to this question.  If such is the case, is our policy so deficient of virtue, that it is ignorant of even valuing the art of agriculture residing in our spirited farmers?