Sunday, January 14, 2007

Battleground Singur

Recent controversy over Singur and Nandigram lead us to an interesting debate, that of farmland vis-a-vis industrialization. I see the following reasons which suggests that setting up an industry in Singur may not be such a good idea.

Daily wage laborers: Associated with the farmlands are daily wage laborers. The government compensated the land-owners, but the poorer people, namely the daily wage laborers didn’t get anything since they didn’t own any land there, but just worked on the land. Many of them might not find employment in Tata factory. Tatas have gone on record saying that they may not be able to provide jobs to all those who lose their jobs. They will employ only some of the “employable” people. Most agricultural workers don’t have training for jobs like fitters, welders etc, and there is a limit to how many Tatas can employ as coolies etc. Consider Tata Steel. It is one of the biggest Tata factories, yet has about 2900 employees. I believe the present factory will employ a lower number, and many of the employees will be skilled personnel like engineers and technicians. Therefore, while creating new jobs, the factory will take away some of the older jobs, possibly from the people who need those jobs more urgently.

Older investments: Singur is a reasonably well-irrigated area (or so I heard). A great deal of money has been invested for irrigation. What happens to those facilities? Is it justified to fritter away the taxpayers’ hard earned money on building facilities and then wasting them?

Industrialization with a human face: Industrialization of Bengal is overdue. There can be no two opinions on this. Singur is not the right place though. However, since the government has already taken the plunge, what it should do right now is damage control. It can’t back out now, since this presents a negative image. What it can do is not to acquire more agricultural land for industrialization. At the same time, specifically in context of Singur, it has to set up a co-operative society within which a self-sustainable model can be built. This could involve setting up a small scale industry (the type suited for unskilled workers).

Food vs Cars: Take your pick. which one is a more pressing need.

Bottom-up approach (this is a much more general comment): Unfortunately, Indians always believed in a top down approach. In the context of development, its high time people and the government realize that development need not always be all about large industries. If you looked at the Nobel prize for 2006, you will see that one of the awardees was Mohammad Yunus, an economist from Bangladesh. He introduced the concept of micro-finance and micro-credits. It has been applied by NGOs in very poor villages close to Hyderabad with astounding results. The good thing is that not only do the villagers benefit, but the NGOs running the show get decent dividends. So much so that some of the people running the show are actually economics and business grads who left decent jobs in US to work close to these villages in Hyderabad. Now, even ICICI bank is interested and is actively participating in the micro-finance model, esp in the Hyderabad-Secunderabad region. If you are interested to know some more about microfinance model, take a look at these three links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_credit
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Yunus
http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2006/yunus-lecture-en.html

2 comments:

Sudhakar Babu said...

Man,

There are what are called living needs and livelihood needs. What was yesterday a lifestyle need , today is a livlihood need. How many Indians used to shave daily 50 years back. What are the numbers now? Mobile phone was a lifestyle need say in 1990s in India? What abt 2000s? At present Car is a lifestyle need. who knows when its turn comes?

Good luck

Anonymous said...

Yes, but if you dont take care of today's need, the question is, "will you survive to see tomorrow?"