Heritage humbled by Economic Downturn

Legend has it that during World War II, British bureaucrats curtailed the budget for the department of culture to fund the war efforts. When the then Prime Minister of Britain found out he wondered aloud, “then what are we fighting for?” The budgetary cuts were restored. Ever since the wave of economic liberalisation in 1991 hit the Indian shores, it had a devastating impact on Hindi publications. The rise and fall of economic cycles have on a regular basis claimed many iconic publications like Dinman, Dharmyug, Hindustan etc. If the journalistic sources are to be believed the latest entries in the long line of extinct magazines include — Kadambini and Nandan. They belong to a time in Hindi journalism and literature that was bright if not golden. When a society loses its will to preserve, promote and enrich its culture by investing time, intellect and energy, it means is spiralling downwards into an intellectual vacuum from where its well nigh impossible to return. Economies grow and shrink, growth rates rise and fall but when literature and art, the two pillars of culture bear the brunt of every economic downturn, real and perceived, then the society is in deep trouble. When the platforms of expression will shrink, they will limit the scope of discourse and discussion. It will in turn limit the growth of the language. In time the language will become static and stale. If something as lively as a language turns stable, it means it’s a language in decline. A declining language is a poor language. No society can claim to be rich if it’s speaking a poor language. It may be economically well off but it will remain culturally poor. Whenever history will judge it on the basis of culture, linguistic or literary parameters that society will always end up at the bottom of the league in comparison to those societies that have invested their heart and souls in preserving their cultural and intellectual heritage.     

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Atmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan: Time Has Come

Indians believe in cyclical concept of time. Like the Law of Conservation of Mass, we believe, nothing is created or destroyed but changes its form and comes back to haunt us precisely when we are gearing up to lampoon it.
The economic liberalization of 1991 in India and the subsequent formation of World Trade Organization (WTO) at the global level ushered in the second wave of globalization that was disrupted by the Second World War, COLD WAR and the rise of Communism in the early 20th century.
Politicians and public intellectuals hailed the new era of peace and prosperity as the golden age of humanity and philosopher Francis Fukuyama went so as far as to suggest that the liberal western democratic values have won and the world is on an irreversible path to greatness in his book The End of History.
Initially it seemed right. Democracies bloomed world over, the European Union became a powerful entity and WTO took root. Meanwhile, the world saw the trade grow at a rapid pace and statistics, at least, suggested millions were moving out of poverty in traditional poverty hotspots of Asia that included countries like China and India.
The Polarity of Globalization
However, within a short span of 25 years the carefully crafted image of a global village that worked on a rule based system unraveled. China entered the WTO in 2001 and quickly started gaming it for its own advantage. The top economies in the world, led by the US, moved their manufacturing bases to China, log, stock barrel. China became the factory of the world at the cost of manufacturing bases in all other countries.
The globalization saw the phenomenal rise of global capital and digital industry. The professionals in both the sectors became international citizens zipping around the globe.
Every economist worth his salt quoted GDP figures and average per capita GDP earnings to suggest millions have moved out of poverty. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals set a benchmark of earning $1.25 per day in the year 2000 as the baseline to consider people who are not desperately poor. Slowly this number was increased and today it stands at $2. But these were exercises in statistical jugglery amounting to nothing. On ground two varied trends were growing.
Plot Unravels
Some countries were becoming export superpowers. They included China and South Korea. In terms of textiles Bangladesh and Sri Lanka emerged as the rising stars. Their rise came at a cost of millions of jobs in the US, Europe, South America and India.
So now on the one hand the world market was glutted with cheap goods from China, the cost that every other nation was paying was closure of their own manufacturing base and rampant unemployment.
Those who threw numbers at the critics about the rising per capita income and millions moving out of poverty never had the time to visit the hinterland where unemployment and underemployment had assumed epidemic proportions. Social fabric was under strain. To paper over it people would throw statistics about mobile phone ownership, ownership of automotive vehicles per thousand of people etc. No one cared to know that averages are the biggest lies. Suppose in a village with 40 families, the village head, a rich man, can own 20 vehicles. Twenty vehicles divided by 40 families within the village will give a picture that the vehicle ownership is fifty percent in that village, whereas the reality is completely different. Most of the so-called India middle class for most part was just a salary away from starvation. One hospitalization or one bad monsoon would throw it back in the throes of poverty.
Warning Signals
It’s not that the world leaders weren’t getting signals from the people. The first warning shots were fired in Russia when Vladimir Putin, the strongman, was elected as the president of the country. He was everything that a democratic leader is not. He pursued and propagated a strong Russia policy with iron hand. It emboldened many strongmen around the world and the second such leader to emerge was Recep Tyyip Erdogan in Turkey. The story was repeated with alarming regularity in East Europe and other parts of Asia. However, the rise of strongmen was dismissed as a phenomenon of underdeveloped or troubled economies.
Meanwhile, the floods in Bangkok in 2011 showed the limits of wisdom among the global businessmen who pursued the policy of putting all the eggs in one basket. Bangkok has emerged as the global hub of car spare parts and computer hard disk manufacturing. The intense floods, the worst in half a century, had a cascading effect on supply of these two components for the next whole year.
Even with WTO in place powerful countries were misusing the non-tariff barriers to tilt the trading balance of power in their own favour. To counter this trend many other countries were raising anti-dumping duties and the appellate tribunal in the WTO was filled to the brim with complaints and pending hearings.
The Collapse
However, in the second decade of the 21st century the 25-year-old neo-globalization push led by WTO finally hit the wall of hinterland resistance. The Brexit was the ultimate slap by the millions of citizens from the English hinterland who had been economically disenfranchised by the process of globalization.
Within no time the United States, the greatest champion of globalisation chose a president (Donald Trump) who embodied McCarthyism (a concept whereby America would confine itself to the affairs within the American continent and retreat from global affairs) to the core. Those voters, who steadily lost their jobs to low paying labourers in China over the last 25 years, chose him.
The US flagged its trade deficit with China and while the trade war was heating up the corona pandemic unraveled the entire globalization construct.
It opened the chink in everyone’s armour. Those who depended on China for every small thing realized they were over-dependent to the point of being vulnerable. China on the other hand realized over dependence on foreign trade as the only card to ace the economic game was fraught with its on vulnerabilities.
Everyone realized, a reasonable manufacturing base within the country and an economy based on local consumption is a much better bet than unsustainable practice of creating over capacity to feed the world or forfeiting every capacity for the sake of price differentials. Germany, that retained the wisdom of resisting the lure of cheap but low quality labour, has been able to meet the Cornoa challenge with far greater success than those who were swept away by mere profit motive.
The Road Ahead
It’s in this regard that we should see Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for Atmnirbhar Bharat. The global conditions today are as tenuous as they were during the times of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. His concept of mixed economy is today as relevant as it was, when first propounded.
Dr Manmohan Singh (our former prime minister), at that time a young economist, lamented the lack of a clear foreign trade component in Indian economy and later tried to introduce one when he became the Prime Minister himself. But all the efforts towards plugging India into global economy have now come to a naught. Indian data is hostage to tech firms in China and the US and our manufacturing base lies in tatters. From the point of view of national security as well as long-term economic health of a nation, it’s unsustainable.
So we should begin by two or three simple but core premises. The idea of unbridled privatization and global trade without sufficient safeguards is counter productive in the long run.
Secondly the idea that exports oriented growth is the only way to achieve material wealth is also unsustainable.
We need to understand that India with its large population and relatively less natural resources needs to pursue a longer, slower and a more sustainable path to economic well being and not just mindless material prosperity. It should not emulate China’s path of economic miracle and environment disaster.
We should concentrate on our own market and meet its needs. Secondly, all the statisticians and economists should take the parameters of Human Development Index (HDI) as the basis to decide which policies are right for poverty alleviation. They should move away from that quick fix and actually a misleading figure of $2 per day of earning as a benchmark of India’s push for poverty reduction.
India should also accept and vigorously implement a new system based on our priorities to manage our trade imbalance. We can’t substitute everything by resorting to import substitution and we shouldn’t. But there should be a robust industrial base. Our trade relations should be based on mutual respect and it may happen that with some partners we will still have trade imbalance but it should never exceed 10 to 15 percent. The moment it does it should be automatically flagged and resolute action should be take to address this lacunae. The days of five to six times trade imbalance is over. It’s neither good for the economy, nor society and not for the national security.
The Role of The Government
For the advocates of privatization and minimum governance, Corona crisis is a wake up call. World over, it’s the national and provincial governments, which are at the forefront of leading the fight against the pandemic and economic revival. The private sector with all its “professionalism” and billions of dollars at its disposal is at best playing a marginal role. So governments in the new normal will keep playing an important role. In India they should assume the role of facilitators and a watchdog.
At the policy level the government needs to put a slew of measures in place for the new industrial base to jumpstart in next one to three years. The good news is many of these initiatives have been made.
Surprisingly the most enthusiastic response has been from the traders and not the manufacturers. The trader body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has released a list of 500 categories of products and within them 3000 products that we import from China. They can be further divided into four major categories – finished goods, spare parts, raw material and technology products.
According to them in the finished goods category Indian manufacturers can quickly replace products from China as their own base and trained manpower is still available which has been lying idle for the last decade. In terms of spare parts and raw material the capacity generation will take two to three years. CAIT started replacing Chinese products after the Doklam standoff and has been able to bring down the import from $76 billion to $70 billion in a span of three years (a claim made by its all India president in a TV channel). But they are confident with the anti-China sentiments at an all time high they would be able to replace import of goods worth $17 billion by December 2021.
In case of technology products, with international finance and complex ownership processes it will be the government that will have to come up with a long-term strategy. Even here the Government has initiated three major move, automatic investment by Chinese firms in India has been stopped. A total of 59 Chinese apps have been banned and non-tariff barriers like scrutiny and anti-dumping duties are being levied on Chinese products. It offers Indian manufacturers a window of opportunity to gain the ground they ceded to the cheap Chinese products.
However, the government will have to be ever watchful of our own manufacturers lest they fall into the trap of producing crappy products at an inflated cost. “Be Indian buy Indian”, shouldn’t end up being “Bleeding Indian” or “Conning Indian” by unscrupulous elements. Pandit Nehru had a visceral dislike bordering on suspicion towards these profit predators and though he is said to have mellowed in his old age, he, to a degree, was right in entertaining this view. A lot of consumer products Indian companies were making in 1970s weren’t up to the mark. On this count the government will have to maintain healthy suspicion of the profit-at-any-cost variety of business people.
As globalization sputters and countries turn inward the mixed economy concept of Pandit Nehru once again gains traction. It’s a sound base to move on keeping an eagle’s eye on those who try to game the system and degenerate it, a vigil his own daughter failed to keep.

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Beware of 5 kinds of Indian “Sinologists”

During the time of Ottoman Empire Istanbul was at the height of its glory and it’s bazars were filled with kehwa shops where people would meet and talk. Talks were generally gossip wrapped as insider wisdom. As most of the city dwellers had no access to the Topkapi Palace (the seat of power) they would listen to the nobles and the gentry with rapt attention and accepted it as Gospel Truth. Nothing could have been far from the truth. Most of these so-called nobles had no access to the inner chambers and were either related to the petty officers or worked for the nobles at their homes. Yet they peddled fourth hand information as deep knowledge.
In the 21st century India a similar crop of experts have sprung up. They are called Sinologists. But as India is a diverse country we have a diverse variety of experts. Broadly there are five categories you must be aware of. They are as follows:-
The Naïve: These experts firmly believe in being conned. Even during the time of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru this brigade of experts was of the opinion that Chinese Government honours its words. The events since have proven them wrong whether it was Chou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Ziang Zemin, Hu Jintao and now Xi Jinping. Yet like a determined naïve they pursue with their love affair. The incorrigible among them go to the extent of saying that Chinese Government feels lonely and needs some love (when I heard that I felt it was my “Trump Moment”). They keep harping on talks and genuinely believe China will honour their words if we behave in a large-hearted manner.
The Seduced: These are the people who have been dazzled like a doe by the glitter of Chinese material success in the last 30 years. The second variety is ideologically sold to the concept of a single party dictatorship and fancy a time when India too will be under Red Flag with sickle and hammer and then there would be order and proletarian utopia. Their constant lament is, “Look at China, we need to emulate them. There is no other or better way to success”. Or the other variant, “We are no match to China, its done deal we have already lost the game”.

The Military Genius: These armchair strategists have no clue about the war of narrative, information and trade and nor they have any inclination to learn or listen. They are stuck in Galvan today, were stuck in Doklam yesterday and tomorrow they would be stuck somewhere else. None of these strategists has been able to offer a convincing answer as to why China has been making these incursions? Why it never lowers the intense pressure of conflict along the Indian border? They are just gloating about the fact, “we give them a befitting reply”. Killing soldiers or counting who killed more is a zero sum game. You may keep killing more of their soldiers but you may still loose the war, if you don’t get the big picture my friend. Enough said.
The Impressionist: If anyone tells you he interprets Chinese diplomacy by their body language or the choice of words and gestures, just run for your life. These people will tell you Xi Jinping came two steps down to meet Narendra Modi. This is a sign of warmth and the importance he accords to India. Or the Chinese president looked at 15- degree angle, which means he was angry. It’s utter crap.

Data Devils: This is the most dangerous category that uses selective data to create a narrative where China seems invincible. In the garb of “cold data” and “I-am-a-realist” they are actually the merchants of pessimism and morale destruction. They would use economic data like military budget, or the size of the army, air force, and investment in research, trade imbalance, to prove our country is worthless. “Oh how can we fight them? Do you know they have 35000 tanks and we have just 4000.” Or the other variation, “have you seen the size of the their army its 40 percent more than us. You don’t get! It they will bring so many people, you won’t know what happened to you.” These venerable experts forget two things. Himalayan theatre of conflict is like none other. Tanks have little to limited use in this terrain. So China can keep its 35000 tanks and use it in October Parade. Now about manpower, they may have a larger army but to fight in the Himalayas the soldiers need to acclimatize for 21 days. You can’t pick up soldiers from the plains of China and put them at a height of 15000 feet above sea level just like that, they will die of asphyxiation and hypothermia. So we need specialized soldier. If we compare their numbers we are almost the same in Himalayan theatre. Similarly, their air force is bigger but in the Himalayan region we are at par. Last but not the least China will have longer supply lines to protect and maintain then India because Himalayas are just two to four hundred kilometres from our Indo-Gangetic Plains while China will have to move for a couple of thousands of kilometres from the Yangtze and Huang He basin, cross Tibet-Qinghai Plateau to reach us.

Perspective from the School of Hard Knocks: Let’s begin with the war of narrative.

Threat of War is More Powerful Than War: India has been a vocal critic of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China and it did not participate in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECP) driven by China. This has slowed China’s push towards West Asia, ASEAN and Europe. Secondly, India has been ramping up its infrastructure in the Himalayan region to catch up with China and some of the projects are nearing completion thereby offering India a bit of strength. If we continue like this then in next 3 to 5 years we will have parity in terms of man, material and infrastructure. To derail India’s infra-push and soften India’s virulent opposition of BRI and RECEP Chinese want to keep up the pressure on the Himalayan border, as they know it’s a very sensitive issue with Indian public. Media and experts feed into it and the government then gets hamstrung. If every such engagement results in casualty or loss of land, it means a loss of face for the incumbent government. The shrill pitch raised by the experts and media for days considerably lessens the government’s apatite for the next live engagement. It’s a ploy that erodes Indian government’s political capital. So you may as what to do? Should we silently keep giving them land? No not at all but there is no need to become hyper either. Don’t let the government hide the information of any incursion but don’t obsess about every incursion as a life and death matter.
The Game Theory: See these incursions as part of a larger game to keep India occupied in specific theatre and bog it down. If you are busy defending your positions you won’t have any leverage to stop the aggressor from achieving his larger strategic and economic goals of erecting dams on rivers, signing river water sharing treaties and controlling water sources in the areas under its occupation. Noble Laureate John Nash in his Game Theory says there are two kinds of game, the finite and the infinite. Finite game is one where the end is clear, like the objective of saving the Galwan Valley or Doklam Plateau. The infinite game is to keep repeating these incursions year after year to harass the opponent till the time he or she psychologically gives in and leaves the arena. So we have to prepare for the long haul and instead of reacting every time they make a move, we should also act to turn the tables as we have done with Pakistan. We took the initiative of action from them. Also we should remain cool-headed and treat the border dispute with China as we treat the problem of Kashmir militancy. The fight is going on, some days they’ll inflict a wound some days we’ll extract our pound of flesh and this will keep repeating itself for decades. View this fight with keenness of a person in a derby but with stoic detachment of a Zen monk.
Sun Tzu Redux: Those who say China is a different ball game should learn from the Sikkim conflict. When the Chinese came in big numbers and the conflict started the Indian senior officers brought in artillery and without a second thought pummelled the enemy. Chinese got a sound drubbing. When later the senior officer was asked why artillery was used, his reply was instructive. He said the Chinese thought after our experience in 1962 we would only defend, as we would be fearful of escalation of the conflict. But we played on their assumption and turned it on its head. Out-thought they just caved in.
India has traditionally been too accommodative of the bully. On the cover of the book Self Deception: India’s China Policy (writer by Arun Shourie) the photograph is telling. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is bowing to Hu Jintao as if he’s the master. In the bully’s mind politeness is synonymous with meekness. Meekness is interpreted as weakness and then he’s free to do whatever he or she decides. It’s no wonder that during Mr Singh’s tenure China gobbled up 640 square kilometres of land as per Shyam Sharan (former foreign secretary) report.
So in today’s context with China we have lost so much ground in the Himalayas that now we need to fight to defend our positions. As the Chinese philosopher-general Sun Tzu said, “on desperate grounds fight”. We are at the desperate ground in the Himalayan theatre. But we should now look into the horizon and move ahead with two thoughts in our mind – India alone has the bandwidth in Asia to counter China. If you have the size, the intellectual depth and the ambition, which you have articulated during the last six years, then you must be ready for conflict. You must be prepared to pay the price of your ambition and that is to be always ready to impose cost on the enemy at every forum.

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Environment Day: COVID-19’s Impact on Awareness and Action

This year the World Environment Day assumes a special significance. Every year a clutch of environmentalists, experts and media persons would try to bring to notice the ill impacts of environment degradation on human life. But not many cared. The threat may have been looming but it was somewhere in distant future in a far off land. “We shall cross the bridge as and when we come to it,” was the general refrain. It conveyed the general apathy of the society that thought, “as and when” will somehow magically morph into “if at all it happens”.
But COVID-19 changed all that. It has brought the humans face-to-face with their own vulnerability in trying to master nature. They have also witnessed the beauty and positive impact of clean environment on their psyche. Building on this awareness they can move towards a more sustainable lifestyle that can offer comfortable living and improved environment.
A glimpse of paradise: During the initial days reports started appearing in media that sea creatures were seen frolicking in the docks made by humans all around the world. Whether it was European towns or American coasts or busy Asian ports. Then the Indo-Gangetic plains witnessed a strange phenomenon. Snow-capped mountains started appearing on the horizon from nowhere. Jalandhar was the first one to witness Dhauladhar Range of the Himalayas after almost 30 years. Then it was Bareilly’s, a Cantonment town in dusty Western Uttar Pradesh, turn to witness Himalayas in their full glory. Even people in Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world, breathed easy. The rivers looked clean. In Delhi Yamuna looked far cleaner than at any time in decades. Lockdown showed that not many industries or sewage plants were treating the effluents and waste properly. It was a grand hogwash.
It showed Nature doesn’t need expert advice and million of rupees of technology, meetings and reports to be cleaned. All it needs to be left to its own device to take care of herself.
Now the society in general should ask its policymakers and administrators as well as leaders what are you doing to stop effluents and waste falling into the river untreated. Public scrutiny should now be strict and intrusive to bring the leaders to the accountability table. This will be the first step towards making the glimpse of paradise an everyday reality.
Stop bio-diversity loss for your own sake: According to the Living Planet Report of 2014 brought out by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) we have lost 50 percent of all the mammal, reptile, bird and invertebrate species during last 40 years. The chief cause of biodiversity loss in IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) List showed natural habitat destruction contributed to 85 percent. It has had a consequence on our business and life. There are two unintended consequences.
The decline of biodiversity and the habitats bring the people and domesticated animals in close contact with new pathogens. It happens because most of the time natural habitats are turned into cattle ranches or agricultural land. While the bio-diversity vanishes or retreats the pathogens stay on the land and find new surfaces and make home in cattle, sheep and pigs. The new hosts and the consumers their meat – humans, have no immunity against these pathogens. It’s because these bacteria and virus were firmly tucked away in deep woods, away form the reach of humans, and evolved over millions of years to co-exist with bats and other wild animals. Another effect of habitat loss is the species that lived far away from the madding crowds and prying humans are now directly in line of their curiosity fuelled voracious apatite for exotic meat.
Some reports have been suggesting the spread of COVID-19 started with Wuhan’s wet meat market. Here exotic species like bats are for sale and considered delicacies. But the global pandemic has rattled the human society and chances are they will reconsider their mindless expansion into natural habitats and control if not curb their lust of exotic meat.
Nature shows who’s the boss: Back to back attack by nature has drilled some sense in people. It started with COVID-19, followed by a series of earthquakes in the National Capital Region of Delhi (14 tremors in 60 days), cyclone Amphan and Nisarga and locust attack. While the society reels under the impact of the natural crisis, it becomes clear that you can’t tame nature and if she’s in a bad mood you better run for cover.
So the events that have unfolded in the first five months of the year 2020 can go down in history as a time when the humans finally woke up form their smug slumber and took action to put their house in order. Or it may end up being the last wake up call that went unheeded and nature turned from nurturer to nasty.

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Agriculture is the Key to Revival of Economy

The sight of millions of migrant labourers trudging back home on foot was a sight that will haunt the conscience of our society for a long time to come. With migrants labourers returning to their homes chances are that a large chunk of them will not return to cities any time soon. The only way to somehow assuage the feelings of the sufferers and atonement by the sinners is to create a framework where distress of such magnitude is never repeated again.
Uplifting Story Amidst Gloom
During the last 25 years it became fashionable among the elite circuit to look down upon agriculture as a sector of insignificance. They would glibly talk about agriculture’s declining role in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The share of agriculture in the GDP came down from 57 percent during early 1950s to just over 15 percent today. With this statistics the whole sector was brushed aside into insignificance.
What the venerable “experts” forgot was it still employs more than 60 percent of the Indian workforce directly or indirectly.
When the pandemic struck and the lockdown was announced, the manufacturing came to a halt and the services sector reduced to a trickle, this primary activity kept running. Today, in this hour of economic gloom, it has scripted a heartening story.
The bumper Rabi crop (150 million tons) has inspired the Indian Government to set its target at producing a record 298 million tons of grain this year as the sowing area under Kharif crop has witnessed an all around increase.
Area sown to rice increased by 37.70 per cent to 34.73 lakh hectare so far in the Kharif (summer) season of the 2020-21. Area sown to pulses has increased to 5.07 lakh hectare from 3.82 lakh hectare last year. Coarse cereals also saw an increase from 5.47 lakh hectare to 8.55 lakh hectares, while oilseeds acreage increased to 8.73 lakh hectare from 6.80 lakh hectare last year. Most of the Rabi crops have been harvested and procured or is under the process of procurement.
Building From Ground Up
Maximum number of rural migrant labourer is employed in urban areas in three sectors – construction, food and small services. The revival of these three sectors right now is a distant dream. It’s time to begin afresh.
The new rural economy should be based on three pillars – Storage, Value Addition and Farm-to-fork Supply.
The Central as well as state governments should work on war footing to improve the storage facility close to the rural areas. A network of newly designed cold chains that need less electricity or can be run on alternate energy be created to offer villagers a place to safely store their harvest. If they can store it they can bargain better.
Secondly, food processing industry clusters should be created in the hamlets, or towns near villages. Depending upon the size and number of the villages and the distance between them and the closest town the food- processing cluster should be developed at district or block level.
Third village or a cluster of villages (depending upon the number of farmers, quantity of produce and economies of scale) should create their own district supply chains where their produce will be carried by their own people after an online or telephonic negotiation with the buyer to the desired destination.
With farmers being active partners in all the three dimensions of business — production, processing and procurement – their ability to influence the product pricing, profit generation and securing their interest will increase.
Three steps will be enough to ensure a large chunk of rural residents don’t venture out due to distress. They remain gainfully employed in their own homes, earn a decent living and also offer quality product to consumers at a competitive price.
It will also help those who go out to cities in search of work. As their numbers would come down substantially their ability to bargain better wages will increase.
As automation and the use of AI (artificial intelligence) increases in manufacturing the low end jobs will in any case become a thing of past. Before this wave hits the shore and leaves millions of people jobless, it would be better to create an alternative universe where they would not only be gainfully employed but their skills and wisdom, would be better utilized and above all they would be fire-walled from future distress.

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Post COVID-19 World: 5 Things Companies Need to Be Crisis Ready

A close look at the last two decades of the 21st century reveals regular economic shocks either due to human error, natural calamity or a pandemic.
Those who are now in senior management roles and were beginners back then when the world discovered SARS in 2003. Good thing was the world governments came together and before the outbreak could morph into a pandemic it was contained. But the scare was real. Another nine years went by and the MERS outbreak again threatened to disrupt global supply chains in 2012. Mercifully it was controlled but the floods in December of 2012 in Bangkok dealt a blow to the automobile and hard-disk manufacturers globally. If these were initial trailers preparing us for the D-Day, it finally arrived in the form of COIVD-19. Humanity ultimately ran out of luck.
All the experts, military strategists and environmentalists are now on the same page that outbreaks like these can be expected regularly during our lifetime. A pandemic every five to eight years is now an accepted reality. So how can every company be ready to face reoccurring crisis? There is a five pronged strategy to dealing with a threat that lurks in not so a distant future.
Contingency Plan: It’s a no-brainer. Every company should have a contingency plan and many do have it. However, COVID-19 has brought our attention to another important distinction, it needs to be in battle ready condition. Every company should earmark two weeks every six months or a year to do a dry run of the contingency plan so that everyone is on board and each component of the workforce know exactly what to do in the time of crisis. This will help the company to smoothly transit into the emergency mode the moment they come face to face with the crisis.
Clear Communication: Working under crisis situation from different locations can lead to a lot of communication static. There should be a proper communication protocol in place that’s build on a two-way process – Senior managers in contact with staff and the staff in contact with the senior managers. Similarly, inter department communications should be smooth with least number of blockages and access rules, at least during the time of the crisis. The company can revert to need-to-know basis later but in crisis situation it would lead to unnecessary loss of time, duplication and heartburn.
Context Setting: Every employee during the work form home situation or remote working or working without the physical presence of the supervisor may loose sight of the big picture and harbour grudge that she is being forced to work while the others are having fun. If a company is asking only 30 percent of the staff to work from the office premise the other 70 percent may feel left out of the action and feel underutilized. In such a situation its very important to make them understand the larger picture. This will increase the sense of commitment, belonging and self worth.
Leadership Matter: Company leaders need to lead form the front in helping every worker during context setting. They also need to work over time to boost the morale of the work force. As the Chinese Sage-General, Sun Tzu, said 2500 years ago, a general is the trigger of the martial spirit of his people, modern leader leading during crisis needs to be in constant touch with every employee if possible. Regular check-ins and motivational interventions will be critical in keeping the workforce upbeat.
HR, the Pillar of Strength: Even after all this there will be times when workers will be overwhelmed by the situation outside or within their family or within their own mind. They need to device a clear-cut policy of working hours, time outs and off days. They should also be ready to play the agony aunt and counselor when nerves of the workforce start fraying.

(Keshav Chaturvedi uses communication as a tool to help companies prepare and keep their contingency plans battle ready)

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Life After COVID19: A Chance for Personal Course Correction

During the weekend I was reading Jonathan Freedland’s article in the Guardian Adjust your clock: Lockdown is bending time completely out of shape. It was a fascinating read talking about how at one level time, it feels, has come to a stand still and at others it seems zipping past in a flash. In these times of lockdowns we all are in this space at one time or the other. News reports are suggesting people getting edgy living a confined life.

But this is also a time of reflection, which we may not get again in our lives. Moments of great anxiety and stress are also the moments of great opportunity. A time when cities are deserted and services are suspended — eating out, pub hopping, mall ratting, going on a long drives, walking in the park and going to the gym are all a strict no-no and when living inside the house you are bored to death looking at screens whether, its your laptop, TV or mobile phone then its time to pause and reflect.

Test Your Assumptions:

All those who thought that they would die of boredom if they didn’t have so many activities to fill up their days are now realizing it’s not the case. They have survived for a month and can survive one more. It goes on to show you have far more resilience than you credited yourself for. Remember that, once the lockdown is lifted. You did go through withdrawal symptoms for sure – you were irritated, you lost your cool, you got depressed for some time. But you managed. This should give you strength and confidence that you will sail through any crisis. You can survive against all odds on very little at your disposal. 

By now you must be eating far healthier food than you must have eaten in a long time. Home cooked food isn’t bad or lowbrow. Actually it’s the best thing you can get for all the hard work you do through the day in your office. This is the food, which is meant for your gut, liver and other organs of your body. The chips, pizzas, aerated drinks, burgers, packed snacks, munchies, noodles, cookies, chocolates, canned food are all geared to cater to your taste buds and that’s it. The rest of the body takes a huge beating while your tongue swims in your own saliva of stupidity. Remember that, too!


Household Chores Are Not Easy:

All those who thought our mothers, wives (a little rare now) or maids were having it easy, parking their asses at home while you were working them off in the office now know that’s hardly true. Mopping the floor, washing utensils and cooking food, washing clothes, dusting, adjusting furniture and bed-sheets, buying grocery and haggling with the local vegetable vendor are full time occupation that requires as much negotiating and managerial skills, not to mention actual talent of cooking, and aesthetics to keep the house clean and presentable. To top it all if you have kids, the degree of difficulty is multiplied by a factor of 10 straight. So once the lockdown is lifted and you go back to your office feeling mighty important remember these days and have some respect for your mother, the other half or the maid.


You Mother Was Right All the WAY:

The digital children who turned into digital professionals, digital nomads and digital citizens thought that their parents especially their mothers who were rooted to reality didn’t get it. They were some cat’s whiskers and now they have to suffer their mother’s constant lament who doesn’t know anything about digital payment and digital delivery and living-in-the-moment bohemian life. But she was right all along when she insisted to have enough cash in your savings account so that if you have to swipe your bloody card it needs to have some hard cash in the bank account somewhere. You need to have some cash in your hands too as your vegetable vendor is not too inclined to take digital money if you are not living in Mumbai or Delhi. Have fixed deposits no matter what the slick banker says. Even when the returns are getting less and if you have to pay taxes do that. Principal hard earned money is safe. Only invest that portion of your earning in equity that you can forget. She gave you the right advice when she said don’t create a string of real estate property beyond a point as it won’t be a crown over your head but will turn into a millstone around your neck. You need to have real estate, liquidity, fixed deposits, term insurance, health insurance, systematic investment plans and equity portfolio. This is what she was trying to tell you in her own language when she would say, “One or two or a maximum of three properties are more than enough if one of it is commercial. You won’t eat a house when you are hungry and won’t pay your house if someone is in the hospital at 12 pm and all the banks are closed on the weekend”, and you know Mr or Ms Dickheads, she was damn right.


Don’t be greedy, as you don’t know a shit about how the share market works – Talk about a balanced portfolio.


Clean and Quiet:

The neighbourhood where you live seems so quiet and clean these days. Now you know when you used to ask in exasperation, “why our cities are so dirty?” who was the culprit? You! Of course. Honking away to glory, revving up the engine, throwing your garbage and wrappers at the corner of the road putting a lunatic to shame, blaring music in your car, house and at the terrace party like maniac. All that made your city dirty, choked and noisy. Remember it’s you who will keep it clean and quiet. The government agency will help in cleaning once a day. Maintaining it throughout the day when no one is watching you is you job. You are a grown up person and not some five year old whose diapers need to be changed every hour and he or she has the liberty to urinate and defecate anywhere they want to. Just remember to grow up and remain that way. It’s actually a good thing. People don’t like their children, neighbours and spouses to be enfant terrible. Also if you behave only when there is a threat of legal action against you and not out of your own moral values than you are a bloody psycho. Get that straight in your head you psycho.


Slow Down and Go Local:

When you slow down you achieve more. Remember these times when you were forced to cut the fluff out of your life for sometime and discovered it was a liberating experience though slightly painful in the beginning. You were managing both the household chores, your me-time and office work and had your boss not been the prick he or she was things would have been much better. You were doing fine. Another thing you may have realised that almost everything from getting a hair cut to visiting a doctor at the slightest pretext is just an escape mechanism to kill time. There is no inherent value in it. All these things can be done at leisure and can wait. If you can delay things many of the cravings and needs will seem needless.


An advice to those journalists hyperventilating on TV screens or busybees in the corporate office floors zipping past from one meeting or the other or those who are still busy making their and others’ life miserable during work from home by pinging their colleagues and juniors at unearthly hours. You are not the centre of the world. Accept that fact and take it easy. The world doesn’t even know you exist. The universe doesn’t know if the Earth exists and if it does then where on earth it’s located in the whole wide cosmos. So chill.


Finally as the global travel will be curtailed for at east an year it’s time to explore your own country and hidden gems close by. Take your children to places close to your home and acquaint them to the grandeur and beauty of your own country. I assure you it’s not half as bad at a price that is a fraction of what you spend on foreign jaunts.

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Life after COVID19: Remote Working

A couple of days ago a friend of mine sent me a message saying, “I’ll call you once I am free from WFH”, I kept wondering WT*#@ is WFH? But I held my horses and when she called I inquired what the new abbreviation means? She replied, “work from home”. I was enlightened.
In the times of global lockdowns work from home or WFH has become the buzzword with an overwhelming number of professionals trapped inside their pigeon holes (homes) fixing their gaze on a variety of screens and tapping their fingers on various keyboards.
Actually these are the two organs in the body that are in overuse these days. Experts are becoming hysterical about the new global trend and how it will define the new age working in the post-COVID19 era. Some say this is the way society will work from now on and the others say the trend will fizzle out once the offices open and we gain some kind of herd immunity against this contagion.
These enthusiastic but extreme positions notwithstanding let’s further explore the unfolding future in some details:-
Remote torture
A whole lot of people are finding work from home an unmitigated disaster, a veritable torture chamber with no respite. Like Salman Khan, the super star from Mumbai film Industry, said, “staying home is like being in a Big Boss Home with no one being ejected out (sic).”
Many professionals say they are working more than they used to in the office. Most of the bosses and especially the immediate line managers are breathing down their neck and don’t let them ease through the day. Mailing at odd hours and messaging and calling late till night under the pretext, “you are at home, why can’t you work?” quip. They forget the worker is also a family person. She needs to spend some time with her family, cook, clean utensils, broom and swipe the floors and wash clothes. Even when she gets some help from family members its still a time consuming task.
There was a primary school teacher in a reputed school who told me that she was asked to make videos for kindergarten students. For this all the teachers were asked to conduct a day review meeting at 10 pm every night regardless of Sundays or Saturdays. When she said the kids won’t watch the videos unless the parents sit through the entire session with them, she was overruled. When the first class began the parents opened the laptop or connected their smart TVs and put their children in front of the screen and left to do their own office work and lo and behold the children just got up and left. When their wards were asked to sit through the entire class they resented it and protested. This was an additional duty along with their pile of work that they had to do from home.
Then there was a class teacher from a senior class who marked students absent as they failed to login at the appointed time.
This behavior of senior class teacher, kindergarten principle and line managers in corporate shows a deep-rooted problem of persistent lack of managerial skills and difficulty to accept change.
In the time of lockdown and global pandemic most of the managers and senior functionaries in every sector especially in the education and services sector have exposed their complete incompetence and a total lack of emotional intelligence compounding an already precarious situation.
Listening to these stories makes you feel that most of these senior managers almost feel resentful that people are not in office. And if they are at home they must be having fun, so now it’s their divine right to make their life miserable.
But people are not staying at home out of choice, its government order. And it’s no fun and game. Everyday is a struggle as their support staff — the maid, the home delivery of grocery and cooked food, and many other services are shut. Also the home doesn’t have the kind of technically updated facilities as are available in the office and the net speeds have suffered notoriously during these times. These are not normal times and you just can’t pile up work with scorn that, “but you are at home na…so what’s the big deal”. Hell it’s big deal and get that straight in your head you pig-head.
It fails to make any sense why kindergarten teachers should work for eight hours everyday and have a meeting at 10 in the night. Why should people in other sectors who are working from home need to slave for 12 to 14 hours. The worst threat is, “if you don’t want to work there are many who are ready to work for 24 hours a day at half the price so FO.”
This stressful and humiliating experience for many will make them shudder to return to WFH.
HRM should stop HRM
Human Resources Managers (HRM) everywhere now need to step in urgently to stop this human repression and madness (HRM). A clear policy guideline should be made and strictly enforced in every sector of the economy. The government should also make changes in labour laws to safeguard the sanity, long term productivity and dignity of the worker or employee.
To begin with they should take a leaf out of the French law that forbids employers to call their employees after office hours. Office hours need to be defined strictly. If it’s an eight hour or ten hour shift then some one who starts at 8 am will leave the terminal at home at 4 pm or 6 pm. The office can only call the person if the heavens are falling and the employee alone can save it. Otherwise please wait till the next day.
Keeping a moment to moment tab can’t work. The person should be given a task that’s doable in a day and a report be taken at the end of the day that’s it. Don’t behave life a stereotype mom-in-law or an atrocious landlord of yore. Even while giving a task the IBM’s “minimum expectation rule” should be followed. When the company was an “800 pound gorilla”, as Tim Ferris says, during their heydays, they gave their sales forces a minimum target to achieve because they never wanted the salesman to be so stressed by the target that they won’t pick up the phone. So when the sales force knew about their low targets everyone approached their work without stress and achieved it. A large majority almost invariably exceeded the targets in excess, beating the competition hollow.
Third thing that the HR manager should ensure is the middle managers or the line managers should have a life. Even if they are tight assed SOBs they should be encouraged to have one and if they still persist with their cussed ways they should be told in no uncertain terms not to mess with others’ quality time.
If these three things can be ensured then the future of WFH looks bright.
Pregnant with Potential
Looking beyond the apparent incompetence of managers and employers the mass scale of work from home has opened up a world of great opportunities. People with a decent technological backup of high speed internet, camera, sound studio and laptop or desktop and one or two phone connections can now work from anywhere and everywhere. This crisis has helped in breaking the initial mental barriers that arose due to legacy issues. For example, the need for people to be present physically for an interview can and should give way now that a large chunk of workforce has learned the art of talking on video conferencing and other online video chat platforms. The need for physical presence for meeting can also be reduced to a minimum.
Another bold new vistas opening up is of remote working. People from remote areas and small towns with requisite qualifications can work for companies from the comforts of their own homes and their own towns without ever setting a foot in the big cities. They may still be called for a physical appearance one or twice a year but not more.
But care needs to be taken to compensate them adequately. You can’t hire a top class human resource and pay them pittance just because the person is working from Dumka and not Delhi. Yes you may rationalise the pay by 10 to 15 percent but not more than that. Competence, consistency, integrity and sustained quality of work should decide the pay of the person not her location and the cost of living.
Apart from this many people working in the office can also seek a permanent WFH to move to cooler climes, quieter places or may travel to remote locations and still be engaged for a certain time throughout the week. They should be given weekly tasks that they need to complete. If they can finish it early they get to enjoy an extended weekend and do whatever they want to. This way companies will not only be able to retain a lot of their good resources but also engage new ones too.
It will open up a new pool of talent from diverse locations, with diverse cultures and diverse perspectives making the workforce and workplace a true melting pot of cultures and capabilities. This would be a new face of globalisation that’s based on earthly local flavours.

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COVID19: Improved Environment Nudges for a New Beginning

Ever since the lockdown that started from March 24 in India in response to global pandemic, people are witnessing a curios phenomenon. Mother Nature is reclaiming her space gently, silently and effortlessly. News items from world over in general and India in particular are replete with stories of people witnessing peacocks on their terraces or deer herd strolling on the streets or dolphins seen around the harbours that were so polluted just few weeks ago that they couldn’t support marine life.
Residents of the city of Jalandhar in Punjab got up to a startling morning view of Dhauladhar Ranges in Himalayas a total of 213 kilometres away from the town.
Older residents told people that the last they saw snow capped mountains was almost a generation ago. Pollution from industrial units in the city and hectic agricultural activities in the nearby fields almost erased the memories of the hill-view that was always available but got obscured by the pollution.
Stories like these can be heard from all the towns where many children below the age of 15 are listening to the chirping of birds for the first time in their life.
The question that begs an answer is will we be able to retain this pleasant interlude in our otherwise heavily polluted existence once the lockdown is lifted? The short answer alas is a big and resounding no.
But a more qualified answer would be, if we continue with business as usual then the mountains will again retreat behind a pall of smoke and the birds will be replaced by honking cars. But if we learn our lessons well and look for alternative ways of doing business and employ emerging new green technologies that are presented by the 17 sustainable development goals we can retain both the environmental integrity and a comfortable life for ourselves.
Initially it will take time to shift from our old polluting ways but a determined and time-bound effort will do the trick.
If the industries shift from polluting fuel to cleaner fuels like CNG or PNG and renewable energy like biomass and solar it will bring down the carbon emission by a huge margin. Coupled with this effort if the city completely overhauls its usage of electricity bulbs and shifts en mass to LED, both inside the houses as well as in the street light, and the waste management is done at the individual residential level then what reaches to the landfill will come down to almost zero. A lot of garbage will end up as manure and raw material that can be recycled in specific industrial like iron and steel, plastic, glass, paper and others. It will save the environment from methane and particulate emission to a great degree.
Outside the cities, agricultural field would have to adopt zero waste farming techniques and move away from over dependence on wheat and rice. It’s not that rice and wheat would be done away with, but their acreage can be increased on decreased depending upon the buffer stock available with the government. This kind of dynamic crop rotation will help in soil regeneration and restoration. Availability of technologies like mobile and internet can help government create a nimble system of early warning to help farmers make right choices of crops and also the time of sowing it.
This will help mitigate, to a large extent, burning of crop stubble. Use of water resistant crops for a couple of years will also help in restoring the water table and the general moisture in the fields. This too will go a long way in reducing dry spells and the amount of dust thrown up into the atmosphere.
Promoting greenery within the city and protecting biodiversity around it will create a natural pollutant soaking lungs that will keep the air clean.
Most importantly we will have to figure out a way to address our mobility to commute within the city. Cars arrived on the scene just a hundred years ago and as the city traffic stands today it seems they have run their course. Persisting with them is understandable in cases where old and infirm are involved, otherwise we need to step away from the gas pedal and pedal the bicycles and use the public transport. Try walking and don’t complain about heat or cold, our grand parents were walking just half a century ago and they didn’t die. Actually they were far fitter than any of us without paying heavy gym fees.
By employing these and many more small adjustments we humans will be able to maintain our comfortable lifestyles while also giving enough reprieve to environment to recoup itself.
As the present lockdown has shown you don’t need to do anything. Nature restores itself most of the time. All it needs is the human to take himself out of the equation for some time.
Lockdown has given us a glimpse of what a beautiful life we can live in harmony with nature. All we need to do is to soak in the experience and build upon it to make a conscious beginning where our children can have best of the both the worlds – material comfort in the lap of magnificent nature.

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COVID19: Few Endanger Many

Ever since the “Janata curfew”, was announced by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on March 22, 2020 and then a 21-day lockdown from March 24, a peculiar phenomenon is visible across the country. Despite assurances by the authorities and the administration, access to local stores and affluence among many to buy stuff, a section of the middle class is behaving worse than the genuinely deprived and underprivileged souls.
I witnessed a rush to buy things that weren’t needed on the night of March 21, then on March 23 and then a day before the hotspots were sealed for three to four days.
On the first occasion I saw an interesting phenomenon that the so-called well educated crowding the grocery stores and jostling to out smart the other to pretty much buy whatever they could lay their hands on. Surprisingly, the grocery store owner had to put his foot down by asking everyone out make a line that adhered to social distancing, wear a mask and made a rule that no more than 4 people will enter the store at a time. But then those who entered first started piling up and wasting time and had to be told to hurry up so that the others could buy things too.
The purchase pattern also showed up some interesting facts. Basics such as rice, pulses, atta, oil and ghee were lying on the shelf, what had flown off it were junk items like maggi, other noodles, biscuits, bhujias, chips, cookies, cakes.
This pattern was repeated again within 48 hours when the 21-day lockdown was announced. This time people stuffed their bags with the basics. The grocery store owner kept telling the people he would remain open through the lockdown period, there was no need to panic, but no one listened and soon a large majority had to return empty handed.
Within two days of the lockdown every system was in place to provide for every daily needs. It included milkman coming to your society gate. A vegetable vendor started parking himself with fresh vegetables for five to eight hours daily. Grocery stores were functional and were sufficiently well stocked. They were lying empty for most of the time till the state government announced a list of areas that would be sealed for four days. Again there was pandemonium that wasn’t induced by a pandemic but unexplained panic.
It seemed like the end of the world scene, people clamouring for whatever they could lay their hands on. They disregarded the social distancing norms, most of them didn’t wear any mask and crowded the stores, vegetable vendor and some even brought their children with them.
It was thought that seventeen days into the lockdown would have drilled some sense into the people that they are one of the most fortunate ones who have so much around them to comfortably park themselves in their homes. But no! Disregarding their good fortune or taking it for granted they kept pushing their luck while jeopardising the others.
Thrice in a space of 17 days people indulged in panic buying despite proven availability of goods around them. For the first time it was the seller who was discouraging them not to buy or crowd him.
Panic buying was accompanied by insolent demands, “do you have pizza toppings? My child can’t have the normal lunch you know,” “Do you have Dunhill cigarettes?” “But you used to keep it, why can’t you bring it for me. I’ll pay.” “Do you have cup cakes?” then there was a person who was whispering conspiratorially with the chemist. Later the chemist told me in a sheepish tone that our man was insisting that he get a very specific brand of condom, others won’t do.
This sense of entitlement and complete disregard for your own and others’ safety makes you feel how hollow is the standard blabbering of the economists, policymakers and the chatterati circuit in general that says, “literacy and economic empowerment will bring in a kind of improved human resource and better citizens.”
If this is the way the well off, well placed and well cared for are behaving then we can’t grudge those who are really suffering in these times of crisis.
The mindless crowding thrice during the last 21 days not only in a particular well-off sector in NOIDA but in every part of the country is what will play out in the coming days in the form of COVID19 spread.
One can say people will pay for their avarice. But the sad part is many will pay for the avarice of the few. That’s unfair.
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