CP: Your name. DoB. Showed me my pic and I said “yes mam”. So u know about Kanishka?
Me: yes mam..its the name of an emperor from the 2nd century AD..his empire stretched from what we today call Tajikistan in the north, to Mathura in the south.
CP: what was his religion?
Me: he was Buddhist mam.
CP: Why was he Buddhist?
Me: mam I am not sure whether he was Buddhist by ancestory or by conversion.but I know that he is famous for convening the 4th Buddhist council in Kashmir.
CP: have you heard of the city of … (I don remember what she asked)
Me: no mam im not aware of it.
CP: we are in an economic downturn, but car sales are still going up.. .why is that?
Me: (after a brief pause)…mam cars are only bought by a very small section of our population, and also our GDP growth still remains 1 of the fastest in the world
CP: That’s ok… but u have cars available from 1 lakh all the way higher, so it’s not restricted to a particular income class
Me: mam acc to Arjun sengupta committee about 77% Indians live below 20rs a day
CP: all that is fine..but still, give some reason
Me: mam im not being able to pin-point a particular reason for this
CP: ok.you have to go to a lonely island, and you can carry only 1 grain along to
eat. which one would you take
Me: (after a brief pause). I’ll carry rice as it can be boiled and eaten whereas grains like wheat need to be converted to flour
CP: but can u survive with just rice? Best u can do is a pulao (everyone laughed)
Me: (with a smile) mam in such a situation I can’t aspire for much variety but rice will ensure I survive
CP: ok..how would you reduce air pollution?
Me: Mam I would ensure the norms with regard to vehicular pollution are followed. New forms of fuel such as solar battery run cars as well as fuels which give water as exhaust must be introduced. I then explained the emission-quota trading system introduced in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
CP: what about car pollution in particular?
Me: I once again talked about new fuels and CNG etc
CP: (interrupting me) won’t you focus on public transport?
Me: Yes mam I was talking of a 2-pronged strategy. On the 1 hand, we need to reduce the pollution of cars which are already on the roads, wherein the fuels and emission norms I was talking about would come into play. On the other hand, we need to ensure that the actual NUMBER of cars on the roads goes down. The role of public transport is very important in this regard. A lot of people don’t take public transport because of inconvenience so we must ensure there is public transport that caters to different classes for eg air conditioned buses. We also need to increase public awareness about this. Chairman pointed to a member to ask questions
M1: Since, u’ve worked in the banking industry, how would you increase credit to farmers?
Me: Sir I think in order to increase credit we must at the same time focus on crop insurance.This is because a lot of farmers are risk averse and dependent on monsoon and are not willing to invest and take risk. Also, we must re-capitalise our RRBs and co¬operative societies like this year’s budget has done. These institutions have also suffered from poor management over the years.
M1: But we put so much money into Air India and we are petty when it comes to farm credit
Me: Sir farm credit allocation has actually increased by 1 lakh crores in the budget this year.
M1: But sectors like construction also keep getting so much money pumped into them. U think it is right?
Me: Sir sectors related to infrastructure have long gestation periods but are very important for the economy. This is why a lot of funds are channeled to these sectors.
M1: Don’t you think it is petty that a lot is made out the loan waiver for farmers while so much many is pumped into Air India? Isn’t it petty?
Me: Sir, the point that is put forward as criticism for loan waiver is what is called ‘moral- hazard’ in economics. When a loan is waived off, then the incentive to repay is lowered even the next time.
M1 (interrupting) – but why should air India’s loans be waived off
Me: Sir I don’t think air India should get any loan waivers, the management should be
accountable for its performance.
M1: If you were to tell the 1 biggest challenge that the country faces today, where we should focus, what would it be?
Me: It would be the development of our human resource. Both, in terms of its health as well as education. We need to do that in order to reap what we call the demographic dividend. If we are not able to do that our human resource would turn into a liability instead of an asset.
M1: What needs to be done for education? We have so many world-class institutions
Me: Sir, the problem I think lies with primary education. Although our enrollment rates are near universal now, but the quality of education is poor.
M2: Do you think there is any use of educating everyone in society?
Me: Sir I think every individual in society should have the choice to be educated. In our country, extreme poverty doesn’t allow many people to have the choice of being educated. He repeated the question in diff words and I gave the same answer Passes on to next member
M2: So you r are a student of economics, and that too the Delhi school of economics
Me: Yes Sir.
M2: And you’ve gone for a survey of the NREGA.
He probably asked the full form of nrega and where I’d gone for the survey (Dungarpur).
M2: What is Dungarpur famous for?
Me: Sir I do not know.
M2: What were the findings of your survey?
Me: Sir on the whole the implementation was good, much better than the rest of the districts that were surveyed.
M2: (interrupting)– but there were problems
Me: yes sir some problems were there
M2: (interrupting) so it was a failure
Me: no sir I wouldn’t call it a failure. Infact Mr Jean Dreze, the economist, who was in charge of the survey told me once that if u want to see the proper implementation of NREGA in India, Dungarpur is the place you should go to.
M2: (interrupting) What were the problems?
Me: The biggest problem was the collective measurement of works. Work was assigned to groups of workers and they were paid on the basis of the work done by the whole group. So individual workers had no incentive to work hard. Everyone shirked and no work was done. Even the measurement itself was not proper.
M2: so what should be done?
Me: Sir the quality of supervision must improve. The engineers should be trained properly, and work must be measured on an individual basis.
M2: who is responsible for the implementation on NREGA at the local level? Is it the collector, or sarpanch, or who?
Me: Sir the Panchayti Raj Institutions are the implementing agencies for the act
M2: but who is the PERSON responsible?
Me: Sir I do not know that.
M2: So was the act a success in Dungarpur?
Me: to a significant degree sir
M2: (interrupting) give me a yes or no.
Me: No sir.
M2: So it was a startling disappointment
Me: No sir it was not because the implementation was very good on a relative level as compared to other districts in the country.
M2: what do you think is happening globally, is capitalism crumbling….or..is communism crumbling?
Me: Sir some problems have cropped up in the capitalist system recently
M2: (interrupting) who is responsible?
Me: Sir the major issue has been lapses in regulatory oversight
M2: Ah! Again. Don’t you think it is a matter of ethics?
Me: Sir in a capitalist system, the primary drive is profit.ethics are important but at the same time we can’t expect everyone to be honest. It is the job of the regulator to ensure that vested interests do not grow in the system
M2: (interrupting) but what is the responsibility of the companies themselves..do u know about the Satyam case?
Me: Yes sir in that case the balance sheets were fudged in order to increase the share price
M2: Is it similar to what happened in the US?
Me: There is a minor similarity sir
M2: (interrupting) Is it only minor?
Me: Sir I’m only aware of a minor similarity
M2: Don’t u think the auditors and the companies are responsible? (hardly audible at this point)
Me: Sir could you repeat the question
M2: Don’t u think the auditors, rating agencies and the companies are responsible? Do you know why the crisis happened in the US?
Me: Yes sir I know.
M2: (interrupting) Said something I don’t remember.also repeated the question of whether I know how the crisis happened
Me: (I think with a smile) Sir I do know why it happened.it was the outcome of the coming together of lenders and sub-prime borrowers through intermediaries whch developed a vested interest in the process
M2: (interrupting) u know apart from satyam we have the case of kingfisher . u think governance and ethics have played a role?
Me: sir in the case of kingfisher I don’t think it is a matter of ethics. A lot of factors have come into play..for example I think their business model is flawed
M2: (interrupting) why do u think so
Me: sir they only catered to the upper classes..
M2: (interrupting) that is not true
Me: Sir for other classes they had a different airline called kingfisher red..
M2: (interrupting) said something I don’t remember
Me: Sir exogenous factors like very high taxes on aviation turbine fuel and.
M2 again interrupted and said something I don’t remember
Passes to next member
M3: Have you heard of Nandigram?
Me: Yes sir. It is where the Tata Nano plant was to be setup. (Pause for 1 -2 sec) Sir actually I am not sure whether it was Nandigram or Singur
M3: Ratan Tata recently made a statement that nano is a lost opportunity (I don’t remember the exact words of this qtn)
Me: I did not come across this statement sir.
M3: Ok. Tell me what is happening to the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ of the world, and in the developing world. What or who is responsible?
Me: Sir in the case of India..
M3: (Interrupting) Lets say the developing world, infact lets start with India. What is happening to inequality and why?
Me: Sir in India, although we undertook economic reforms in the last 2 decades, they have not been accompanied by the requisite governance reforms. The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were passed in order to bring governance closer to the people at the grass-roots, but it has not been implemented.The funds, functions and functionaries have not been passed on to local governments and there is over-centralisation. Although schemes have been formed with the right intentions, they have not been in-tune with local aspirations. Further, the implementers at local level are government employees who get their salaries regardless of what the scheme achieves. There is no incentive structure for them.There should be a system of rewards and penalties. Thirdly, our growth has been services led and has not created enough jobs as services are less employment elastic than manufacturing.
M1: (Interrupting) – Is that the case?
Me: Yes sir.
Me: Sir growth of labour intensive manufacturing exports, like China, has not taken place in India because our infrastructure has been inadequate. This has rendered manufactured products un-competitive at home and abroad.
M3: Since you’ve talked about governance reforms, tell us some physical and administrative reforms which must be carried out in brief.
Me: Sir the local self governments should be empowered by devolution as envisaged in the 73rd and 74th amendments. So decentralisation is 1. The implementing agencies for schemes should be given auntonomy as well as made accountable through a system of incentives. There could be a contract system for local implementers. This would be the second. Also, the incentive structure for senior civil servants should be overhauled. They should be judged on objective criteria arrived at by consultations with stakeholders. For example, if it is the Rural Development Ministry, the criteria should be arrived at after discussions with the local people in the villages. This would be the third.
M3 interrupts and passes on to M4
M4: You know a lot of states provide subsidies to companies to attract investment; do you think it is right to do so?
Me: Sir I think it is a legitimate tool for attracting investment but there should be clear guidelines and framework..
M4: (Interrupting) Yes that is true, transparency must be there, but apart from that, you know these companies avail of the subsidies and then just shift to another state at times
Me: Sir the companies would only stay in a state if there are some conditions met, the states cannot solely rely on subsidies. First, there should be demand for the products in the area, so the state has to focus on increasing per capita incomes and purchasing powers with the aid of rural development. Secondly, the infrastructure in the state must be promoted so that supply costs are lowered. So it has to be a broad strategy and industries would then thrive in the area.
Then he gave me an example of T-series which changed its ownership structure to continue availing subsidies. Soon as I started commenting on it he said he dint mean the particular case only. This was weird. He then suddenly changed the topic.
M4: Do you know about Gandhian economics?
Me: Yes sir. Gandhian economics envisages villages as self-sufficient republics where all the basic needs of the people are met indigenously.
M4: What is the relevance of the charkha, is it a tool or a symbol…what is it?
Me: Sir the charkha is a tool as well as a symbol. It was the symbol of the swadeshi movement when foreign goods were boycotted. It is also meant to be a tool for self-sufficiency as cloth can be weaved locally.
M4: Do you think Gandhian economics is relevant today?
Me: Sir in today’s globalizing world, we have to move beyond it. Although Gandhian economics is still relevant because even today the basic needs of the people are not met in our country and there are problems like malnutrition in our villages. In that regard Gandhian economics is relevant as we need to move towards a situation where the villages are self-sufficient with regard to the basic needs. However, we need to move beyond it in terms of development.
M4 looks like he’ll say something but the Chairman suddenly says “Thank You”.