Monday, September 28, 2015

Vivan Sharan and Prachi Arya on "Women in Agriculture", Businessworld, 21 September

Women in Indian Agriculture

Women in Indian Agriculture
Vivan Sharan and Prachi Arya
In the run up to Independence Day, Professor Ashok Gulati wrote a scathing critique of what he has described as “elitist biases in public policy”, that ignore the reality of the masses in rural areas. The reality he describes is that of low rates of growth in agriculture; a sector that majority of Indians still depend on.  He lamented the excessive preponderance of economic policy discourse in the country on creating “a dazzling manufacturing sector” and “world-class infrastructure of bullet trains”. Professor Gulati’s critique is not misplaced. Indeed the low growth rates of agriculture (averaging 2 per cent) should alarm the elite. Instead, the elite discourse pivots on the need for farmers to move out of agriculture and find other more productive occupations. 
Why is it that a sector that employs 110 million people is treated with such lack of empathy in India’s policy discourse? Why is it that financial market gurus are only concerned about the stagnation of the Index of Industrial Production? Why has the agricultural sector received scant media attention aside from when it is associated with price rise or the occasional opinion column on farmer suicides? The short answer would be that the core issues involved are not proximate to the urban elite. After all, issues connected to agriculture include fundamental challenges such as land rights – that only get highlighted through the false binary of the shrill political debate on land acquisition. Moreover while everyone has an opinion on the need for a balanced current account, few deliberate on the connections of its burgeoning deficit with the agricultural sector. 
Perhaps another fundamental reason can be posited in connection to the lack of emphasis on agriculture in policy discourse. When we picture the Indian farmer, we see Gajendra Singh, who took his life at the Aam Admi Party rally earlier this year. A poor man, draped in traditional attire, sinewy-armed thanks to his endless toil; he would rather be a city driver or at the very least a construction worker. His concerns can be easily tucked away. The false premise of this image is that the Indian farmer is a man. In fact, according to the last Census, women constitute over 48 per cent of agricultural labourers while men trailed behind at just under 35 per cent. Agricultural labourers, unlike cultivators, work on other people’s land and make up the largest share of agricultural workers. Moreover, while the work participation rate of urban women is significantly low at 15.4 per cent; rural women contribute nearly twice that figure.
It is no secret that economic and social empowerment of women is central to development. For instance states with higher proportion of female headed households have higher female literacy rates. The average female literacy rate in the country is an abysmal 65 per cent. Whereas in states such as Kerala and Himachal Pradesh, where the percentage of female headed households is around double that of the country average (of around 12 per cent), the rates are closer to 96 and 91 per cent respectively. In turn higher levels of female literacy indicate a direct correlation with higher income levels of agricultural households. 
How does this calibrate with India’s economic policy discourse? There are at least three ways in which the numbers and trends mentioned above can be better reflected in policy and multi-stakeholder interventions in the agriculture sector. 
The value ascribed to women's labour compared to that of men often differs based on the type of society i.e. patriarchal or matriarchal; regardless of the actual effort expended. Prominence of patriarchy has led to an undermining of women’s contribution to agriculture in India. To rectify this and the prevalent income disparity the first suggestion is that Centrally Sponsored Schemes such as those administered by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation must develop special provisions for women beneficiaries. This could be done much in the same way that different social groups such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are targeted. And this targeting must be on the basis of welfare linked metrics such as levels of female literacy. 
Second, women’s credit needs have largely been served largely through Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) and self-help groups (SHGs) in the agricultural sector. Financial product design of the banking and insurance system does yet not take into account critical gender differences that reflect in aspects such as social equity, intra-household bargaining positions, and restrictions on mobility. Women also often face additional constraints when accessing agriculture services; for instance formal credit approval from banks often requires ownership of material assets to serve as collateral. 
The Indian Agricultural Census 2010-11 provides a stark reminder that the rate of growth in the number of female land holders and the corresponding land area ownership continues to be low despite amendments to The Hindu Succession Act (HSA). The Act includes daughters as equal coparceners for intestate succession, giving them an equal share of their parent’s land as that of a son. Given the private sector’s ability to innovate, financial product design must better align with social contexts and in turn profits from an enhanced agricultural economy.  
Third, the role of civil society is no doubt critical as well, particularly in highlighting the specific needs of women in agriculture and raising awareness. For instance studies have shown that most farmers are unaware of crop insurance. This lack of awareness is further exacerbated in the case of women. There is therefore a clear imperative for civil society to get involved in providing timely information to rural women on a host of areas ranging from types of crop insurance to agricultural inputs and weather patterns. This can be done through a number of means, particularly by leveraging the penetration of technology such as telecommunications. While examples abound of such interventions, the scale and ambition are not yet commensurate with the need.
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Op Ed by Vivan Sharan on The State vs. The Foreign NGO, Pioneer, 09 September

The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, is vaguely-worded. This gives the state an undesirable discretionary lever. Instead of obsessively regulating the development sector, perhaps, the Government should consider ring-fencing itself from ‘foreign' interference 
The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, and the rules there under have been receiving much attention in light of the tighter scrutiny of foreign funded NGOs recently. FCRA is a regulatory tool that enables monitoring and control of foreign funding. It was first devised by the Indira Gandhi Government, and then revived in a strict new avatar under the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance Government.
The most prominent characteristic of this law is in its inherent vagueness. It fails to define ‘political activities’ even as it prohibits funding from all ‘foreign sources’ for it. And in India, a rule of thumb is that when interpretation of regulation is left completely up to the imagination of the state, the net result is nearly always discretionary and prohibitive. For this legacy, the previous Government is squarely accountable.
Meanwhile, the new Government has been actively experimenting with the FCRA and its implementation. The latest casualty, Greenpeace, will no longer be able to use its FCRA account to receive foreign money. Greenpeace is an international NGO that mobilises communities for causes such as stopping the use of nuclear energy that can indeed be construed as some form of ‘political action’.
In fact, even a cursory look at the related Internet discussion forums highlights that literate and digitally empowered India is largely supportive of the move. Greenpeace may find it useful to conduct a survey of public opinion on its own style of functioning. In fact, questions on the FCRA’s prohibitive nature are trivialised by the Greenpeace narrative.
Many organisations under the FCRA scanner are home-grown NGOs that intervene in development where the state has failed to deliver. There is a fundamental reason why India has lakhs of NGOs: It is severely underdeveloped. And it follows that while some NGOs may be set up as shell entities to leverage what they see as ponzi schemes in the form of Centre or State-run social schemes, others are doing legitimate work. In recognition of this, it is incumbent upon the state to focus its efforts on making its own development institutions and processes robust. Once this happens, it will naturally lead to a sifting of wheat from the chaff.
What must make Prime Minister Narendra Modi uncomfortable is that India’s most powerful fair-weather ally, the US, has been vocal in its critique of the FCRA’s (mis)use. Recently, an iconic US business leader was the latest to talk to Mr Modi on his aggressive ring-fencing of the NGO ecosystem. While it should be nobody’s case that Mr Modi tailor his domestic agenda based on US concerns, or even the concerns of what he may perceive to be liberal biases in Indian media reportage, there are at least three things that he must consider in the context of the FCRA.
First, all legislation should be enacted and implemented in the context of the state’s own inherent capacities to interpret them effectively. The problem with FCRA, as stated at the outset, is the lack of precision in defining key terms embedded within. This gives the state a discretionary lever that is less-than-optimal given the imperative of transparency in the state’s functioning. If an Act is promulgated, with all parameters clearly defined, it cannot be questioned since it has parliamentary legitimacy.
Conversely, all Acts promulgated by Parliament are not necessarily legitimate in practice if their interpretation is left to the whims and fancies of the state apparatus.
Second, an unforeseen challenge with the FCRA has been the negative spill-over effect it has had on unrelated areas. The Corporate Social Responsibility clause in the Companies Act, 2013, read with Rule 3 of the CSR Rules 2014, makes CSR mandatory for foreign or Indian companies with more than 51 per cent of foreign direct investment to comply with the extant provisions if they cross various specified financial thresholds.
However, given that the FCRA is a special legislation, it supersedes the Companies Act, 2013. Inadvertently, the FCRA provisions are prohibitive for CSR activities as well. For instance, if a foreign company decides to engage in CSR activity through a third party which in turn engages with a non-FCRA-compliant NGO, it will be in violation of Indian laws.
Some important questions are linked to this second challenge. Can CSR goals ever be achieved if the state makes it this hard for companies to fulfil their obligations? How many FCRA-compliant NGOs are equipped to work with the private sector to discharge such obligations? Why should the state, by virtue of making chartered accountants’ and administrative functions indispensable in the context of the various technical compliance requirements of the FCRA, in effect decide on the size an NGO has to be before it can raise foreign funds?And does the state believe that all companies, no matter what their core sector of work, can become experts in de-constructing the complex development terrain in India?
Third, no country’s regulation, no matter how advanced, is able to keep pace with technological change. In India, this challenge is particularly acute. For instance, the proliferation of e-commerce and taxi companies such as Ola and Uber has made the question of liability of technological intermediaries a central one. In the case of FCRA, a hypothetical example can help illustrate the challenges of regulating something without defining it.
To wit, if an Indian NGO was to receive bitcoins from an unidentified foreign source, and it was to exchange those bitcoins on the Internet with a group of people who then carry out a protest against the state, where will liability be established? Are bitcoins, that are generated by a mathematical algorithm and not issued by any ‘foreign Government’ in particular, a ‘foreign source’? And are there not better ways to regulate in the 21st century given that the Internet is an uncharted jurisdiction?
One way to begin to answer the last question is to pivot the way, the state thinks about transparency. Instead of obsessively focussing on the supply side, why does the state not begin to think about ring-fencing itself from foreign interference by regulating the demand side? In an answer to a recent public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court, the Centre replied that “if political parties are held to be public authorities under the Right to Information Act, it would hamper their smooth internal working”.
And this view no doubt has broad support in Parliament. No political party would want an FCRA-type scanner turned on itself, whether for the aam aadmi or otherwise. Is this not indicative of a deeper hypocritical malaise? In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, one should assume so.
(The writer is a partner at Koan Advisory Group and a visiting fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

Policy Brief co-authored by Vivan Sharan on the New Development Bank, 28 August

At the 2014 BRICS Summit held in July 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil, the heads of the Amember states signed an agreement establishing a New Development Bank (NDB) that will finance infrastructure and sustainable development projects. The NDB is designed to represent all five member nations: it is headquartered in Shanghai, the first President is from India, the first regional office is in Johannesburg, the inaugural Chairman of the Board of Governors, from Russia, and the first Chairman of the Board of Directors, from Brazil. T

o aggregate diverse and informed perspectives on both strategic and operational aspects of the bank's functioning, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) organised an intra-BRICS Experts Workshop on 18-19 June 2015 in New Delhi. The workshop was convened as part of India's knowledge support to the Russian Presidency of BRICS.

The following suggestions are based on the most relevant inputs shared during the workshop. Many of the suggestions are also potential areas for further research.

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Vivan Sharan on BBC radio 4: "The today programme", August 27

Vivan Sharan on "The Louis Berger World", Businessworld, July 27

The shift towards technical assistance means that foreign development consultancies will continue to prosper in developing countries such as India, says Vivan Sharan

A few years back I was approached by a European consultancy to bid for a project as part of the European Union’s (EU) ‘technical assistance’ for India. This project was ostensibly part of the Europe Aid, budget, which is aimed at “reducing poverty in the world, ensuring sustainable development and promoting democracy, peace and security”. The goal of the project was to provide technical assistance to an apex regulatory institution in India. At the outset, the project’s linkage with reducing poverty and sustainable development seemed tenuous. However, the justification provided by Europe Aid and the supposed by in from the local institution, seemed credible enough. I decided to take part in the bid as part of a consortium of entities.
After many rounds of applications and filtering, our consortium won the multimillion euro project. The European consultancy firm took the lead in the consortium, despite not having any physical presence in India. Since the EU guidelines strictly required that a European firm be part of the consortium, I did not question the science behind this. Needless to say, I was na├»ve and thoroughly unprepared for what happened next. 

After an initial unproductive meeting with the Delegation of the EU in India, for which various members of the motley ‘consortium’ flew to India (on EU taxpayers money), it was clear that the European consultancy had no intention of actually harnessing our local technical expertise. It was convinced that the best expertise the consortium could cobble together would necessarily be lawyers from the EU. After making it clear that the entity I was part of did not envision its role as that of a ‘facilitator’, we were side-lined. What followed was a long silence on part of the lead consultancy. 
Frustrated, I reached out to the office of the Delegation of the EU to India, and was thanked for informing them of the lack of communication within the consortium. I was also informed that the project was “very much ongoing”. That was the last I heard from any of the stakeholders involved. I can only assume that the consortium continued to get funded from the EU despite the lack of local ownership of the project.  
I am highlighting this experience in order to offer a brief explanation for the way the traditional ‘donor’ ecosystem works. Since India’s prominence in the global economy has increased and it has become more self-confident on the global stage, the words ‘donor’ and ‘aid’ have become politically incorrect. India no longer receives or solicits ‘aid’ from foreign nations. Therefore the term ‘donor’ has been replaced by ‘partner’ and ‘aid’ by ‘development assistance’. However, many within this ecosystem continue to function as if they were disbursing aid. My own experiences taught me that ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ are only buzz words that are meant for the recipients of aid. They were never meant for the donor community itself. 
The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held in Busan in 2011 is largely considered a turning point in the international discussions on aid and development. It brought together both traditional donors such as Europe Aid and its counterparts in other OECD countries, and ‘emerging’ donors such as countries within the BRICS grouping. This was a dialogue which would be inconceivable even a decade before. It sought to remove once and for all, the dichotomy between traditional ‘”donors” and “recipients”. Among the agreed principles in Busan was “ownership of development priorities by developing countries”. 
Earlier, in 2005, fifteen countries of the EU committed to spend 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Incomes on development assistance flows. After the financial crisis this commitment has been under strain since assistance to developing countries is not seen as a political priority. As result, a number of traditional ‘donors’ have begun to reorient development assistance, to get maximum ‘bang for buck’. For instance, agencies such as the UK’s Department for International Development have decided to completely shift focus to using technical assistance and investments in private sector projects, with an emphasis on working with state governments. 
The shift towards technical assistance means that foreign development consultancies will continue to prosper in developing countries such as India. A handful of them, carefully nurtured by the donor ecosystem, will service a large proportion of the development flows by providing project management and technical assistance expertise.
In this connection, the recent bribery scandal involving the India arm of the New Jersey-based construction management company, Louis Berger Consulting, highlights a symptom of a larger problem. Louis Berger and its peers from the developed world have successfully cornered the programme implementation budgets of traditional donors. Louis Berger recently admitted to violations of the stringent US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The firm paid $976,000 to government officials in Goa for providing “project management consulting services” for a water supply and sewerage project funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (Japan’s development assistance arm).
While Japanese bilateral cooperation in India has a better track record than most, there is very little to suggest that consultancies such as Louis Berger have what it takes to develop “inclusive development partnerships”; a key Busan principle. In fact, even a cursory glance at the websites of the largest development consultancies that receive regular support from donor networks suggests an acute paucity of local knowledge. Their legacies have been built on working in conflict areas and ‘fragile’ states, where they have gone in lock stock and barrel, acquired government contracts through any means necessary, and executed them with the help of donor monies.
A paradigm shift is in order if traditional donors are to gain credibility and achieve qualitatively measurable results.  This will require that they work more closely with civil society and private sector in the countries that they operate. For instance there is no reason why participation of a European firm should be a prerequisite to an EU tender in India! A paradigm shift will also require a rethink in terms of local hiring practices of traditional donors. Why should Indian citizens be paid fractions of what their foreign counterparts are paid within the same institutions (and therefore have close to no sway on programme design decisions)? Until development ‘partners’ recognise the integral value of local expertise, the net result of ‘assistance’ programmes will continue to be perceived as self-serving “peanuts” in the context of India’s development ambitions.
The authot, Vivan Sharan, is a Partner at the Koan Advisory Group and a Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, India 
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