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Gujarat’s rural indebtedness

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By Rajiv Shah
A closer perusal of the new National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) report, released this month, makes an interesting revelation. Titled “Key Indicators of Debt and Investment in India”, the report, based on NSSO’s 70th round, has found that there are 260 rural households in Gujarat out of every 1000 which reported outstanding cash loans. A breakup of the data suggest that there are 80 out every 1000 rural households which reported taking loan at an interest rate between 25 and 30 per cent, and another 88 out of 1000 which reported taking loan at an even higher rate of interest, i.e. 30 per cent and higher.
This would mean that there are 168 out of every 1000 households which reported taking loan at a very rate of interest. Considering that there are in all 260 indebted households which reported outstanding loans in Gujarat, this would mean that a whopping 64.6 per cent households (168 every 1000 households) which reported taking loan at such high rate of interest!
A com…

Gujarat: Dilemma of low income from agriculture

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By Rajiv Shah
There have been loud claims, which continue to be made till date, that agricultural growth in Gujarat has been a “success story”, which other states must emulate. It is also suggested that Gujarat’s agricultural growth rose from 3.3 per cent per annum in the 1990s to nearly 9 per cent over the last one decade – notwithstanding claims by some experts who say the problem is with the choice of a wrong base year. The argument runs of following lines: Gujarat has written the success story despite facing challenges like depletion of water tables, deterioration of soil and water conditions due to salinity ingress along the sea coast, irregularity of rainfall, and recurrent drought. However, few have sought to see what impact has it made on the actual income of the agriculturists of Gujarat, and how much they have gained vis-à-vis other states. Now, new figures released this month by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) in its report, “Key Indicators of Situation of Agr…

Vulnerable women: Victims of neglect

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By Rajiv Shah
The Nirbhaya case may have helped bring cases of violence against women sharply into focus, yet large number of a women activists have begun to wonder, as to why, if the victim is from a vulnerable community, she rarely draws attention. The mysterious death of a lady tribal police constable from Rajpipla in Gujarat — Vasanti Vasava — between November 24 and 26, 2014 highlights how a state machinery treats atrocities committed on such women. Tables were turned only after the Gujarat Women Rights Council, a recently floated group by a well-known dalit rights activist, Manjula Pradeep, took up the death of Vasanti as a case of sexual assault and murder at a time when the police was trying to turn it into a “simple case of suicide”.
Manjula was busy in Vadodara district with a month-long campaign on violence against women, which had begun on November 25, declared by the UN as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The campaign was to continue for near…

Gujarat health sector: A lurking rural-urban gap

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By Rajiv Shah
Latest data of the Sample Registration System (SRS), operating under the Census of India, suggest that Gujarat suffers from a huge rural-urban divide in infant mortality rate (IMR) rate compared to most other Indian states. Statistics offered by the SRS Bulletin, finalized in September 2014, show that Gujarat’s rural IMR is 43 per 1000, as against the urban IMR of 22 per 1000, suggesting a whopping gap of 21, higher than 20 major Indian states, with the exception of Assam.
Interestingly, the gap remains high despite the fact that well-known experts have been pointing towards poor state of rural infrastructure in Gujarat for the last several years. Apparently, their voice is not being heard. The CEPT University’s Prof Darshini Mahadevia, pointed towards this in 2007, when she wrote that the main problem with Gujarat’s IMR was a very high rural IMR compared to urban IMR. “Other states have shown far better improvement in rural healthcare than Gujarat. This neglect of rural …

Gujarat’s lag in household power consumption

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By Rajiv Shah
The Gujarat government has long claimed that one of the major reasons for the state’s economic progress has been its “excellent” power sector performance. The state’s policy makers have argued, on the basis of Government of India data, that Gujarat’s power consumption, in per capita terms, is one of the highest in India. Gujarat’s new chief secretary D Jagatheesa Pandian, for instance, said in an interview in 2013, quoting Central Electricity Commission figures, when he headed the state energy department, that the per capita consumption of electricity in Gujarat in 2012 was around 1,516 units as against the national average of 879 units. He insisted, “This figure indicates the progress and growth happening in the state. In Gujarat, state utilities are providing an uninterrupted supply of electricity, quality and reliable power to all consumers.” While this may be showcased to prove that Gujarat is at the top in the power sector, it does not tell the full story.
No doubt, t…

We want to annihilate caste, but without alternative media?

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By Rajiv Shah
There is an increasing view among civil society groups that the established media is “not responsive” to the needs and aspirations of civil society. I would like to be audacious: I think the complaint is totally misplaced. Working with the Times of India for nearly two decades, and looking after Gandhinagar beat for 15 years, last as political editor, I knew the constraints under which one had to work. There were some very specific “holy cows”, and this wasn’t just true of the Times of India, but of all media houses with presence in Gujarat: One can report whatever was true, but “business interests” of the paper should be taken care of. I always believed – it was wrong to complain: It was business interests alone that drove news. If business interests of the newspaper were hit, the news wouldn’t go through, you could be in trouble.
I remember, once I got terribly disturbed when my paper published an editorial page article, (presumably by Jug Suraiya), that news something…

How to be newsy: Choosing wheat from the chaff

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By Rajiv Shah
So, while preparing a short version, or news, of what is happening around you, as a journalist, it is necessary to identify for a journalist the big question: “What is news?” Though involved in formal journalism since 1979, I personally never thought of putting down the issue of “What is news” in black and white till about three years ago, when I had to introduce myself in order to be a blogger for the Times of India; as someone, my editor thought, to my amusement, had “wide experience” with bureaucrats and politicians in Gandhinagar. Quite in line with what I thought, I gave two definitions of news, while writing about myself – that “news is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising” (Lord Northcliffe, 19th century British publisher), or “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations” (George Orwell). I thought these definitions fitted well into the type of job I was involved in – to cull…

A Gujarat ‘model’ in budget making

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By Rajiv Shah
Will the Government of India’s new policy framework for budget adopt the “model” worked out by the Gujarat government under Narendra Modi, in which the richer states should walk away with a much higher cake of the Central funds as compared to the poorer states? It would seem so, if one takes a closer look at one of the most crucial documents prepared by the Gujarat government late last year, but not made public because of reasons best known to the officialdom. Submitted to the Centre-appointed 14th Finance Commission, the document crucially calls for “an urgent need to include” a formula in devolution of Central funds which would “incentivize economic efficiency.”
Handed over to the Centre in October 2013 and still under consideration, the Gujarat government specifically says in the document, “It is important to incentivize the states with high tax contribution”, and subsequently “national growth”. This is particularly important because, according to it, “post-1991, in the…

Flutter in NGO circle... What's changing?

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By Rajiv Shah
There is a flutter among voluntary organisations in Gujarat, as elsewhere. With the change of guards at the Centre, there is a rising apprehension about what would be the government's new policy towards civil society, in Gujarat as well as in India. Would the NGOs’ space shrink? Would they have to make political compromises with the powers-that-be for the sake of survival? What kind of structural changes they might have to undergo in case they have to survive in the new atmosphere? What would happen to sources of foreign funding, on which many NGOs depend? These are some of the most common questions currently being asked by several leading members of civil society, which have involved themselves in different types of activities, developmental or rights-based, across Gujarat. Informal meetings have been held. Despite their differences in approach, all of them agree: That there is a need to find fresh ways to work in the new situation.
Without any doubt, the situation …

Gujarat's development dilemma

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By Rajiv Shah
A few days back, I received an email from a non-resident Indian, working as an expert researcher in a US consultancy firm which provides different types of financial services. He said he was googling around on Gujarat development issues and chanced to see my story, based on analysis carried out by an IAS officer who retired as additional chief secretary, Gujarat government, CJ Jose. He was “helping out” Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in any possible way he could, and had followed Arvind Kejriwal’s visit to Gujarat closely. And, he had begun doing “some research” on the Gujarat development model, about which so much was being talked about. I am not revealing his name, as he asked me not to quote him.
Referring to my story, his email said, “I know Kejriwal has questioned Modi’s claims of more than 10 per cent agriculture growth, and has said Gujarat agriculture growth has been 1.18 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), whereas you claim the growth to be 0.82 per cent. Could …

Official government resolution on how Gujarat was made "preferred destination" for Tatas

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It is a matter of general knowledge that five years ago the Tata  Motors was provided huge subsidies to shift its Nano plant from West Bengal to Gujarat, following a meeting between Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and top tycoon Ratan Tata. Ever since then, he has been hardselling Gujarat as the topmost investment destination for India. However, for long the Gujarat government kept a document which allowed the subsidy allowed subsidies a well-guarded secret. Prominent environmentalist Rohit Prajapati has now put the document in public domain:

Modi tax?

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By Rajiv Shah
BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi was in Goa in January second week. He took a jibe at former Union environment and forests minister Jayanthi Natarajan – saying there was a “Jayanthi tax” when she was in charge of the ministry. Modi alleged many files in the ministry were pending only because of a new tax in Delhi called “Jayanthi tax”, and unless it was “paid” no file would move. "We've heard of income tax, sales tax, commercial tax in the past, but this is the first time we are hearing of a Jayanthi tax!" he declared. When he made the remark, I humbly thought, what’s new about it. Politicians of all hues are alike. They all charge a “tax” for all that they do. My experience in Gandhinagar as correspondent wasn’t any different.
Indeed, I wasn’t wrong. My friend Mahesh Pandya, who, as environmental engineer (he calls himself environmental expert; “I am not an environmentalist”, he says), moves around Gujarat campaigning on environmental issues …

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