A Matter Of Economics
By Dr R. Balashankar
Politicians who assume that freebies rather than performance will fetch them votes are in for rude shock. Karunanidhi government in Tamil Nadu and the CPM governments in Kerala and West Bengal were past masters in offering sops to electorates. But they were voted out mainly because they were corrupt and non-performing.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has created a record of sorts by not only not offering doles to the voters but also insisting on them to pay up for the bills and services like water, electricity, net connectivity and other infrastructure facilities. The man who has ushered in a double digit agriculture growth in his state has not even once offered free power or water or other public money squandering initiatives the way UPA is doing at the centre. Even notorious private corporates deliver satisfactory services to the public in general and the farmer in particular and do their business profitably in Gujarat because of the work culture Modi has devised. Compare it with Delhi, the national capital. Here BRT is a scandal. People are stoic, skeptic, and in spite of it being in operation for about five years, it has not been able to satisfy the commuter and traffic jam has become a constant irritation. Similarly, the power privatisation in Delhi is mired in controversy. The electricity bills have gone up astronomically since privatisation, service has not improved a bit and the private operators are claiming that they are incurring heavy losses. Reports say that the Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dixit will replenish their coffers by offering Rs.4000 crore from the state exchequer.
Modi is also building a BRT in Ahmedabad, which is hugely popular with the public. He widened the roads adding four extra lanes, there is no traffic snarl and the public believe that the BRT corridor will increase their property value manifold. A motor mechanic in the suburb, Chandkhera, Suleiman, who bought a small garage for a few lakhs some years ago says, “My garage will be worth a crore once the BRT is complete.” Modi, certainly does things differently.
The Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB), like other state boards, was in the red with mounting losses to the tune of Rs. 2400 crores in 1999. The people were fed up with the mismanaged power distribution system. The general perception in those days was that it is almost impossible to get out of this mess.
The reform proved the trigger for industry migrating to Gujarat from states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Haryana. The Jyotirgram Yojana, launched by Modi in 2003, ensured within a record time of three years, 100 per cent electrification of all villages with 24/7 power supply for domestic and commercial use.
For many decades the farmers were dissatisfacted with the prevailing power supply system for agriculture which suffered from uncertainty in timing, fluctuating voltage and rampant power theft. The new scheme introduced by Modi achieved a major breakthrough in power supply for ground water management with eight hours daily power of full voltage and on a pre-announced schedule. Far reaching implications of this programme for ground water management have been clearly brought out in an impact assessment study carried out by Tushar Shah and Shilp Verma in 2008 quoted in RD Dholakia’s book.
Modi took innovative farming to the door steps of the farmer along with his Jyotirgram Yojana. Strict and punitive measures like cutting power supply on default of bills were not very popular to begin with. Farmer unions, used to free and pampered power supply, though erratic and inadequate protested cutting connections on non-payment of bills. But when it became clear that the system was put in place effectively, and supply was assured and regular farmers complied and willingly cooperated to their own advantage. Similarly scientific farming, soil testing and use of manure, high yielding seeds and pesticides became a habit. An innovative and massive extension effort was evolved to establish regular and effective linkages with the farming community. A mega extension effort, called the Krishi Mahotsav, was Gujarat’s answer to this challenge. Krishi Mahotsav, was the result of a lot of effort, formulating the process and content. Modi says that it was difficult to convince the farmers initially that such massive and meticulous planning could be made for covering 18000 villages during month long extension effort. It involved around one lakh personnel from as many as 18 concerned government departments. Around 700 scientists from agriculture universities were involved for transfer of technology from lab to land. An ambitious programme was prepared for issue of soil health care and kisan credit card for each farmer and micro level planning for each block and village for recommending profitable alternative crop patterns based on soil health, average market price for the past five years and average rainfall pattern of the past 20 years. Recommendations for improved agricultural practices and input use efficiency were also made. This month long programme was carried out every year since 2005 in the scorching heat of the month of May.
This innovative approach was dubbed initially by some as a publicity stunt involving sheer wastage of government money. Some reservations were also evident even within babudom and agricultural scientists. Modi, however, decided to pursue the programme with determination and foresight. “Such an innovative and integrated massive effort galvanized the administration and brought about a paradigm shift in extension effort. The extension machinery of Gujarat, which was not known for its streamlined and vibrant character, turned the corner and acquired a new sense of direction and commitment. As it were, the giant elephant, known for its leisurely walking, suddenly started dancing!” (High Growth Trajectory in Gujarat Agriculture).
Experts have bemoaned the slow and uncertain growth of Indian Agriculture in recent decades. Frantic efforts are being made to evolve a strategy that will enable India to achieve a four per cent growth for Indian agriculture which is considered so essential for achieving an overall economic growth rate of 10 per cent. Gujarat in ten years has achieved a double digit growth which was almost zero for many decades before. An enviable feat.