Times of India

If good men do nothing

Considering that the year gone by was one of our best, it is dismaying that Indians continue to be so down on politics. 2006 was the fourth successive year of unprecedented prosperity. India emerged on the global stage, and its arrival was hailed in part by the Indo-U.S. treaty, which finally de-hyphenated it from Pakistan. Justice caught up with three murderers of high status who had subverted it with rishwat and sifarish.   Many states began to implement the Right to Information Act. And the new SEZ policy raised hopes of a true industrial revolution.

Private virtue, public vice

In 1989, a much admired and powerful lady who was raising funds for her NGO, asked me what I did for a living. I told her that I worked for a company. “Oh, but what do you really do—I mean for society?” she said. I became defensive and began to recount our philanthropic activities in the districts where our factories were located. 'Is that all!' thundered the eminence grise. I was hurt by her dismissive attitude, and recently remembered this incident when Sonia Gandhi reminded fawning businessmen in the same imperious tone about their corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR has become a buzz word these days, and one newspaper even has a CSR reporter. But why is it that something so worthy and high-minded leaves me uneasy? I think it is because companies have no business engaging in philanthropy and businessmen should value more what they do.

Thali to plough

Last week's Mittal-Walmart deal is symbolic of an India which is changing quietly. Indians now consume less cereals and more milk, vegetables and fruit. In the past 20 years, per capita consumption of vegetables has trebled in villages and doubled in towns; milk and milk products have doubled in urban and rural areas. The share of high value foods has risen in India's agricultural output from 32 to 44 percent from 1983 to 2003. Cereal consumption has declined even among those below the poverty line, according to the economist, Ashok Gulati's analysis.

The price of potatoes

I sometimes wonder why I pay Rs 10 per kilo for potatoes when the farmer receives only Rs 3. My potatoes travel some distance, I realise, from the farm to the mandi to my bania, and each person in the chain must get his cut. Still, the gap of Rs 7 seems excessive, especially when the American farmer receives Rs 4 to 5. This gap varies, of course, depending on the commodity and the season, but studies by agricultural economists show that farmers in the developed countries do get a bigger share of the consumer price because their distribution chain is shorter.

Things that matter

Lant Pritchett wakes up each morning and worries about the state of India's government schools. Formerly an economist at Harvard and now with the World Bank, Pritchett is happy that 93 % of India's children are now in school as the SRI survey shows. However, digging deeper into the SRI data, Pritchett finds that 53 % of all children in urban India are in private schools. In some states the ratio is much higher, but urban India overall has amongst the highest levels of private primary education in the world.

Saaf Aangan Dreams

In the late seventies I lived with my family in Mexico City, where I noticed that our neighbours would wash the foot path outside their house every day. But we, being good Indians, swept our home, washed our driveway but left the pavement to the municipality. As a result, the walkway outside our neighbours' homes sparkled proudly while ours remained dirty and sad. It didn't take long before we felt ashamed and followed the good ways of our neighbours.

India's mystifying rise

There were many smiling Indian faces last week. Our economy again beat forecasts and grew 8.9% in the April-June quarter. India's economic rise bewilders Indians. No one quite understands why this noisy and chaotic democracy of a billion people has become one of the world's fastest growing economies. This is the fourth year we are looking at around 8% growth, and this follows 22 years of very respectable 6% annual growth. With 25 years of high growth per capita income gains have been huge: from $1,178 in 1980 to $3,051 in 2005 (in ppp).

Lalu Prasad is like Reagan

Train journeys have increasingly become a part of my life. My ancient mother had been ailing in an ashram on the banks of the Beas River in Punjab, and I would try to visit her as often as I could. But she was 91 and age finally caught up with her. She passed away one night after living a life that I expect was better than that of most of my countrymen.

Don’t despair over integrity

One ought to read a great book twice, at least. When I first read Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace I was too young. I was only interested in the plot and the relationships between Natasha, Andrei, and Pierre. When I read it again in my forties, I was deeply moved by its moral concerns. I realised that the novel is really about the way we deceive ourselves, how we are false to others, how we oppress fellow human beings, and how we're deeply unjust in our day to day lives. Most of this moral blindness seems man-made and avoidable. It makes one wonder if this is an intractable human condition, or can we change it?

How to score a self-goal

Truly, we are a wondrous land! In a country where two thirds of the children are undernourished, where 70 percent of the people cannot access safe sanitation and 65 infants die out of a thousand born, we are seriously debating the pesticide levels in a product that is probably the safest in the world from a pesticide perspective. Sadly, the controversy has created a scare in a nation which has among the lowest pesticide residues in its food chain. Indian diets contain roughly 18 percent of acceptable daily intake levels of pesticide versus Western diets which have 40 to 50 percent, according to international experts. The reason is that our diets are extensively vegetarian; and meat inherently has higher pesticide levels via the grains ingested by animals in the food chain.