Friday, March 29, 2013

Fleeting Reds

The Kosam trees (Schleichera oleosa) of Delhi put out a spectacular display last week.

Just two weeks ago these trees reminded me of the onset of Autumn in Japan. Like the Ginkgo's, the Kosam's too turned their otherwise unremarkable foliage into shades of yellow and dropped them off, leaving nothing but a skeleton of barren branches.

Then, unlike the Ginkgo's which remain barren until spring, the Kosam's sprout tender young leaves almost immediately. The leaves turn deep scarlet for a few days before turning into a regular green color.

What could be the evolutionary story behind this fleeting display? Is it meant to attract the Lac insects? Do they help in pollination?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Food for Thought

The National Food Security Bill 2011 is all set to be introduced in the second-half of the Budget Session of Parliament. The Bill presents a difficult set of dilemma's and conundrums.

On the face of it, there could be no cause which is more noble: using our surplus stocks of foodgrains to feed the poor. The Bill proposes to use large-scale food distribution to feed 67% of the country's population of 1.2 billion.

Yet, as always, the devil lurks in the details.

Where will the food come from?

Even though our FCI godowns are overflowing with foodgrains, the Bill needs our Public Distribution system to handle 74 million tonnes by 2013-14. However, just 29.7 million tonnes were lifted by states in 2009-10 as against 45.4 million tonnes allocated for the PDS!

Where will the money come from?

The official estimated cost is Rs.95,000 per annum. Experts say that this is a rather conservative figure. Gulati & Gujral (2011) calculated the minimum annual expenditure at Rs. 200,000 Crores. To put the amount in perspective, total subsidies budgeted for 2011 on everything was Rs 140,000 crore.

Can the existing logistics network handle this?

You could call this 'new wine in an old, leaky bottle'. Until inefficiencies in the existing distribution systems are addressed on a war footing, we might be sending more money than ever before, down the drain. To take one example, labour in FCI is highly organised and an unskilled worker (loading and unloading job) earns around Rs 35,000 per month -- much, much more than the average skilled worker.  According to reports, 'hundreds of such FCI workers get more than Rs 1 lakh a month and the highest is about Rs 1.85 lakh per month'.


The cost of Food Entitlement

* Aggarwal, Ankita and Harsh Mander (2013): ABANDONING THE RIGHT TO FOOD, EPW, Feb 2013 -- url -- ---

* FE Editorial: NOW TO DIGEST THAT FOOD, 19 Dec. 2011, Financial Express, 19 Dec., 2011 -- url --
- To put the amount in perspective, total subsidies budgeted this year on everything are R1.4 lakh crore.
- spends 5-6 times more on farm subsidies than it does on farm investment where the returns in terms of poverty reduction and higher farm growth are several times higher.
- other distortions like the Essential Commodities Act that allows states to ban movement of agri-commodities and suspending futures markets to the APMC Act that allows commission agents to take away as much as 15% of the farmers revenue

* Gulati, Ashok and Jyoti Gujral (2011): "FOOD SECURITY BILL: Can we afford Rs. 6 lakh crore food subsidy in three years?", The Economic Times, 17 Dec., 2011 -- url --
- The farmers are not happy as the MSP for wheat and rice has gone up by less than 20% against a cost escalation of about 45%.
- But Punjab imposes 14.5% taxes and various forms of cess, etc, on top of the MSP for any procurement of grain being done from the state. The argument is that many states have minerals and they impose large royalty on their mineral wealth.

* PRS Legislative Brief - NFSB-2011 -

* Swaminathan, MS (2009): SYNERGY BETWEEN FOOD SECURITY ACT AND NREGA, The Hindu, 1Jun2009 ---url---

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Visualizing India's Electorate

Data visualizers are now turning their attention to Indian politics!

Here is an interesting presentation by S. Anand of --

Not all slides are communicate  clearly but, on the whole, one does get a flavor of the complications involved in Indian electoral politics.

Anand's blog is also very cool:



* Four Color Theorem - (1976) by Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken. It was the first major theorem to be proved using a computer. Wiki --

Friday, March 22, 2013

Sanctioned, Allocated & Released!

During the ongoing Budget Session of the Indian Parliament, numbers linked to three words are a source of much angst and analysis -- sanctioned, allocated and released.

Most often, 'sanction' refers to the amount of money notionally set aside by the Planning Commission of India towards implementation of its "Five Year Plans". Once a sanction has been made, the Ministry of Finance uses it as a reference number while 'allocating' budget for each activity listed its annual plans.

Now, allocation is linked to the extent of utilization. So the amount that is finally released for work on the ground may be a fraction of what was originally sanctioned by the planners.

Take for instance a flagship scheme which goes by the unweildy acronym - JNNURM. This is the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), created to 'encourage reforms and fast track planned development of identified cities'. In all, 73 cities were identified across India, and the Planning Commission 'sanctioned' Rs. 66,085 Crores (~$13 billion) for a period of seven years (2005-11).

Since 2005, the actual money allocated through the annual budgets passed by the parliament has been 73 percent -- Rs.47,967 Crores ( ~$ 9.5 billion). Allocations have fallen short of targets mainly because many states could not put in place, a set of four "mandatory reforms' -- (1) Implementation of decentralization measures as envisaged in the 74th Constitution Amendment, (2) Reform of the Rent Control Act and rationalization of stamp duty, (3) Repeal of the Urban Land Ceiling Act, and (4) Enactment of public disclosure law and community participation law.

All states have initiated these reforms but none have implemented them fully. Oddly enough, Tamil Nadu, which has the lowest rate of reform-implementation at 25% has the highest number of completed projects at 68%!

According to a CAG report submitted last year (28 Nov., 2012), only 17 percent of sanctioned projects under urban infra, have been implemented (231 of 1298). The record is even worse for housing projects: 22 of 1517 projects -- just one percent!

So, in the final reckoning, only Rs. 32,934 (less than 50%) of the original money sanctioned has been 'released' for completed projects between 2005-2011.


* Ministry of Urban Development - Home Page -

* JNNURM Overview --
- selected cities (7+28+28) - page 14

* PRS Blog -- Status of JNNURM (7 Dec., 2012) -

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tech Transfer - the Aravind Way

Aravind Eye Hospital is undoubtedly one of the most unusual institutions in India. Consider these facts:

  • Aravind's surgeons average about 2,000 operations a year. The average for eye surgeons in the U.S. is 125;
  • Each year, Aravind Eye Care System conducts over 300,000 sight-restoring eye surgeries — and about half, are free;
  • Efficiency brings down the costs but not the quality. Aravind surgeons have just half the number of complications that the British health system has for the same procedure;
  • Aravind's JV with David Green resulted in Aurolabs, in 1992. Today, it is one of the largest manufacturers of intraocular lenses in the world, with sales in eighty-six countries. The average selling price of Aurolab's lenses is currently $8 compared to $150 in the U.S. 

How did a not-for-profit Indian organisation like Aravind manage to collaborate with an American entrepreneur, to mass-produce sophisticated surgical devices, at affordable prices?

A good part of the answer to this question lies in the networks & institutions set up by one individual -- Larry Brilliant.

True to his name, this American hippy turned physician, epidemiologist, technologist & author, has been tackling some of the worst medical problems affecting the poor -- smallpox, curable blindness and hearing disabilities. Brilliant teamed up with Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert) and Waly Gavy (all devotees of Neem Kakoli Baba), to establish Seva Foundation in 1978.

Seva Foundation tied up with a retired government doctor in Tamil Nadu, named Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy (Dr.V), and brought in the serial entrepreneur, David Green, to tackle a major bottleneck: making affordable intra-ocular lenses.

These lenses were prohibitively expensive at $100 a piece. Green obtained the technology from an American company for a one-time fee for technology transfer, and then went on to start production in 1992. It has supplied more than 6 million lenses to non-profit users in India and eighty-eight other countries. Today, these lenses cost just $4 a piece (Rs.270).


* --- Dr. V -
* T. Ravilla: developer of the LAICO-Aravind Eye Hospital Care System -- -
* Attacking the Backlog of India's Curable Blind -- The Aravind Eye Hospital Model -- G. Natchiar, MD; Alan L. Robin, MD; Ravilla D. Thulasiraj, MBA; Senthil Krishnaswamy, MD --
* Aurolab India -
* Ydstie, John (2011): India Eye Care Center Finds Middle Way To Capitalism, NPR, November 29, 2011; url -
* SEVA Foundation -
* Larry Brilliant -
* Neem Karoli Baba -
* Ram Dass -
* Wavy Gravy -


Saturday, March 02, 2013

SRI - New Farming

India plants rice over an area of about 43 million ha and produces around 125 million tonnes of rice, which is over 43 percent of national food grain production. The average yield remains low at around 2.85 t/ha.

Over the last few years, there has been much talk of a new method of crowing crops called the System of Rice (or root) Intensification (SRI). It has dramatically increased yields with wheat, potatoes, sugar cane, yams, tomatoes, garlic, aubergine and many other crops and is being hailed as one of the most significant developments of the past 50 years for the world's 500 million small-scale farmers and the two billion people who depend on them.

Farmers in a Bihari village named Darveshpura are being feted for coming up with astonishingly high yields - one Sumant Kumar has grown 22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare of land, using only farmland manure and without any pesticides. Another small farmer from a nearby village, broke the Indian record for growing wheat.

Are we really poised on the edge of another Green Revolution?

A detailed study by researchers led by Palaniswami K have reported in the EPW that the SRI method does seem to have increased yield and reduced the use of water in select locations. This team used data from 13 rice-growing states in India to come to this conclusion.

It will be interesting to see if this is more than just a flash in the pan...



* Vidal, John (2013): INDIA'S RICE REVOLUTION, The Guardian, 16Feb13 -