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  • Author: Ashok Gulati, Devesh Kapur, Marshall M. Bouton
  • Publication Date: 08-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for the Advanced Study of India
  • Abstract: Following an overwhelming election victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new government has a golden opportunity to bring about historic reforms in the agricultural sector to improve farmer livelihoods and national food security. The sector affects the economic well-being of half the Indian population and the access to affordable and nutritious food for all Indians. Fundamental reforms can achieve sustainable and broadly distributed agricultural growth that will add to India’s GDP, increase export earnings, help conserve increasingly scarce resources of land and water, and enable the more orderly movement out of agriculture and into other productive sectors. Reforms in four areas should be the priority if Prime Minister Modi’s bold goal of doubling farmer incomes is to be accomplished in the coming years. First, the focus of agricultural policies must shift from production per se to farmers’ livelihoods. Second, policies to improve the allocation and efficiency of land and water are essential if the critical resources of water and land are to be conserved. Third, reforms are needed to help farmers cope with the growing risks of weather and price volatility. Fourth, agricultural markets must be opened to greater competition and provided with better infrastructure if farmers are to realize better returns for produce while ensuring nutritional security for low-income consumers. Agriculture is a state subject but where the Central government has had—and will continue to have—a large role. Reforms can only succeed if the Central and state governments work closely together in a spirit of “cooperative federalism.” Many of the important levers of change—water, power, irrigation, extension, agri-markets, etc.—are controlled by the states. Going forward, it would be helpful if the government created an Agri-Reforms Council on the lines of GST Council for a somewhat longer term than is currently done (for two months). The focus for the Government of India will need to be twofold: actions that it can unilaterally take to raise agricultural incomes; and second, actions to influence state government efforts to improve agriculture with its sustainability at the core. The steps listed should be thought of as a package, which will have an impact if most are implemented and not one or two in isolation.  Reduce cereal procurement and keep MSP price increases for rice and wheat below inflation, and not exceeding border prices, while encouraging the private sector to develop robust markets in less water intensive crops like pulses and oilseeds by removing controls on stocking, trading, exports, etc. This will also have a beneficial impact on depleting water tables in certain regions, notably in north-west and southern India.  Implement income transfers scheme for farmers in tandem with reductions in the subsidies for power, water, and fertilizer that distort incentives and hinder change. This will have large positive environmental effects and help toward better natural resource management. Keep the real prices of subsidized grains under the National Food Security Act, 2013 and link them to the MSP to incentivize the production and consumption of non-cereals.  Scrap the Essential Commodities Act and other laws designed fifty years ago for conditions of scarcity. Those conditions of scarcity have long since disappeared. India is trying to cope more with the problems of surfeit than scarcity.  Focus on income from livestock to help marginal farmers (<1 ha). Change laws and more importantly the political and social climate that have been so detrimental to the livestock sector lately.  Eliminate or reduce dramatically export restrictions and export taxes on agricultural products. Trade policies that have been arbitrarily and pro-cyclically imposed (increasing tariffs and import restrictions when world prices come down, and imposing export bans and taxes when domestic prices rise)—must become stable and predictable by setting “trigger levels” well in advance.  Accelerate the effort to create a single agricultural market by introducing assaying, grading, setting standards, bringing “Uber-type” logistical players on e-platforms to move goods from one region to another, and setting dispute settlement mechanisms so that farmers and farm organizations can transact with any buyer, anywhere in India, and at any time of their choosing.  Support the creation of public mandis as a viable alternative to private trade. Most importantly, across the board, increase marketing options available to farmers while subsidizing market infrastructure improvements.  End support for the rehabilitation of inefficient urea plants and create a plan for closing the most inefficient plants.  Incentivize the passing of state laws to allow easy leasing/renting of agricultural land and relax restrictions on conversion of agricultural land for other purposes. At present, these restrictions keep the value of agricultural land low and raise the barriers to exit from agriculture. Finally, even as these reforms are undertaken, it needs to be recognized that growth and employment opportunities outside agriculture are critical for long-term improvements in farmers’ incomes. Relentless population pressures have meant that most Indian farms are too small to provide viable incomes. The long-term future of Indian farmers fundamentally depends on getting many people out of farming. Ironically, that future will come about more reliably if policies to improve agricultural production and incomes are pursued today.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Reform, Elections, GDP
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: K.R. Meera
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for the Advanced Study of India
  • Abstract: If one wants to understand gender changes in India over the past 25 years, the life narratives of the women of my generation would be the best examples. We have seen and experienced the paradox called India. We have contributed to its complexities, while empowering ourselves in the process. We have been struggling to evolve into more responsible citizens and complete human beings. I am an Indian citizen, a literate woman, a post-graduate, and an independent professional. Just like many other women in India, my life has undergone tremendous political, legal, and social changes over the past 25 years. These formative changes have not been linear; rather, they can be compared to the sides of a Rubik’s cube. Any change in one had repercussions on the others. When the Mandal Commission report granting 27 percent reservation to Other Backward Castes was accepted by the V. P. Singh government in 1991, the resulting alarm of reduced accessibility to government jobs was one of the factors that prompted me to accept at job at a Malayalam newspaper, my first job in media. Located in Kottayam, I was the first woman sub-editor to be appointed to the editorial of that newspaper in its 108 years of existence. CMS College, the very first college in Kottayam and the second oldest in the country, was established in 1815. Kottayam is hailed as the land of letters because it is also a leading publishing hub, home to the head offices of three newspapers, including the two oldest ones in Malayalam. One of the factors that made my appointment possible was the impact of economic liberalization that India initiated in early 1990s. Whether or not it was a coincidence, I received the appointment in July 1993, just after India ratified the constitution of the National Commission For Women and the Convention the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. In 1993, I walked alone after dark, for the first time in my life and travelled in auto rickshaws all by myself even after six o’clock at night. Until then, going outside after six o’clock in the evening had been strictly discouraged all my life. I realized soon that no residential hostel for women in Kottayam would allow its guests to check in after seven o’clock in the evening. Likewise, it was next to impossible for a single young woman to rent out a house anywhere in Kottayam or easily check into a hotel. It took me yet another year to check into a hotel all by myself and that was possible only because I had the care of address of my newspaper. After my appointment, my newspaper recruited more women journalists; there were a few senior women at some of the other newspapers but they were largely unknown to the outside world. The only woman reporter we knew was Leela Menon, a correspondent for the English daily, The Indian Express. By 1994, after the launch of the first privately owned television channel that year—which was also the second in India—, the number of women journalists in the media steadily increased. In 1995, I flew for the first time to a USIS conference. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve as a Justice in the U.S. Supreme Court, was the chief guest. I stayed in a five star hotel and attended a formal dinner—all first time experiences. The same year, I purchased my first two wheeler, a scooter, with a vehicle loan from my office, and inadvertently became the first woman in Kottayam to ride a scooter in the wee hours of the day! The purpose of this rather detailed elucidation is not to claim I represent all the women of India. No single woman can represent all the women of India. One can safely surmise that the changes in my life would be representative of a large cross section of women in the vast and rigid “middle class” of Kerala who hold the unique distinction of being modern and traditional at the same time. These women were born and brought up in a state hailed as the model state of India with the lowest infant mortality rate, lowest population growth, highest literacy, and highest life expectancy. To be sure, there are hundreds more liberated women in many parts of India who overcame the barriers of gender and were liberated in every sense of the term. Sadly, millions of women are yet to travel alone, participate in a strike, or even attend a school. Many of these women are condemned to give birth every single year in the hope of a male child. And even today, millions of women throughout India, have to wait until after dark to answer the call of nature. Many have no concept of safe sanitation or, even worse, have to sleep on the pavement with a stick next to them to drive away the stray dogs as well as potential rapists. The uniqueness of India shines forth in its complexities and contradictions. The past twenty five years have been bustling with changes. These initial political and legal sparks of change eventually roared into flames over the past five years and have played a critical role in changing the gender parity in India.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Social Movement, Feminism
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Sutanuka Roy, Prakarsh Singh
  • Publication Date: 11-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for the Advanced Study of India
  • Abstract: Using a large-scale novel panel dataset (2005–14) on schools from the Indian state of Assam, we test for the impact of violent conflict on female students’ enrollment rates. We find that a doubling of average killings in a district-year leads to a 13 per cent drop in girls’ enrollment rate with school fixed effects. Additionally, results remain similar when using an alternative definition of conflict from a different dataset. Gender differential responses are more negative for lower grades, rural schools, poorer districts, and for schools run by local and private unaided bodies.
  • Topic: Education, Gender Issues, Gender Based Violence
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Mark Schneider, Neelanjan Sircar
  • Publication Date: 08-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for the Advanced Study of India
  • Abstract: The literature on decentralized public programs suggests that errors in the targeting of anti-poverty programs are rooted in the capture of these programs by local elites or local politicians. Consistent with the literature on moral economy in political science and experimental economics, we argue that voters in contexts of rural poverty prefer local leaders who target subsistence benefits to the poor. In a high- information village context, where voters and leaders know each other, we argue that local elections lead to the selection of local leaders with pro-poor preferences over the distribution of these benefits. We show this with a novel theory of local politicians’ social preferences. We test our theory with unique data from a behavioral measure, conducted in the context of a lottery with a modest cash prize in rural India, that captures a scenario in which local leaders have full discretion and anonymity over allocation among members of their rural communities. We analyze our data using a novel estimation strategy that takes the characteristics of the pool of potential beneficiaries into account in decisions over allocation under a budget constraint. We find that local leaders have strong preferences for targeting the poor, and particularly those they believe supported them politically in the past. This article suggests that free and fair elections at the local level can powerfully encourage pro-poor targeting even in contexts of weak institutions and pervasive poverty. It also makes a fundamental contribution to research on distributive politics by challenging research in this area to demonstrate the effect of electoral strategies and other distortions on allocation relative to local leaders’ baseline distributive preferences.
  • Topic: Elections, Domestic politics, Rural, Local, Decentralization
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Neelanjan Sircar
  • Publication Date: 09-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for the Advanced Study of India
  • Abstract: This paper develops a theory on how voters form and change political preferences in democratic de- veloping world contexts. In the developing world, where state institutions are often weak, voters tend to be more focused on the competence and capacity of parties and candidates to deliver benefits. Such information may be difficult to ascertain, so voters must glean information from how candidates con- duct themselves during the electoral campaign. Voters use kinship networks to develop more accurate preferences by collectively reasoning through newly available information on candidates. In order to demonstrate these claims, this study analyzes data collected on political preferences and kinship net- works in two villages just before and after the campaign period during the 2011 Assembly election in the Indian state of West Bengal. The paper finds very strong kinship network effects on changes in issue preferences and vote choice over the course of the campaign and explains the results through qualitative work and a series of network autoregressive statistical models. In sum, this paper demonstrates how vot- ers develop independent preferences and implement political change, even in low information contexts with weak human capital.
  • Topic: Elections, Democracy, Networks
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia, West Bengal
  • Author: Ghazala Shahabuddin
  • Publication Date: 12-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for the Advanced Study of India
  • Abstract: The role of scientists in influencing the aims and priorities of biological conservation in developing countries has been a topic of debate and needs elucidation. The Asiatic cheetah reintroduction plan in India sparked much discussion on the pros and cons of attempting to revive the population of a large carnivore that had been missing from the landscape for over half a century. This paper traces the history of cheetah reintroduction with the aim of exploring the relationships amongst the constituencies of scientists, politicians, local communities and the bureaucracy. This paper suggests that the decision to reintroduce the Asiatic cheetah in India was motivated by political symbolism and had little grounding in scientific rigour. Science was used as a legitimizing tool for a politically influenced conservation goal which had little space for socio-economic constraints or academic rigour. While there are many strands of wildlife conservation emerging in India, the dominant paradigm upheld by biologists continues to be negligent of both scientific and social concerns.
  • Topic: Nationalism, Science and Technology, Conservation, Nature
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia