Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On LeftWord International Young Scholars Seminar

LEFTWORD Books in association with Academy of Third World Studies (Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi) organised a UGC sponsored International Young Scholars' Seminar namely Rich Nation, Poor People: Critical Perspectives on the Neo-liberal Regime in India on April 4, 5 and 6, 2006. The three day long seminar was distributed into seven academic sessions and twenty two papers based on particular themes related to an inter-disciplinary study of the problems and issues of neo-liberal regime in India. After fifteen years of economic reforms marked by liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation the young critical minds (below 35 years!) tried to pose the problematics of neo-liberal situation in India while articulating the voices of an alternative. The seminar was held in the Conference Room of Nehru Guest House, Jamia Millia Islamia. On April 4, the Seminar was inaugurated by Jamia Vice-Chancellor Professor Mushirul Hasan followed by the keynote address of distinguished Marxist economist Professor Amiya Bagchi. Professor Bagchi not only attended all the sessions on April 4 and 5, but also actively participated in the discussion as well as putting sharp questions and making incisive comments on most of the papers.

The first session on April 4, namely 'Fire in the Villages' had four papers: Regional and Gender Disparities in Agricultural Wages by Shambhu Ghatak of JNU, Coping with Risk or Counting More Risk? A Report on Changing Rural Livelihoods during Agrarian Distress in Kerala by R. Ramakumar of TISS, Mumbai. The other two papers were presented by Rajshree Bedamatta from ISI, Kolkata on the topic Neoliberal Economic Reforms and Targeted Public Distribution System: A Case Study of Two Orissa Villages and by Vijoo Krishnan, Faculty of Political Science, St. Joseph's College, Bangalore on Repositioning the Land Question in the Era of Neo-Liberal Economic Policies. Dr Praveen Jha, JNU chaired the session while Jayan Jose Thomas, National University of Singapore was the discussant.

Professor C P Chandrasekhar was in Chair for the second session: 'When Work Disappears' with Atulan Guha as the discussant. Somenath Bhattacharjee, NBU, Darjeeling presented a paper on The Urban Siliguri and the adjacent Rural Stone Crushers: Perspectives and Problems and Indu Kalamani, CDS, Thiruvanathapuram talked about Understanding 'Crises' in a Traditional Industry: The Case of Coir in Kerala. The last paper in the session was by Jesim Pais, ISID, Delhi on Migration and Labour Mobility in the Leather Accessories Manufacture in the Post Reform Period: A Case from Dharavi, Mumbai. The third session: 'The World Out of Joint' incorporated two joint papers namely Political Economy of the Neo-liberal Economic Policy and the North East by Senate Khuraijam and Chinglen Maisman from Manipur University, Imphal and India's Post Liberalization Growth Experience: An Analysis by the Demand Components by Anamitra Roychowdhury and Shouvik Chakraborty, JNU. Finally, the session ended up with Saji M, JNU presenting on Constituting Development: Encountering the Deprivation of the 'Poor' Under the 'Reform' Apparatus in India. In this session, Dr Sumangala Damodaran was in the Chair while Prasenjit Bose played the role of a critical discussant.

The second day of the seminar began with the fourth session namely 'Information as Commodity' with Professor Jayati Ghosh, JNU in Chair and Shipra Nigam as a discussant. Jayan Jose Thomas' paper An Emerging Knowledge Economy and a Stagnant Agrarian Economy: Contradictions in Andhra Pradesh was read before Sambit Mallick's (University of Hyderabad) Changing Practices in/of Science: The Context of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) in India. The fifth session: 'Bitter Pill' had Professor Mohan Rao, JNU in Chair and Mita Despande as an enthusiastic discussant. Vijay Kumar Yadavendu, Faculty of Kisan College, Nalanda gave a presentation on Health Inequalities, Social Cohesion and Social Capital: An Exploration followed by Bijoya Roy's (JNU) Restructuring the Public Sector Hospitals and Services: Marginalizing the Poor.

The final session of the second day began with a paper called Verdict 2004: From Identities to Issues and Interests? by Maidul Islam, JNU followed by Democracy and People's Rights in the Neo-liberal Era: The Role of Judiciary read by Rohit on behalf of M B Rajesh of Palakkad. Sanjeev K Routray, Panos Institute South Asia, Delhi presented his on Two Kinds of Activism: Reflections on Citizenship in Globalizing Delhi and Swagato Sarkar, St Antony's College, University of Oxford made a presentation on Voluntary Organizations, NGOs and the 'Politics of Development' in India': A Critical Exploration. All these papers came under the particular theme: 'The Domain of Politics'. The sixth session was chaired by Archana Prasad while Sunalini Kumar was an analytical discussant. The evening was illuminated by a talk on 'Rich Nation, Poor People' by Professor Prabhat Patnaik with Dr Venkatesh Athreya chairing the session. The final day had only one session: In Which We 'Fight It Out' with Prof. Rashmi Doraiswamy in Chair and Albeena Shakeel as an energetic discussant. Arjun Ghosh, Faculty of Shivaji College, DU presented on Challenges Before Cultural Resistance: Methods of Intervention. Dia Mohan of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY, USA was absent but her paper namely Mirrors of Value? Advertising and Political Theatre in the Hegemonic Construction of Women in India was slotted in the seventh session. Pallav Mukhopadhyay of Kolkata read his paper as Impact of Neoliberalism on Indian Media and Culture Industry whereas The Print Media as a Handmaiden of the Neo-liberal Regime was put forward by Roshni Sengupta, JNU. The post-Lunch session was marked by a lecture delivered by Professor Aijaz Ahmad namely 'The Role of the Intellectual' with Dr. Vikas Rawal, JNU in the Chair. The seminar ended up with Vote of thanks by Sudhanva Deshpande, Manager of LeftWord Books and in-charge of the Organising Committee, International Young Scholars' Seminar.

Source: http://web.hws.edu/news/update/showwebclip.asp?webclipid=2619

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Whither Corporate Governance

It started long back—the problem of fraudulent practices accompanying capitalism. Some may say that the problem of crony capitalism existed both in the West as well as in the East. And, what we saw as outcomes because of such practices are: South East Asian financial crises, dotcom bust, bubble burst, and the recent financial and economic crises, which have gripped the entire globe. Nobody can forgive what the nexus between Enron and Arthur Andersen did to the U.S. lassez-faire economy. Maintaining transparency and accountability in the form of proper balance sheets has become a distant dream because of frauds, scams and scandals being committed by the internal and external auditors as well as the promoters. Whatever happened to Satyam Inc. is nothing but repetition of earlier such malpractices. Satyam, which used to be considered as the fourth largest software manufacturing company in India, committed the mistake of showing fudged accounts in order to inflate its revenue and profit. This was done deliberately so as to attract more capital from the investors and market. However, once it came to the knowledge that Satyam has inflated its profit by Rs. 7800 crore and its revenue by more than Rs. 5000 crore through accounting malpractices and forgery, the share prices plunged by 73% within one day at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). Although the Independent Board of Directors preferred to object to Satyam’s hobnobbing with the Maytas, little could be done to prohibit the Satyam Management against siphoning off the company’s funds. Satyam presently owns a working capital of somewhat near to Rs. 200-300 crore, which is far below what is being shown in the balance sheets. No proper book-keeping took place in the company. The company also indulged in money-laundering, insider trading and tax-evasion.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) has blamed Satyam’s external auditor PriceWaterHouseCoopers to have entirely relied upon the faulty financial records that has been prepared by its internal auditors. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) earlier accused PwC of not accounting the huge non-performing assets of Global Trust Bank (GTB), in a different case altogether. Presently, the Government of India (GoI) has taken the help of Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) and Ministry of Corporate Affairs (including the SEBI and RoC) in order to dig out the skeleton of this fiasco. The GoI has also appointed a new Board of Directors, replacing the old one, so that the company can be managed well in the short-run in order to save the future of its 53,000 employees. Moreover, Satyam has been accused of siphoning Rs. 20 crore per month from its accounts for paying its fictitious 13,000 employees, who never existed in reality. While Larsen and Toubro (L&T) has increased its stake in Satyam from 4% to 12%, others are too much apprehensive about the fragile state of accounts of the company in order to purchase it.

Satyam has also been facing lawsuits in the U.S. because of which it relies on the advice of an entire gamut of lawyers. The GoI has also announced that its objective is not to bail out Satyam but to sell it after it has gathered ‘some’ level of economic independence. Some have even proposed that Satyam should be sold out in a piecemeal fashion. The newly appointed auditors of Satyam’s accounts namely Deloitte and KPMG too have been blamed of committing fraudulent practices in the U.S. However, some have said that KPMG was appointed in order to recover the digitally encoded accounting data, which were manipulated earlier (carrying out forensic investigation in the case of cyber crimes). According to the small investors, the CEOs and the CFOs of Satyam are to be blamed upon. One can question here: If Ramalinga Raju would not have confessed about the Satyam mess-up, had there been any alternative mechanism to know about this fraud? Clearly, one may doubt the state of corporate governance being practiced in India and elsewhere. What can be the basis of Satyam receiving the Golden Peacock Global Award for good Corporate Governance? Well, then one might say that indeed crony capitalism exists, and it exists in reality. One can also draw a parallel between Satyam and Enron. Like Enron, Satyam indulged in fudging accounts. The Enron drama unfolded during the era of bubble burst, while the Satyam scam came into being when India and the rest of the world were experiencing recession. While much attention in the present article has been given on scams and scandals that are parts and parcels of corporate irresponsibility, it is important to inform that India is not experiencing well in the exports front in the case of gems and jewellery, textiles and I.T. Job cuts are quite prevalent in these sectors.

Before going any further, it is important to discuss briefly about what happened to the world economy at large so that the present article become more contextualised. Despite the initiatives undertaken by Pascal Lamy, the Doha Round of talks during the last 3 years could not lead to a coherent solution pertaining to access to market for non-agricultural products amidst the various partners. In fact, the issue of subsidy given to agriculture became the bone of contention between developed and developing nations. The US objected to the "special safeguard mechanism", designed to protect farmers in the developing world against temporary surges in cut-price imports of cotton and rice, during the Geneva talks held in July, 2008. The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India & China) IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) economies and many of the European nations are now more worried about the spread of recession through domino effect. China has seen the closures of many firms, which used to be export-dependent. Job-cuts have become a regular feature of both developed and developing countries as a mean to reduce cost in the face of financial turmoil. In fact, the ambience during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2009 appeared grim. While international donor agencies and various government and non-government organizations are pressurizing for undertaking measures to reduce emissions of green house gases (GHGs) and to combat climate change via means like carbon-trading, many in the third world feel that things won’t change without help coming from the developed world. One can remember here the Bali round of talks. During the United Nations Bali Climate Conference held in December 2007, debate intensified over whether to include in any climate change agreement GHG emission targets for developed countries. Information technology (I.T.), which used to be considered as a major tool to induce innovation in almost all areas of science and technology, has received a set-back in the face of economic downturn. Before becoming the President of the U.S., Barack Obama pledged that he would undertake steps to create employment and develop infrastructure. He wanted to curtail war related expenditure (particularly in Iraq) so that more resources are available for reviving the domestic economy. The location of the war is about to shift from Iraq to Afghanistan under Obama administration that would alter U.S.’s diplomatic relations vis-à-vis India and Pakistan in the future, according to some experts. However, Obama is yet to decide America’a foreign policy towards Israel. He also wanted the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison (in Cuba) so as to prevent human rights abuse, and to fight back the al-Qaida morally. After he became the President of the U.S., Obama seemed outrageous against Bush’s plan to bailout broken banks (with an amount of US$ 700 billion), which suffered losses during the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Recently, he spoke out against those companies who promised huge hikes in bonuses of those at the top management, despite depending on bailout money. President Obama has looked at the conspicuous consumption of various financial banks cynically. The U.S. economy has received massive fiscal stimulus under Obama’s rule. The US$ 787 billion economic stimulus package has a 'Buy American' clause, which can adversely affect trade between America and other nations, just like the Smoot-Hawley Act that came into being in 1930.

Coming back to the Satyam's story, some have even informed us how the Maytas bagged the contract of Hyderabad Metro Railways Project from the Government of Andhra Pradesh in a non-transparent way, in the name of public-private partnership (PPP). The company was also involved in various land deals that required the back-up of officialdom. In this context, Byrraju Foundation, another philanthropic initiative of Satyam can be frowned upon. Earlier too, the World Bank cancelled its contract to Satyam for a time-span of 8 years. In the light of financial turmoil, the Satyam case would definitely reduce India’s edge in the field of Information and Technology (IT). It is high time to infuse confidence among honest Indian businessmen and investors including the smaller ones. Perhaps, one can say that it is time to move from the model of family ownership to investor ownership of companies and firms. Adoption of standard international accounting and auditing practices, and effective regulation can be the solutions for tackling such frauds in future.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

CSCs scheme in West Bengal

Ranjit K Maiti, Jt. Secretary, West Bengal State Rural Development Agency, attended the eIndia 2007 Conference, held in New Delhi. He spoke with Shambhu Ghatak, CSDMS.

What is West Bengal doing for the CSCs scheme?
West Bengal is involved in implementing the Common Service Centres (CSCs) scheme under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). In the state of West Bengal, besides other e-Government initiatives, which have been undertaken by the government particularly in the Panchayat and Rural Development Department to reach the people at large, the current e-Government scheme named Common Services Centre scheme, is being implemented not by IT department but by Panchayat and Rural Development Department of the Government of West Bengal through West Bengal State Rural Development Agency, unlike the case in other states. The WBSRDA is going to set up 6,797 CSCs in rural West Bengal.

How is the CSCs scheme going to be implemented in rural West Bengal?
Rural West Bengal has been divided into 8 zones, of which 6 zones have been awarded to SREI Infrastructure Finance Limited. However, SREI Sahaj e-Village Limited being a subsidiary company of the original one will set up 4,937 CSCs. Two zones comprising 4 districts have been awarded to Reliance Communications. They have to set up 1,860 common service centres in 4 districts. There are some constraints and problems too. SREI has already started setting up of their connectivity towers. Government has also started negotiating at the gram panchayat level for providing separate rooms of 12 feet by 10 feet floor area with sitting arrangements and access to electricity. In case there exists no separate rooms, the state Government has already issued instructions to utilise the 12th Finance Commission Fund. In the case of G2C services, some Departments like Land and Land Reforms Department have come forward to issue copies (parchaas) of the Records of Rights. Similarly, other Departments like Social Welfare and Women and Child Development Department, Agricultural Department, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) West Bengal, Animal Resource Department, Horticulture Department, etc. have come forward for the e-Government services for the citizens. It is a fact that these departments are at various stages of e-Readiness for extending services to the citizens. Fourteen departments have been selected for taking up Mission Mode Projects under NeGP. They are now preparing Detailed Project Reports for approval of the Department of IT, Govt of India. The Government of India will be providing financial support for the CSCs programme in the coming 4 years as revenue supports to the CSC level VLEs. It is expected that these departments will be e-Ready by next 2-3 years for providing G2C services for the citizens. B2C services are coming up with business-models in the areas of banking, insurance, etc. e-Learning, computer training and learning are making inroads in West Bengal through the two SCAs. By December, 2007 some CSCs are expected to come up in West Bengal. This is going to change the socio-economic fabric of rural West Bengal.

Could you explain the role of SWAN and SDC in NeGP in this respect?
In this respect, I would like to mention that CSCs scheme, is dependent upon State Wide Area Network (SWAN) and State Data Centre which are scheduled to provide connectivity up to block level with 2mbps and data storage for all G2C services. Both the components are being looked after by the IT Department of the State Government. From block to gram panchayat, termed as last mile connectivity, how G2C services is to be provided is not very clear. This is a grey area. In West Bengal especially, when the CSC programme came up, it was decided at the state level (at the policy making cell) that the centres would be run by the suitable members from Women SHGs (self help groups). For this purpose, we moved to the Ministry of Rural Development to get some special funds to build the capacity of the prospective village level entrepreneurs. They have provided certain funds and we are now creating a conducive environment, where SCA, NABARD and P&RD department jointly can utilise such funds. SCA has the onus to select the village level entrepreneurs. Despite all these, governments at the state-level have got some role to promote economic activities in the rural areas. We have very little experience. Within the next 2 years we would like to see the CSCs changing the entire scenario through such Public Private Partnership scheme.