Dear Mr. Subramanian,

Greetings from a nondescript common man, one among the millions of educated free-thinking young Indians and an insignificant voter among a billion aam aadmi.

Congratulations on your new role as the CEA!

I intend to write nothing new but just wanted to share with you my previous open letter wrote a few years ago to your predecessor and your ex-colleague in IMF, Dr. Rajan since all the issues that were mentioned remain the same if not worsened (e.g. farmer suicides).

As an agribusiness professional, I am concerned about the health of the “ag” industry that is most critical to the nation’s economy. My fears are not baseless as I can see not-so-good things continue to unfold right in front of our eyes that if not addressed appropriately, the country will be doomed to become another Venezuela where food is being rationed through finger-printing to monitor the purchase of even a loaf of bread by the common man.

It is still hard for me to believe why there is lesser emphasize on investing to improve farming and infrastructure to make it immune to the vagaries such as commodity price volatility, exploitation by the middlemen, floods, monsoon and drought etc. Am sure the people you will be advising are more interested in handing out relief packages than building resilience because

 

“Politics is a parasite that feeds on poverty and cannot survive without it”

 

They are more interested in coming back to power, getting votes, securing high-level positions for their siblings or children than caring about the poor and underprivileged who are destined to remain so forever.

They are still basking in the glories of Green Revolution but fail to understand the fact that to reap full benefit of such a great feat in the human history that saved nearly a billion lives dying from hunger, there should be continuous progress and growth in productivity. But, today’s situation remains grim and the future looks dangerously bleak if we think about who is going to feed us and how.

An average farmer in India is aged more than 60 and there is no pension plan (for the industry) to make sure youth are attracted to the industry and retained to help us feed ourselves.

Let me close by sharing my experience when I met with a group of top-notch authorities in the capital who are entrusted with feeding the poor and abject poor living on both sides of an imaginary line based on some stupidest number. Though we have been lectured for nearly an hour about what are the allocations per family living above poverty line and below poverty line (APL/BPL),

 

I got no answer whatsoever for my simple question “can you define what that line is?”

 

Later, just like my fellow billion faceless Indians, I found out the number is Rs. 26 a day as prescribed by the most reputed, highly revered and stinking well-educated so-called economic brains who happened to be Harvard or Oxford alumni.

I wonder how pampered they must have been in their lives that am damn sure none of them had any wildest idea what hunger and poverty is.

I certainly do not want to sound cynical or pessimistic as we have all the necessary capabilities and resources to do what needs to be done. But there are huge roadblocks including a deep-rooted bureaucracy, conventional thinking, lack of vision and professionalism in steering the country where it needs to be.

I am very certain this letter from an ordinary citizen never gets noticed, never reaches the place where it needs to and definitely gets buried in the abyss of bureaucracy but at least I am satisfied that I let few of my fellow Indians know what is going on in the country.

Wish you good luck !!!

 

 

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An open letter to the Chief Economic Advisor

 

Dear Mr. Rajan,

We could imagine how busy your first week would have been as our CEA. As India’s charm of doubt-digit GDP growth has drained out to 5.5% in the first quarter of this year, growth in our industrial output has also taken a beating.

As a non-descript common man, one among the millions of educated free-thinking young Indians and an insignificant voter, I am merely one in a billion aam aadmi.

You will hear the phrase “aam aadmi” at least a few million times from now onwards from your colleagues – the netas and babus – many of whom hardly know about the everyday struggles of an ordinary common man. I am too young and not as educated as well to give you suggestions or guidance. Rather, I wish to bring to your notice few very important ground realities as I doubt whether the honorable netas and babus you will be interacting with might present the truthful situation of our nation particularly the state of agriculture.

Hailed as the backbone of India’s economy that employs more than half of the country’s workforce, agriculture in India, today has become a victim of chronic apathy, skewed and insensible policy making and prolonged negligence driven by nothing but vote-bank concerns. As a result, its growth has fell down abysmally to below 2 percent in the last decade.

As a renowned economist, you will be so much concerned to look at this number, but do not be surprised to see your colleagues not really worried about this. Many of them are more concerned about votes than the voters and at any given point of time elections will be taking place in some states so kindly bear with them when they say they do not really care about it.

For many of your colleagues who are in the highest echelons, food means only rice and wheat and nothing else. These too will be remembered only when MSP is announced or elections are approaching.

But as a sensible economist you would argue why let millions of tonnes of wheat grains rot in warehouses while at least 200 millions of our fellow Indians go hungry every day; why more grain is procured every year though there is no space to store; why the PDS – the lifeline of people below poverty line – is defunct in many states and what is the rationale behind having policies that encourage production of only these two crops way too much beyond our average annual consumption and desired buffer stock mandates.

Also as distinguished economist, you will seriously wonder why there are no better policies to support production of other crops such as pulses, which is lagging at least by 3-4 millions tonnes behind our growing demand for protein due to the growth in our incomes. I seriously doubt you would get any sensible responses for these questions than just rhetoric quotes from your colleagues.

For your new colleagues, prices of anything in the world do not matter at all from posh bungalows to be built at the cost of Rs. 2 Crores each or luxury BMWs in addition to the magnanimous perks and benefits, all from the tax payers’ hard-earned money.

Hence, food prices are something they may never think about in their wildest dreams. Do you think inflation and rise in the prices of food items whatsoever bother them at all? But you are well aware that few hundred millions of our fellow poor Indians earn a paltry daily wage of less than a dollar in real terms had to spend more than half of it on food.

Kindly forgive the netas who have selective amnesia to forget the CPI (Consumer Price Index) as they only see and care about the WPI (Wholesale Price Index). You will definitely hear them proudly claiming that there are sufficient food stocks, there is no sign of a crisis and they will not let the poor suffer at any cost. Retail prices of pulses shot up by about 16% and vegetables by 27% since last year and these hikes in prices dig deep into the pocket of the aam aadmi and force a cut in consumption of these items and reduce his ability to spend on other important things including nutritious food and education for his children and healthcare for himself and his family. So the question why our country has more than 50 million children malnourished and the number is only growing every year is a no-brainer.

Farmers are prettiest people in the world that the netas are very passionate about and in any meetings or conferences they usually become very emotional and even shed tears while talking about the plight of the poor farmers. You might already have learnt about the extraordinary milestone in the history of independent India that the “number of farmers committed suicide is ONLY 152 this year”.

Also people were taking great pride in proclaiming it an achievement since the number of farmer suicides for previous years was few thousands. But I wonder how many would actually worry about the 250,000 farmers who took their lives since the mid-90s.

I have personally seen farmers in the west discussing about the euro zone crisis, forex rate fluctuations and global economic outlook prior to seeding their lands while our farmers are distressed with complete lack of finance, technical guidance and marketing support.

Will you trouble your colleagues with questions when they utter some silly reasons other than a chronic absence of effective mechanisms to provide sufficient and timely credit to farmers, a near-defunct agricultural extension system, corruption and scandals, vested political interests and above all, an omnipresent and omnipotent middlemen community that lobbies with the policy makers strongly against any better alternative that helps the farmers realize better prices and profits?

Though investment in agriculture and allied sector of Rs. 211565 Crore in 2010-11 looks big, it just gets dwarfed by the huge scams that are surfacing in just two sectors – telecom and mining.

Do you agree that India’s ambition to become an economic super power without caring for its agriculture sector that is in doldrums is just like building huge sky-scrappers on a shabby foundation? On behalf of your fellow Indians, will you question the deep rooted bureaucracy and red-tapism, callousness and complacency that ultimately deny the socio-economically poor and underprivileged their due share of food?

As an optimist who always expects something better in troubled times, I, along with my fellow Indian citizens, extend a warm welcome to you as our Chief Economic Advisor to infuse fresh blood and ideas to get the country particularly, its agriculture sector back on fast track growth and prosperity.

Raghavan Sampathkumar

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