Abhay Shivgounda Patil

About what matters.

Wages of Inequality – P. Sainath’s lecture in Pune

with 23 comments


Last week P. Sainath delivered a Parisar annual lecture 2010.  I jotted some notes and am sharing them here.  As I heard him, the only thought in my mind was – when would we – “we” as in people like me – become sensitive to the debilitating wounds inflicted on 800+ million people of the country, who are not like us.   Will we ever stop wearing our ideologies on our sleeves and instead focus on the human side of the story?  We never tire of saying “there is no such thing as a free lunch” or that “development is necessary – and some price has to be paid for it” . But do we ever notice the irony that the folks who enjoy the lunch are not the ones footing the bill?   It is shocking to see how our rulers, bureaucrats and corporates manufacture the inequality – and we, who participate as consumers in this game, hail the development story.

During the talk, Sainath quoted Alex Carey, a noted Australian activist:   “The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy”.

What’s going on outside?

To drive home the magnitude of the inequality faced by our nation, Sainath described what would happen in a typical 3 hour window in our country.
  • 6 farmers would commit suicide.
  • 8 to 12 farmers would attempt suicide.

    Jaao, Utho, Looto, Bhago - that should have been the CWG anthem!

  • 274 farmers would quit agriculture.
  • 513 children will be malnourished – and more will suffer grade 3 and 4 of malnourishment.
  • 171 crores of taxes for the rich will be written off – not counting any subsidy.  This is just about 3 types of taxes: direct, custom duty and excise duty. (A total of 500 thousand crores per annum.)

Where do we stand amongst the nations of the world?

  • In 84 hungriest nations – we are 67th.  We were 65th a year before.
  • 46% of children below 5 years of age in India are malnourished.
  • 42% of all malnourished children below 5 years are in India.
  • 31% of all children with stunted growth are in India. (Nepal and Bhutan are better than us.  Bangla Desh marginally worse – they need some more time.)
  •  In the recession year, we added 22 dollar billionaires.  There are 67 $ billionaires in India. Three times more than ones in all the Scandinavian countries put together where standard of living is the best in the world. There are more than 400 Rs. billionaires.  They constitute almost 1/4 of the GDP. (Forbes)
  • We are 134th in the Human Development Index of UNDP.  Even Bolivia, the worst off Latin American nation, is ahead of us.
  • Four of the 10 wealthiest people in the world are Indians.  There are more Indians than Americans in that group.
Some 846 million of Indians subsist on less than half a dollar per day – on about Rs. 20 per day. If you earn Rs. 20 a day in Mumbai, you are not “poor” by the Government definition.  The slab is Rs. 11 and Rs. 9 in rural parts.  Who are these poor?  88% of tribal and 85% of muslims are in this 846 million poor.  While CEO salaries are at an all time high, ILO reports that the salary of workmen fell by 60% in real terms, and as the production doubled, the workforce got reduced by half.  The story of the huge unorganized sector is far worse.

The processes at work

Sainath then enumerated the processes that are at work driving this inequality.
1. Withdrawal of the state from the sectors that matter most to the poor .  Prime examples : Health, education, food.
2. Massive cuts in the subsidies for the poor.
3. Privatization of everything.
5. Unprecedented level of the “constructed” inequality.
6. Rapid transfer of wealth – from poor to the rich.
7. Delegitimization of public sphere.
8. Huge cuts in public services – Capitalism everywhere.
9. Loot of the natural resources.


What are the poor eating?

When they are forced to act, Government appoints a committee.  And they go on appointing committees till they get a report they want.   On poverty, they appointed three committees – one headed by Suresh Tendukar, the other by MC Saxena on BPL (that included Sainath) and the third one called National Commission of Unorganized Sector.  Ideologies of these committees were, may be, a few light years apart.  However all agreed on one thing – that the government’s data on poverty needs to be sharply revised upwards.
And when the Government wants to kill an idea, they constitute a GoM – Group of Ministers.  Pranab-da heads more GoMs than he could count.  
No surprise that there is a GoM on Food Security.  The first recorded minute of their first meeting says – we are discussing food security and nutritional security is not in our scope!
For the first time since 1990  the rate of food production is LAGGING behind the the rate of growth of population.  And rate of population growth has slowed down.   The net per capita grain (cereals+pulses) per day was 440 grams in the period 1955-58.  It rose to 510 grams in 1990 – and it is 432 fo 2005-08!
The food cake is shrinking.  You and me are eating much better.  Then what the heck are the poor eating?
And our Food and Agriculture minister announces bumper crops every year.  He is a very busy man.  He is not just the ICC chief.  Name any outdoor sport, and he heads the national body for that sport.
We often hear that the Government has no money.  We have 45 crores for UID.  We can write off  500 thousand crores of corporate taxes .  But have no money for universalization of PDS (public distribution system).


What is this hunger anyway? 

Poor families in villages often “rotate” their hunger.  Here is what they do.  Two out of eight eat well and go to work for 10 hrs in 49 degree celsius.  Next day they starve and let 2 other members eat well and work.  Somebody has to keep working everyday.
It is not just about remote villages in Bihar or Chhattisgarh.   Teachers in schools near Thane can not teach before noon on Mondays.  They asked for double the quota of grains for Mondays.  Why? Because children’s last meal happens on Friday noon – in the school.  Hungry for three days, it is impossible to handle them before they have a mid day meal on Monday.
Hunger and thirst are the bumper crops.  Ultimate revenue producers. Sources of profit.
Look at the NREGA camps anywhere in India.  You would see 60 and 70 year olds – men and women in the line looking for work.  Old members of the family are the first ones to be sidelined as they can not earn.

What’s the lot of our farmers?

7 out of 9 Vidharbha people are in distress says a Govt study of 5 districts.

There is no food security to those who produce food.  You won’t get a cup of tea, leave alone a glass of milk, when you visit farms in Marathwada and Andhra anymore.   All that is produced is sold.  More than 70% of food producers buy food from the market. They are the worst hit by the unprecedented price rise. 

Who is the culprit?  Government encourages cash crops.  When the crops do well, thy ban the exports.  Most of the farmers who have committed suicide were growers of cash crops.
Most of the suicides notes by Maharashtra’s farmer were not addressed to their families – or even the police.  They were addressed to the PM and CM.  They knew well that it’s the policies that drove them to take this step.
Ramchandra Raut of Washim wanted  to be taken seriously – and he made his last attempt.  He bought Rs 100 stamp paper, notarized it (blank) and wrote his suicide note on it.   Sainath choked as he recounted his visit to Raut’s house.
How rural is the India’s agricultural credit – asks the Aug 13, Hindu article.  Nearly 50% of it was disbursed in metro and urban bank branches!  Corporates like Reliance grab the agriculture credit when they set up cold storages. It is the predatory commercialization of the countryside that is doing the farmers in.
The water crisis is HUGE.  Do you know we produce roses and tulips for export – and a rose takes 5 litres of water!  Nobody has ever planned for rain-fed farmers.   No wonder there have been 200,000+ suicides in the last 10 years.  On the potability front, dirty water kills more people than Malaria and HIV put together.  Is water a commodity or a human right?
And then Sainath said – the biggest concern is how we, the people, are losing  our sensitivity.
He asked – did I say “Globalization” even once in my talk?  No!  People like to call it by many names – but being old-fashioned, I just say capitalism.   ALL OF THIS MAYHEM IS DRIVEN BY POLICIES. 
He added, this monstrous inequality is not sustainable!
However global the forces be – their manifestation is going to be local.  It will be your street that would have traffic jams and pollution.  It would be your building that won’t get water.  So the resistance has to be local.  And it will make the difference.  We have to say NO to corporatization of public services. 
In response to a question Sainath elaborated how Dr. Narendra Jadhav (now member of the planning commission)  recalculated farmer suicide ratio to show Maharashtra in better light!  Instead of calculating the ratio as number of farmer suicides by the farmer population, he chose the total population as his denominator or the base.  And, then he concluded that Goa and Pondicherry were the worst states for the farmers! 

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

October 23, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Posted in India, Poverty

23 Responses

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  1. Abhay- most of us are aware of the challenge and also of its magnitude. Was there any discussion on possible solutions or way forward – other than expecting govt actions thru policies?
    I feel that we need parallel line of action to aliviate the problem and bring about the change.

    Taking example of the industrial growth, the entrepreneur took charge ( and it was possible for him !) And made way to building wealth, employment etc. Similarly, what can be done by the community itself to resolve its issues? Non – interference ny the govt itself can be major contribution by the govt in present situation.

    Examples as Brasil, Chile in L. A. Can be good examples for us.


    October 24, 2010 at 7:08 am

    • There is no 10 point solution to these issues. One man can’t stand on podium and give you that. (While urban neo-crusaders like Chetan Bhagat might attempt that on TOI coulumn). So it’s a little silly if Sainath has the soultion to these issues glaring at us everyday.


      April 24, 2011 at 12:09 am

  2. Thanks for the detailed report, it really helped me catch up. Did he say why this has happened and what we can do about it?


    October 24, 2010 at 8:18 am

  3. @Girish and @Atul – yes he did talk about the solution and I have just one line about it. He said – the response has to be “local”. My interpretation: I recall Dr. Abhay Bang’s comment that it is now all about person-to-person change. Can we give our not so insignificant mindshare to this issue and influence behaviours (and policies!) of people we interact with? A debate on such a topic is highly desirable!

    Abhay Patil

    October 24, 2010 at 8:30 am

    • precisely. And that’s not a solution that Sainath put forth. He was possibly indicating that the onus is on the local community to respond to their geo-political developments. Kerala is a failry good example of how a Panchayati Raj can bring about local empowerment. but then these are also a function of a lot of local factors – “”feudal nature of that community, literacy ratio, class-differences, local governance.. etc”.


      April 24, 2011 at 12:12 am

  4. While small farms could be productive, small farmers in India are a dying (pardon the pun) breed. Our land ceiling and acquisition laws make it hard for farm land to exchange hands and consolidation. Our land reform policies of land for the tiller is another fallacy. It is better to rent and have a sustainable income than own. Urbanization and Industrialization is the solution. It is more pragmatic for rural folks to move to regions of opportunity rather than taking jobs to them. NREGA is a good stop gap band aid, but not a sustainable solution.

    Rajan Shastri

    October 24, 2010 at 12:02 pm

  5. Hi Abhay,

    Very well written and also powerful. It touches on each aspect very clearly.

    If you write more do send it to me on just.tasneem@gmail.com


    October 24, 2010 at 1:44 pm

  6. Few years ago I jotted down my thoughts about ethics and development. Being a doctor, I think of the former all the time, but the challenge was to apply this to infrastructure development.

    The Ethical Principles at conflict and hence influencing our decisions are as under –

    Need alone – Pune deserves better, what ever the cost

    Maximising (Utilitarian) principles – popular among economists, since they are broadly utilitarian in focus i.e. maximise aggregate population benefit. The focus is on the consequences of any action taken (not the action). Thus if maximum population will benifit from ‘x’ we will do it whatever it takes (even slavery can be justified this way).

    Egalitarian principles – the basis of most democracies – focus is on removing inequality. Thus, Pune would not be allowed to spend massive amounts on projects such as Metro Rail – as other areas such as health, education, etc suffer (in the context of India it is the 80% living on less than a 1$ a day that pay the price for money spent elsewhere). This vital principle should be kept in mind to decide on the most cost-effective ways of solving infrastructural problems.


    A Joglekar

    October 24, 2010 at 3:46 pm

  7. Dear Abhay, Thank you for your excellent summary.The scenerio presented is disturbing.What are the alternatives available to us as individuals? How do we change government policies if not through political processes which we all know have failed in many areas. Each one of us may try to help a few needy to overcome inequities of system.Is it the only answer? We all know what sharad Pawar is doing is not right for the poorest farmers. Can you and I-we- do anything to change him or his party/ the system? Or even the venerable Sainath? I think there are no easy answers. VNRao


    October 24, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    • Thank you Mr. Rao for your comments. Of course there are no easy answers. Apparently Sainath too doesn’t have them. True that the Indian face of capitalism looks brutal. But the socialist regime has failed us – may be more due to the red tape and corruption than the ideology. Sainath does hint at the modus operandi for us – to focus on on our circle of influence. In that sense what you are doing at National Society for Clean Cities (NSCC) and Mohalla committee is the way to go!

      Abhay Patil

      October 24, 2010 at 9:36 pm

  8. Dear Abhay,
    While I respect Sainath, he is just one of many who poses problems with no real solutions. The title of his book “Everyone loves a Drought”, is an oxymoron and a rather cruel title. THe book is a good reference to understand the pathetic state of the BIMARU states. Having observed “poverty” first hand in Northern Karnataka (which is hardly poverty compared to the BIMARU States), I have come to the following conclusion. There is a segment of poor who are only concerned with their daily sustainance. They might have aspirations, but do not want to change their work ethic. They want to work when they wish and many are into alcoholism, gutka or other habits that eat into their meager existence. There is nothing we can do for these people other than give them the opportunity to live the way they want to live. Then there are poor who have aspirations and are willing to work. Many migrate and do well. Our Prime Minister is a prime example. For these, if only we allow industry to set up near any rural railway station, we could see a miracle in progress. Industry should be allowed to choose which railway station is viable for them rather than our “mafia” government making the choice for them. Once they choose, they should be given the go ahead to acquire the land they need directly from the owners, without the greedy grubby hands of the greedy bureaucrats and politicians siphoning off money. SOme farms may be affected, but there can always be a compensatory clause that requires the industry to either reforest or make some nearby non-arable land arable. The Israelis converted a desert into arable land. We are a lot more fortunate.

    Rajan Shastri

    October 25, 2010 at 8:37 am

    • yet another demand for a solution. ïf one man could solve these issues glaring at us everyday, why would we need a government then? It’s very silly to expect “solutions”, when Sainth’s job is not that. It’s a middle class obsession. To ask for solutions everytime one comes across articles & lectures like this. what it means is, “Alright, now that you have painfully collected the data and proved that these issues exist, why don’t you also tell me a solution for all this…so that I can maybe quote you in a tea-party that I am organsing next week” Solutions on’t come easy sir.


      April 24, 2011 at 12:17 am

  9. Dear Abhay,

    I did also attended this lecture, and got impressed by it as well as disturbed by the facts heard.
    Thanks for posting these detailed notes.
    SakaL newspaper had called Sainath for a lecture on 2nd Oct, around 5-6 yrs back. One of the push being that lecture [which was focussed on farming crisis in vidarbha] we folks had started an informal group
    ‘shetkari mitr kruti-gat’, studied crisis in vidarbha
    and have been helping good NGOs in vidarbha who’re
    working to imrpve the situation.
    I respect Sainath as much as I have been respecting
    Arun Shourie.
    thanks & regards,

    narendra joshi

    October 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm

  10. Thanks for these notes abhay. I wanted to attend his lecture, but was travelling. I was fortunate to interact and stay with some of the tribals in nandurbar area of the narmada valley. Their simple lifestyle pricked me in the heart somewhere and i wished i wasnt this energy and power hungry citizen staying in the city guzzling away resources which belonged to them. I agree that we all grow up to say that they need to pull up their socks, seek better opportunity and move on. But as a parallel example,do we have such expectations from our children? Somewhere we are losing out on innocence and honesty. The tribals in the valley have their own world, and an innocence of which we are taking advantage. At such times do we protect the innocent or do we expect them to fight us back on our terms? Thankfully the NBA has taken efforts to educate and empower the tribals such that they can atleast understand the policies and acts that are affecting them.
    I do not have a background in sociology, neither am i an activist, now do i stand for/against captilasim. but curiosity has made me read about sainathji’s articles and i think they show us a picture which we need to understand. It should impact us in our daily lives.


    October 25, 2010 at 9:24 pm

  11. Hi Abhay,

    I couldn’t attend this lecture, my loss. Thank you, your posting has helped me partly make up for the loss.

    The situation everywhere (rural as well as urban) around us is disturbing. Clearly to say elect the right policy makers does not appear to work – too slow and hasn’t happened so far.

    Did he touch upon micro-credit and micro-financing as a viable option to empower the poors? We do have an example in Grameen Bank to go by. Are you aware of any similar effort around us?


    Vikram Lele

    October 28, 2010 at 11:44 am

  12. Hello Sir,
    To borrow the opening line of the above comment – my loss that I wasn’t able to attend the lecture. Thanks for the summary, though.
    The link below is to a map displaying the Gini co-efficients of countries across the world:
    With the situation described in the blog, I wonder how India has a Gini co-efficient of 0.35-0.39 (as a note, values range between 0-1, 0 being most equal and 1 being most unequal). No opinions expressed, just thinking out loud….


    November 3, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    • We need to see the Lorenz curve for India. May be the curve lies flat on X axis for the poor and then takes off later with the middle class to give a little respectable value of Gini coeff. /Abhay

      Abhay Patil

      November 3, 2010 at 2:14 pm

  13. Hi Abhay,
    Thank you so much for posting detailed notes from Sainath’s lecture. I am sure it benefits all of us who missed the opportunity to attend the lecture in person.
    The facts and figures that Sainath presented show the miserable conditions of farmers.
    With the growing urbanization, the voter concentration is shifting away from villages to cities. Hence over the period of time, IMO, the political attention will be devoted more the to urban poor than the rural farmers.

    Secondly not all the government policies are bad. But the implementation of the policies is not one of our strengths. IMO only the law makes us all equal and our systems’s inability to enforce the laws is the biggest un-equalizer in our society.


    Aniruddha Chiplunkar

    November 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm

  14. yes

    it is a concern no doubt

    let us also discuss about the solutions which are workable

    let us as a first step form a group and be in touch

    i am first member

    anand gothekar

    November 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm

  15. Thanks for the detailed post.

    In coming decades, the biggest challenge for the industry and the corporate sector is that of growing at ~9-10% and managing the growth with inequalities that are enormous in proportion. Industry does not seem to realize that they can’t grow at that rate in the democracy setup with all these inequalities around. China is able to do with the iron fist for some time. If industry wishes, they could choose to lead or the growth for India will be speculative in nature. Or the loss of democracy will happen in the crossfire.

    Milind Gole

    November 8, 2010 at 11:53 am

  16. Thanks Abhay for posting this. I always had read his articles in the Hindu with interest. Now the hard hitting facts almost makes me numb !

    Subba Iyer

    January 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm

  17. Dear Sir,

    I have serious objections to Sainath quoting India’s HDI rank of 134 to argue that India’s recent economic growth is worthless.

    Growth of economy doesn’t imply a decent Human Development Index (HDI) ranking. Further, both cannot be compared. A country like Sierra Leone, which fares very badly at HDI, can still clock a good economic growth and still for many years can remain at the bottom of the HDI rankings. All that can be compared is the ‘growth’ in economy and ‘growth’ in human development. So the things to compare are how much Human Development Index has ‘increased’ vis-à-vis the ‘increase’ in GDP. Apples should be compared with apples only, a very basic law of nature.

    Lets compare the growth in HDI. UNDP report on HDI (2009) measures the absolute progress in HDI made by all the countries under three time-periods. The most recent comparison, for the short-term of 2000-2006, places India at rank 10th among those 131 countries which are ahead of it in HDI. All in all, it places India 15th among all the nations of the world for that period. So though India had a low HDI, it improved its HDI quite fast compared to others. And remember, 2000-2006 wasn’t a rosy 8% growth period throughout, the first three years saw an average growth less than 5%.

    And now lets come to the most cursed years of Indian economic growth by the ‘analysts’. Lets see how India progressed in human development when it was marching ahead in economy. Data for 2003-2006 from the very same UN report shows that the ‘second-fastest-growing-economy-in-the-world’ was eighth fastest in the world on progress in Human Development. YES, RANKED 8 AMONG OVER 175 NATIONS. SHOCKING?

    Infact, the period 2003-2006 saw India’s one of the best ever improvement in HDI. The index improved from 0.576 to 0.609. This improvement is one of the best in the decade!

    But even award winning journalists won’t tell you that, you would have to actually download hundreds of pages about that report, take a break from office for two and a half days, and know it yourself. That is the curse you would have to bear.

    I am frustrated why the media keeps on pervading untruthful things all over the country. I have opposed it at various forums, and I hope Voice Press will publish my views also in this regard.

    For details, please see the below Sainath articles and my comments on that, at the given links.


    Gaurav Singhal

    May 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm

  18. From 2013 UNDP Human Development Report:

    Between 1990 and 2012, almost all countries
    improved their human development status.
    …. Progress was particularly rapid in more than 40 countries of
    the South, whose increases in HDI value were
    significantly larger than predicted for countries
    that were at a similar level of HDI value
    in 1990.

    This includes countries as diverse as
    Ghana, Rwanda and Uganda in Sub-Saharan
    Africa; Bangladesh and India in South Asia;…..

    Brazil, China and India have all dramatically
    reduced the proportion of their people
    who are income poor—Brazil from 17.2% of
    the population in 1990 to 6.1% in 2009, China
    from 60.2% in 1990 to 13.1% in 2008 and India
    from 49.4% in 1990 to 32.7% in 2010.

    Gaurav Singhal

    April 14, 2013 at 10:02 am

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