The larger context of agrarian issues & a plausible solution.

The existing impasse around the farmers’ protest against the farm laws continues in spite of the intervention by the Supreme Court. I’m not going to comment about the merits or demerits of the new farm laws or the issues involved. However, let’s try to understand it from the broader perspective of the whole economic ecosystem.

The agriculture had been the dominant sector of the planetary economy since the dawn of the civilisation until its supremacy was replaced by the first three Industrial Revolution beginning two hundred and fifty years ago. The Industrial Revolutions were also accompanied by the emergence of capitalism and a market economy. The three Industrial Revolutions created huge job opportunities and helped assimilation agrarian workforce into secondary and tertiary segments of economy, however, even today, according to the estimates of the FAO, about sixty per cent of global population is still dependent, directly or indirectly, upon agriculture and yet its contribution to the world GDP is just about 4%, a dismal figure in comparison to the combined contribution of 90% of the secondary & tertiary sectors of economy. The agricultural produce at the primary level is disproportionately insignificant given the size of the population that it is required to sustain. The Indian scenario isn’t much different, except that the GDP contribution of this sector (12-15%) to the econom, is somewhat higher than the world average. This is s. Case of sectoral income inequalities.

To minimize dependency of the vast population on agriculture, the only plausible and time tested solution adopted was to shift it to industry and services sectors. This was facilitated by the creation of a very large workforce in technology driven sectors during the earlier three Industrial Revolutions, however, now, the tables are appearing to be turning around as some of the reports indicate that there will be net job losses during the regime of the Fourth Industrial Revolution due to artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive analytics, 3D printing, genomics and, overall, due to a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines of life, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human. And, therefore, the doors that were historically open during the last two centuries are closing down to assimilate the huge population from agriculture.

On this backdrop, it has become imperative to rethink of economic order to contain the unrest, turmoils and conflicts as the majority of the population getting restive due to scarcities of opportunities to earn a livelihood especially from the sector of agriculture. The Central and the State Governments are continuously trying to improve the economic status of farmers, however, these efforts do not get translated into a sustainable increase in the per capita income of the farmers.

Instead of addressing the problem faced by the farmers alone, there is a need to take a comprehensive view for a new economic model on the backdrop of the highly distorted economic inequality, subjugation of technology by the secondary and tertiary sectors, impending large scale job losses sealing opportunity for shifting people from agriculture to other sectors. The country needs to adopt pragmatic, disruptively innovative fresh thinking commensurate with the currency of the time. From this perspective, many new innovative models could be designed.

I am proposing one such solution that could be employed to address the issues haunting agrarian economy and pave way for retention of population in the agriculture sector by bringing rural average household income closer to that are engaged in manufacturing and services sectors without making any reference to the farmers’ agitation, or the new farm laws, continuance or abolition of APMCs, MSP, DBT, subsidies etc. I am proposing it as an independent initiative notwithstanding any of the above mentioned issues.

The proposal is simple, however, it would require deployment of digital technologies that are being used commercially on a large scale and; it wouldn’t be an impediment as the country is blessed with the availability of such technologies.

My proposal involves fixation of prices of all the agricultural primary goods on a day to day basis or periodically by the local farming community. Once such prices are discovered and fixed the first trade will have to procure that commodity at a price not below the price so fixed. The subsequent sales or trades can happen depending on the market forces. I propose to suggest a name to this scheme as

“First Trade Minimum Price” (FTMP).

The exercise of fixation of prices could be enabled through the use of robust digital technologies that are easily available. The organisational structure, statutory/regulatory mechanisms, the use of technologies are the aspects of detailing and are not at all difficult to conceptualise and implement. As the proposal is extremely simple, it wouldn’t take a long gestation period to operationalise it. It also doesn’t take away anything that is currently available to the farmer and, hence, I do not apprehend any resistance from them or for that matter from any other quarter.

This proposition is perfectly aligned with the existing accepted and unquestionable practices. It’s a fact that the GDP contribution of the secondary and tertiary sectors combined together is more than ~80% and it’s also a fact that the prices of products or the services of this ~80% economy are determined and decided by the manufacturers of the products or the service providers. My proposition is to enable the farming community also to decide the prices of their products like the secondary and tertiary segments of the economy.

The country and the Government may consider this suggestion to address the issue from all the dimensions and with an eye on the future of the economic well-being of the masses.

Mahesh Zagade(xIAS)

Former Principal Secretary to

Govt of Maharashtra.

( Published in Indian Express earlier)


Weakening of Democracy: Bureaucratic way(Original concise version of the article was published by the Times of India on 5/8/2020 Now posting the full text.)

Ever wondered what ails the Indian Administrative contraption? Of course, you always have and unfortunately, you are not in the minority, as a large number of people in this country have been besieged with the same though without any convincing answer. There are many facets to the problem, however, let me indicate one of the lesser perceived or discussed in the public domain.

Whenever there’s any untoward incident or systemic failure or for that matter anything that affects individuals, we all, including the media blame the politicians and surprisingly they also blame each other. Our favorite punch bags are necessarily political personalities and their parties. Nothing wrong. In the Democratic system, it’s but natural that they should bear the brunt of the public wrath and hue and cry for system failures as they are supposed to be governing the country. But then Socrates and other philosophers form the birthplace of democracy had warned that, in a democracy, you will not always get capable experts elected to manage affairs of the state. They were right, but then, even after experimenting with many other forms of governance, the humanity couldn’t come out with a better alternative to democracy even after two and half millennia. No, nothing to show sings of despair about the system of governance.

Having realized the lacuna pointed out by Socrates and others, the Democratic set up was improvised by creating well trained and the permanent bureaucracy as experts in the statecraft to assist and support the democratically elected people’s representatives. In other words, expert and capable officialdom is critical and equally important for a vibrant democracy. Having realized the fears expressed by Greek philosophers and by taking a cue from other Democratic countries, the authors of the Constitution of India included provisions like Article 311 in it to shield the bureaucracy form vagaries of political undue and unconstitutional pressures. This provision is a device that is capable of making bureaucracy, strong enough to thwart any attempts to water down the basic tenets of democracy by anyone. However, human ingenuity knows no bounds if it decides to puncture even strong statutory armor. And, the bureaucracy over a period of last seventy odd years have exactly done that! The naive stand of, course in hush voices, taken by the mandarins is that the political leadership has the power to transfer officials and therefore, good and performing officials are eased out in favor of yes-men and those who toe their line, many a times, not in the right side of the law. Thus, the bureaucracy plays the role of a victim of the people’s representatives. And as said earlier, the politicians become villains in the eyes of the public and eventual punching bags. Am I supporting unscrupulous political leadership? No, on the contrary, I’m trying to analyze whether that’s the cardinal truth. As a part of this system for three decades, in my perception the blame is squarely on the bureaucratic leadership.

The provision in the Article 311 is clear…. that civil servants shall not be removed without any inquiry. This is sufficient enough to act as per the provisions of the Constitution, laws and the larger public good and not to bow down to the illegal machinations of anyone. But then the bureaucratic culture has taken a perennial nosedive towards being subservient to the fear of transfer, the greed to garner “important” posts and post retirement assignments. Had the bureaucracy acted monolithically to uphold the Constitution and the law, things would have been pretty difficult for the unscrupulous elements to create the atmosphere that exists today. Of course, this is known to all and many committees and commissions have made recommendations to stem out the rot. There are plenty judicial pronouncements supporting and strengthening the functioning of the bureaucracy without fear or favor. It’s squarely in the hands of the Bureaucratic leadership to make use of such additional support in addition to the inherent support provided in the Constitution.

The question is not just that the some politicians transfer officials to suit their own agenda or subjugate opposition or to indulge in the activities that are harmful to the society, but it’s a very serious matter that has potential to threaten the existence of healthy democracy. If this trend continues, then, probably, it could jeopardize very survival of the Rule of Law.

This sordid state of affair of unfettered power of political leadership to transfer any official without any rhyme or reason or to bring in pliable or official of dubious background had irked 83 senior retired officers led by former Cabinet Secretary, Chief Election Commissioners, Director of CBI, High Commissioner, IAS, IPS, IFS and IRS officers. To address this problem and to strengthen the democratic system, they filed a Writ Petition in Supreme Court in 2011, which was decided in 2013. This judgement has empowered the bureaucracy to such an extent that it can’t ask anything more to guard itself from the undue political influence in transfers. This is termed as a landmark judgement in the administrative history of India and after spending 34 years in the public service, I feel that there can’t be any better judgement to cleanse the vitiated administrative atmosphere in the country.

The Supreme Court through this Judgement has given just three directions. One, if any superior, political or administrative authority gives oral instructions, then these instructions should be reduced to writing and brought these written instructions to the notice of the same authority. In other words, no one including political leadership can verbally pressurize juniors to do anything that is not right. Secondly, the Governments all over the country shall make legal mandate to provide a fixed tenure. And thirdly, all governments were directed to constitute three member Civil Services Boards (CSB) comprising the Cabinet Secretary or Chief Secretary and other two senior most officials for the postings and transfers of All India Service officials like IAS, IPS etc. at the apex levels at the Centre and the State government respectively. Similar CSBs are also mandated at all the levels of bureaucracy for postings and transfers. These CSBs are mandated to identify a panel of capable, eligible experienced officers suitable for a particular post and submit the list to either the Prime Minister or the Chief Minster for the final decision and it was left to the better judgement of the political head to select anyone from amongst the officers included in the list and not from outside. If the PM or CM wish to differ with the recommendation of the CAB then they can record the reasons for the same and direct the CSB to submit a fresh proposal.

The implication of this judgement is humongous. It simply means, no officer could be transferred before completion of the tenure and if required, he or she could be transferred if found to be doing injustice to the people, but that too only after proper conclusive proof of failure that is arrived at through proper inquiry.

In the essence, the Supreme Court has held the senior-most bureaucratic leadership accountable to protect the government employees from any undue pressures from any internal or external quarters. I believe that there cannot be a better empowerment for transparent and accountable administration than this judgement if implemented in its letter and spirit. However, a cursory glance across the country reveals that the senior bureaucratic leadership has miserably failed in proper implementation of this judgement and thereby depriving people of this country benefits of good governance. This is a high time that the society takes note of this monumental failure of the senior officials and hold them responsible rather than ruing about overpowering tendencies of political leadership. In fact, the concerned legal luminaries could examine whether it’s contempt of the Supreme Court (I believe it is!) and take it up to the judicial forum for the sake of strengthening the Democracy.


Refresh the Button


I will be deluding myself if I say I’m enjoying the secluded existence during this unprecedented lockdown. I can’t suppress the genes that made my ancestors to traverse vast expanse of wilderness for about 25-30 lakh years, barring a comparatively minuscule time of preceding 15000 years or so when humanity started settling down.

The current mass seclusion warranted by the COVID-19, must be happening for the first time in the entire history and, therefore, I’m not at peace with myself. It’s a mighty blow on the celebrated wisdom and maturity of this highly evolved species, a species that could be crowned as the Emperor species of all the living creatures. But, today, a nano-micron size entity, the Coronavirus has brought down this Emperor species to its knees. This is not a good news.

We have been engulfed in the frenzy of exotic ideas of development, especially during the last two centuries, coupled with the economic models that are designed to serve and favor a few rather than the most. The governance systems are not at all in the saddle to control the economic systems, rather, the economic systems are subjugating the governments. There’s a deficit of vision all across the globe. And, because of pollution of thoughts, the societies are being torn apart on social media, creating virtual civil wars in many countries. It’s a habit of cultures to tout any happening as a never before event and we have collectively blunted the real meaning of “never before”. But believe me the situation created ‘not by’ Coronavirus but ‘due to’ the response to the COVID-19 is patently a ‘never before’ event.

I have discontinued my daily ritual of jogging 12 kms of last two decades. I miss it a lot. The genes of my ancestors provoke me not to discontinue it, however, I’m not listening to those genes and abiding by the government’s efforts to contain it and save lives. However, the same genes also give an uneasy feeling and tell me that the humanity should press the ‘refresh’ button on the keyboard, debug the system and write a fresh software… new governance, cultural and economic orders that would enable coexistence of the entire humanity, bereft of any artificial barriers and cemented by shared interests and values.