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The devil is not in the detail

From an Indian standpoint, what matters is the big picture that emerges from the Seymour Hersh report controversy

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

A report by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest. Considering the speculative nature of the report, and the uncomfortable situation that it puts all the protagonists in, the report has received a lot of flak.

Diagram of Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, image courtesy: Mysid, Wikimedia Commons

The objective of this post is not to vouch for or to find holes in the report but to throw some light on the consequences of this controversy, particularly from an Indian standpoint.

  1. India stands to gain more with the report coming out than without it. The controversy surrounding the report gives credence to what India has always maintained: the complicity of the Pakistani state with terrorists. The fact that the epicentre of the controversy is US is even better, it will make future engagements with the Pakistan military establishment tougher.
  2. The controversy is good because it has enough and more in it to convince everyone about the existence of the Pakistani Military Jihadi Complex (MJC) — a dynamic network of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures that pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance. It is interesting to note that this entire episode which involved military action by one state in the heart of another country hardly features the civilian government of Pakistan. This is just one of the many indicators of the power that the MJC wields over decision-making in Pakistan.
  3. The episode also puts into perspective that this dynamic network can and does get unwieldy at times. On one hand, there are cohesive forces such as enmity towards India and the ideology of radical Islamism that bind the MJC. On the other, there are forces of repulsion caused by the underlying inconsistencies of the project and the confusion surrounding the objective of the Pakistani state. The balancing act is not an easy job and is bound to have its moments of failures.
  4. Overall, this episode is itself a result of exogenous forces which have moulded the MJC’s responses in disparate ways. First, a splurge of military aid in return of Pakistan’s partnership in the war or terror meant that it was in the MJC’s favour to keep the hunt for Osama Bin Laden going on for as long as possible. Then came the new forces: the Kerry-Lugar-Bergman legislation tightened the noose on military aid  and US increased drone strikes within the Pakistan territory. This increased the costs for the MJC in keeping the hunt for Osama going. Eventually, was it the diminishing marginal utility that caused the MJC to co-operate with the US in this operation still remains an unanswered question.
  5. How the MJC reacts to this clearly uncomfortable situation will serve as a test case to understand how strong the cohesive forces that unite it are. The Urdu media will play its part: there are already reports that project the ISI as a hero, claiming that Osama was already in ISI’s custody and the entire operation would have been impossible without the ‘help’ of the ‘generous’ Pakistani establishment. Given this narrative, the jihadi node of the MJC is bound to view the military with even more suspicion going ahead. 

India would do well to keep a close watch on the firefighting that happens going ahead in order to devise strategies that can dismantle the Pakistani military jihadi complex – an irreconcilable adversary.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Of third order enclaves and second class citizens

A Constitutional Amendment settling the land border issues between India and Bangladesh will allow the two nation-states to focus on more substantive issues.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

On 6th May 2015, the Rajya Sabha unanimously passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill, thus rolling out a process that will culminate in giving effect to the Land Border Agreement Protocol signed by the two Prime Ministers in 2011. If and when the bill crosses the remaining hoops, it will resolve a long standing irritant in the India—Bangladesh bilateral relationship.


The details of the Land Border Agreement Protocol, which will come into effect once the Constitution is amended, are captured brilliantly in this FAQ (pages 56-67) on the MEA website. The main points of the agreement are:

The implementation of the Protocol will result in the exchange of 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh with 51 Bangladesh enclaves in India and preservation of the status quo on territories in adverse possession. In implementing the Protocol, 111 Indian enclaves with a total area of 17,160.63 acres in Bangladesh are to be transferred to Bangladesh, while 51 Bangladesh enclaves with an area of 7,110.02 acres in India are to be transferred to India. Moreover, with the adjustment of adverse possessions in the implementation of the Protocol, India will receive 2777.038 acres of land and transfer 2267.682 acres of land to Bangladesh.

In reality, however the exchange of enclaves and adverse possessions denotes only a notional exchange of land. The actual situation on the ground is that the enclaves are located deep inside the territory of both countries and there has been no physical access to them from either country. Thus the exchange of enclaves will legalise a situation which already exists de facto.

Similarly, in the case of adverse possessions, the reality is that the area to be transferred was already in the possession of Bangladesh and the handing over of this area to Bangladesh and India respectively. The exchange of adverse possessions confirms that each country will legally possess the territories it is already holding.

The Protocol resolves the question of people residing in these disputed areas under the general principle that displacements of people be minimised. This is being done in two ways:

  1. Retention of status quo of adverse possessions. This means that pockets along the border that officially belong to one country but have traditionally been under the possession of people of another country, will now be transferred to the controlling state.
  2. With regard to the enclaves, people living in these areas shall be given the right of staying on where they are as nationals of the State to which these enclaves are transferred.

This blogger welcomes the development for three reasons.

First, maintaining enclaves was injudicious and ran contrary to the public interest. This is because the residents of these areas were not able to enjoy full legal rights as citizens of either India or Bangladesh. Since one had to pass through the areas belonging to another country in order to get to the enclaves, providing proper facilities with regard to electricity, schools and health services was not possible. In what reflects this abomination, the India-Bangladesh border region also had the world’s only third order enclave — Dahala Khagrabari #51. A third order enclave implies that it is a piece of India within Bangladesh, within India within Bangladesh. By transferring enclaves such as these, this amendment will rationalise the borders, allowing people to exercise their full rights.

Second, it sets a healthy precedent that territorial integrity is important only to the extent that it upholds the development and well being of its citizens. Making territorial integrity uncompromisable under any circumstance goes against the idea of liberal nationalism. In this particular case, holding on to small pieces of territory was an impediment to the interests of the people living in them as they were reduced to second class citizens. It was also hurting the interests of the citizens not directly involved in the land border dispute as this issue became a road block to a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship.

Third, from India’s perspective, the big ask of Bangladesh is to allow land transit through Bangladesh, connecting India’s north-eastern states with multiple road and rail links to the rest of India. Bangladesh in return wants the water sharing issue to be resolved in their favour. Beyond these two interests, the question of land and maritime borders were mere irritants that prevented any significant movement on issues of greater importance to both nation-states. Given that these two irritants are now resolved, we can now expect developments in the two big concerns.

In summary, this is a positive step that can take the bilateral relationship to greater heights.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Hyper multi-objective optimisation: the bane of policymaking

Policies fail when they try to optimise for several objectives, ultimately creating a system that fulfils none of them.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Multi-objective optimisation is that step in any design process which tries to make a system suitable for several objectives at the same time. This concept is applied in several branches of science like engineering, economics and logistics.

In engineering, this process of multi-objective optimisation translates into design constraints. Some common design constraints are: performance, cost, reliability and usability. The whole design problem then is about coming up with a solution that is optimal on all these counts. For example, a hardware engineer designing a chip tries to optimise it for higher speed, smaller size, a wide temperature range of operation and low costs.

Often, increasing design constraints both in terms of their number and their strictness makes the system design so complex that it becomes impossible to construct it. This is because objectives are often conflicting and trying to optimise for one leads to a degradation with respect to the other. In such a case, system design can only proceed if one objective is traded-off to some extent. In other words, for a nontrivial multi-objective optimisation problem, there does not exist a single solution that simultaneously optimises each objective.

Multi-objective optimisation is particularly applicable to government policies. Apart from the usual design constraints of equity, efficiency and costs, there are several other constraints like political feasibility and ease of implementation. Thus, designing good policies is essentially a case of multi-objective optimisation.

Now, the problem with many policies is this: governments try to optimise a policy or an agency for several objectives at the same time. Just like an engineering system design returns a null solution when strict conflicting objectives are applied at the same time, public policies trying to optimise for several objectives end up failing.

Now, the argument that this blog post makes is that the reason some government policies in India fail is because they try to do hyper multi-objective optimisation, ultimately creating a system that meets none of the objectives. Let’s consider a few cases:

The first illustrative example is that of India’s tax policy. India’s tax policy is extremely complicated, with several layers of rebates and raises across sectors, income levels and geographic areas. The reason behind this complexity is that India’s tax policy has been burdened with several objectives. And hence, it is no surprise that such a system does not function as desired. Dr. M. Govinda Rao summarises this condition best when he says:

Although many countries’ tax policy is used as an instrument to accelerate investment, encourage savings, increase exports and pursue some other objectives, Indian’s obsession is perhaps unique. In addition to the above, India’s tax policy is loaded with objectives such as industrialisation of backward regions, encouraging infrastructure ventures, promotion of small scale industries, generation of employment, encouragement to charitable activities and scientific research, and promotion of enclave-type development through Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These objectives are pursued through various exemptions, differentiation in rates and preferences which enormously complicate the tax structure and open up avenues for evasion and avoidance of tax and create rent-seeking opportunities.

The second illustration is that of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). It was originally meant to be a scheme to augment the income of households by providing wage employment opportunities in rural areas. However, several new objectives were subsequently added. For instance,
creating sustainable rural livelihoods through regeneration of the natural resource base, and strengthening rural governance through decentralisation and processes of transparency and accountability. Thus, far from being optimised for increasing wages, this is also seen as a process of regeneration of natural resources and for strengthening rural grassroots democracy. This hyper multi-objective optimisation thus is the bane of MGNREGA.

Third, an urban example. The traffic police system was created with the objective of upholding the rule of law on roads i.e. ensuring that the traffic rules, whatever they may be, are adhered to on roads. But this same police force is also tasked with an objective of reducing traffic congestion i.e. ensuring a smooth flow of vehicles. Often, the two objectives of faster vehicular traffic movement and upholding of traffic rules conflict with each other. The result is that neither objectives are met.

Thus, hyper multi-optimisation is a challenge for policymaking. There are broadly two responses to this challenge.

The first one is augmentation. This involves creating separate agencies or policies, each of which is optimised only for one or two objectives. This is a common response observed in India. For example, in pursuance of the objectives of promoting a rapid rise in the standard of living of the people, increasing production and controlling the direction of the economy, the Planning Commission instituted in 1950.

The second response is that of withdrawal. This involves a realisation that a few objectives just cannot be optimised efficiently by government policies. They can be best handled by the market or by the society. This would mean that policies could leave some objectives unoptimised or only marginally optimised. For example, the traffic police can return to its original duty—ensuring that traffic rules are adhered to. The objective of managing vehicle flows can be left to automated traffic signals. Beyond that, it is for individuals to assess and build consensus for reducing travel times. Similarly, given that absolute poverty is its biggest concern, the government may choose to leave the moral question of relative poverty and the pursuit of zero inequality to a future date.

The second response is definitely the tougher one. Not only does it require a projection of what policies can do, it also needs the humility to accept and explain what government policies cannot do.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas
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Viability, not just neutrality

A healthy market, and not just a neutral net is the key to upholding national interest 

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

A neutral net — defined conservatively as a denial of abilities that allow one type of internet content to be relayed differentially over others, is a desirable outcome for India. Even so, a neutral internet is not enough to ensure the success of the internet ecosystem. The bigger deal is to remove barriers that prevent all the stakeholders of the ecosystem from having a decent shot at succeeding in their game.  

The reasons for the argument made above can be found in the answers to a set of four questions listed below:

1. Where does India’s national interest vis-à-vis the internet lie?
India’s national interest in a knowledge economy relies on successes at the level of individuals and enterprises, both. Individuals want more & better connectivity to the internet. Provided that the individual is ready to pay for it, he/she should be free to tap the information and knowledge flows from the internet. At the enterprise level, India’s growth agenda requires the success of its enterprises. Given how the three sectors of the Indian economy have developed, we are closest to success in the information space rather than on the shop floor or on the fields.

2. What does upholding this national interest require?
We need the internet ecosystem to succeed as a whole, which means that we need successes in every part of the system—software product creation, communication networks and storage servers. Note that this is in sharp contrast to the arguments that we have been drawn in over the TRAI consultation paper. The paper projects the ongoing debate as a clash of interests between the internet content providers and the communication services providers. For upholding our national interests, as defined above, we don’t have an option. We need ALL the sides to win.

3. What are the factors that will enable all sides to win?
The good news is that this is not a zero-sum game. Though the communication services industry may project that internet content providers are parasites, it really isn’t. It is rather a case of an overly regulated market which is preventing the system from functioning optimally. Removing all unnecessary ex-ante regulations will lead to increased competition and contestability, enabling a healthy market. The three key factors in this regard are:

  • Regulations on the communication service providers must go: The government regulator is trying to optimise for several objectives through the communication providers. As a result, there are restrictions on voice call rates, guidelines for ensuring regional balances in terms of connectivity, caps on additional services like roaming, caps on number of players in each circle, tough merger and acquisitions process to prevent collusion and so on. And all these objectives are being laden on the shoulders of the communication providers who are looking to run a profitable business.
  • No regulation on the internet content providers is acceptable: The question of whether regulations should apply to even the internet content providers is currently being debated by TRAI. Having seen the problems that the communication service industry has got in to, there is no case for these regulations. It is unequivocally against the national interest.
  • Consumers must not be stifled from entering the knowledge economy: This is where the government has a role to play through its own service—BSNL. BSNL needs to be seen as a vehicle for protecting consumer interests should the industry run into troubles. BSNL already has favourable terms and conditions with regards to spectrum allocations. As long as it is not seen solely from the objective of making profit, it will help check collusion in the market by providing a credible alternative.

4. What should be done to bring these success factors to life?

  • We need to lift existing regulations on communication services industry. Beyond the rules that apply to other industries for preventing predatory practices, there is no reason why the regulators should micromanage the operations of the industry. Currently, the communication network providers have been able to hide behind these restrictions, taking the easier path of seeking further regulations on internet content providers instead. Network providers fear passing on their costs to the end consumer and a fearful industry goes against our national interest.  Once the suffocating regulations are lifted, the network providers would be confident of raising prices and fight it out in the market to serve the consumer better. This might well lead to consolidation but that’s the inherent reality of the marketplace.
  • To uphold the interests of the end consumers, net neutrality as a principle must be upheld. This is because communication network providers should not have the unfair advantage of being able to price internet content differently. Once the communication networks are setup, costs do not change with consumers accessing different content. In any case, the communication service providers are free to have fair internet usage policies to prevent induced demand effects.

In summary,  net neutrality is just one of the parameters of the internet ecosystem. Our interests lie in net neutrality and far beyond it as well.

[Other responses on this topic by the Takshashila Community: Varun Ramachandra’s take: Net neutrality is like Net Neutrality, Anupam Manur’s take: Using price discrimination to ensure Net neutrality, The Financial Viability of net neutrality by Devika Kher, How 2ab explains net neutrality by Karthik Shashidhar, Thoughts on Net Neutrality and Zero Rating by GK John and On net neutrality and national interest by Nitin Pai]

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Flashback: constructing a narrative for Pakistan

Glimpses from a 1957 Pakistani Urdu movie Bedari about the ideas concerning a young Pakistani State. 

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

The 70mm screen is a powerful tool for political communication. An example of this tool at work is the Pakistani Urdu movie from 1957 called Bedari (meaning: Enlightenment)The movie is a patriotic Pakistani film. The movie was, in Bollywood jargon, inspired by a 1954 Hindi movie called Jagriti. The lead role in both movies is played by Nazir Rizvi (better known by his screen name Rattan Kumar). Nazir migrated to Pakistan in the 1950s and went on to act in many Lollywood movies thereafter.


The most interesting part of the movie are its four songs—set to the exact tune of the very popular songs in the original Jagriti.  There are several notable references in these songs.

1. Aao Bachchon saer karaien tumko Pakistan ki

This song is set to the tune of the popular Bollywood song Aao Bachchon tumhe dikhaaiyen jhaanki Hindustan ki. The screenplay is that a teacher takes a few students to various parts of Pakistan, singing a few lines in praise of each of the provinces. Sindh is described as the area where the tyranny of Raja Dahir (Sindh’s last Hindu ruler) is overthrown by the Lashkar of Muhammad Bin Qasim. Punjab is described as the place which was enlightened by Iqbal’s poetry. The brave soldiers, who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the nation hail from here. NWFP, referred to as the land of Pathans is described as a place where even children are familiar with warfare. Interestingly, the fourth territory discussed is Kashmir, and not Balochistan.

 2. Ae Quaid-e-Azam tera ehsaan hi ehsaan 

This song is set to the tune of De di hamein aazaadi bina.., another popular song praising the non-violent efforts of Gandhi. In Bedari, the roles are completely reversed. The song is in praise of Jinnah and the projected villain (dushman) is Gandhi, who is out to foil the idea of Pakistan.

3. Hum layein hain toofaan se

is a copy of a song by same name. This song ends with how Pakistan’s ambitions are incomplete unless the flag of Pakistan is hoisted in Kashmir.

This is just one, but nevertheless an interesting data point in the early stages of nation building of Pakistan.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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कुछ पाने के लिए कुछ खोना भी पड़ता है

यह कहावत न सिर्फ एक दार्शनिक सिद्धांत है, बल्कि एक आर्थिक तथ्य भी है।

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

ऊपर लिखित कहावत का प्रयोग हमने असंख्य बार सुना है । लेकिन इस संकल्पना को अर्थशास्त्र में कैसे समझा जाता है,  आइये जाने—
इस ब्लॉग श्रृंखला के पिछले प्रकरण में हमने देखा था कि तंगी से निपटने का एक तरीका है चुनाव — अर्थात अपनी-अपनी ज़रुरत और हालात के आधार पर किया गया वह फैसला जो हमारी व्यक्तिगत पसंद का परिचायक होता है । इस चुनाव को अंग्रेज़ी में ट्रेड-ऑफ कहा जाता है ।

जब भी हम अपने एक सीमित संसाधन के बदले में किसी एक चीज़ का चुनाव करते हैं तो किसी दूसरी चीज़ को जाने-अनजाने त्याग देते हैं। उदाहरणार्थ, एक ग्रेजुएट युवक/युवती के लिए एक सीमित संसाधन होता है समय। मूल्यवान संसाधन इसलिए क्यूंकि इस अवस्था में ज़िम्मेदारियाँ अक्सर काम होती हैं । सीमित इसलिए क्यूंकि  बेपरवाह जीवन बनाये रखना हमेशा संभव नहीं होता। मान लीजिये,अब इस ग्रेजुएट के सामने अपने संसाधन का उपयोग करने के केवल दो तरीके हैं — एक, ग्रेजुएशन के बाद किसी अच्छी जगह कार्यरत होना और दूसरा, पोस्ट-ग्रेजुएट कोर्स करना।

विकल्प आप कोई भी चुनें, उससे जुडी लागत को व्यय करना पड़ता है और यह लागत सिर्फ मौद्रिक (monetary) नहीं होती । अगर आप पोस्ट-ग्रेजुएशन का मार्ग चुनते हैं तो आप कॉलेज की फीस, ऍप्लिकेशन इत्यादि की मौद्रिक लागत उठाते हैं। लेकिन लागत सिर्फ इतनी नहीं है — इस विकल्प को चुनते ही आप कुछ सालों के लिए एक फुल-टाइम तनख़्वाह कमाने का मौक़ा भी खो देते हैं और यह भी आपकी कुल आर्थिक लागत का हिस्सा है। उसी तरह आप अगर एक फुल-टाइम जॉब का विकल्प चुनते हैं तो मौद्रिक लागत के रूप में नए शहर में सेटल होने के लिए एक मौद्रिक लागत उठाते हैं । साथ ही आप एक मास्टर्स/डॉक्टर की उपाधि हासिल करने का मौका गवाते हैं, और यह भी आपकी लागत का एक अहम हिस्सा है । इस संकल्पना को जो हमारे खोये हुए मौक़े की लागत को दर्शाती है, अवसर लागत (Opportunity Cost) कहते हैं।

अत:, किसी भी ट्रेड-ऑफ की कुल आर्थिक लागत जाननी हो तो हमें अवसर लागत को भी कुछ इस तरह सम्मिलित करना पड़ेगा —

कुल आर्थिक लागत = मौद्रिक लागत + अवसर लागत

ध्यान रहे कि कई बार अवसर लागत को एक सटीक नंबर देना मुश्किल होता है, लेकिन इसका मतलब यह कतई नहीं हैं कि हम इसको अपने विश्लेषण से हटा दे। बल्कि हमें इस पर और ज़्यादा धान देना चाहिए, क्यूंकि एक विकल्प की मौद्रिक लागत कम होते हुए भी कुल लागत कई गुना हो सकती है अगर उसकी अवसर लागत बहुत अधिक हो।

अवसर लागत की संकल्पना हमें पब्लिक पॉलिसी में किस प्रकार मददगार होती है? इस प्रकार कि सरकार के पास संसाधन हैं सीमित और ज़िम्मेदारियाँ हैं हज़ार। सरकार की हर नीति से एक अवसर लागत जुडी है । इसीलिए अगर हमें एक पॉलिसी की गुणवत्ता का विश्लेषण करना हो तो ना सिर्फ उस पर ज़ाया खर्च और मिलने वाले फायदे को जानना होगा, बल्कि यह भी देखना कि इस विकल्प को चुनकर हमने क्या मौके खोये हैं । जिस नीति में अवसर लागत और मौद्रिक लागत, दोनों का कुल जोड़ कम हो, वही अधिक किफ़ायती होगी। अतः अगली बार अगर आप नरेगा, स्मार्ट सिटी या सर्व शिक्षा अभियान जैसी नीतियों की गुणवत्ता का विश्लेषण कर रहे हो तो पहले इस प्रश्न का उत्तर सोचिये — इस चक्कर में हमने क्या खोया और क्या पाया? और उसके बाद ही अपना मन बनाये कि यह नीति सफल थी या नहीं।

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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चाहतें बेशुमार, संसाधनों का तंग हाल

क्या दुर्लभ संसाधन फ्री होने चाहिए?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

कुछ दिन पहले दिल्ली सरकार ने पानी और बिजली के दाम घटा दिए। इस मामले को लेकर काफ़ी वाद-विवाद हुए । और हमेशा की तरह हम समाजवाद और पूंजीवाद जैसे बड़े-बड़े शब्दों की चपेट में आ गए। हमने यह तो पुछा ही नहीं कि किसी वस्तु की लागत के पीछे मूल कारण आख़िर है क्या?

आम तौर पर इस प्रश्न का उत्तर अर्थशास्त्र के मौलिक अभ्यास से हमें आसानी से मिल सकता है । किन्तु हमारे अर्थशास्त्र पाठ्यक्रम में हम इस प्रकार के प्रश्नों को नज़रअंदाज़ कर देते हैं । ग्यारहवीं-बारहवीं के पाठ्यक्रम में पहले हम भारत की पंचवर्षीय योजनाओं को रटते हैं । तत्पश्चात हम मार्क्स या फ्रीडमैन की विचारधाराओं को एक दुसरे के विरुद्ध भिडाकर अपने हाथ धो लेते हैं । अर्थ से जुड़े इतिहास को अर्थशास्त्र कहना सरासर ग़लत है । वास्तव में अर्थशास्त्र गणित और विज्ञान जैसा एक बुनियादी विषय है जिसका उद्देश्य है मानव या एक मानवजाति के व्यवहार का आंकलन करना । कुछ क्षणों के लिए अपने दृढसिद्धान्तो के सिंहासन को त्यागकर आइये देखें कि अर्थशास्त्र हमारे मुख्य प्रश्न के बारे में क्या कहता है ।

हमारा संसार तंगी का संसार है । कहने का तात्पर्य यह कि हमारी ज़रूरतें हमारे संसाधनो से ज़्यादा होती है। अर्ज़ किया है-

غرض کے دایرہ کا مسلسل کر اضافہ

کہتا ہیں وہ ک غریب میں بھی تو ہوں

(ग़रज़ के दायरे का मसल्सल कर इज़ाफ़ा,

कहता है वो कि ग़रीब मैं भी हूँ)

यह ज़रुरत और प्राप्यता का अंतर किसी भी महत्त्वाकांक्षी व्यक्ति का परिचायक है । जब यह महात्वाकांक्षी व्यक्ति एक समाज स्थापित करते हैं तो वह समाज भी महत्वाकांक्षी हो जाता है । ध्यान रहे कि यह कोई ‘मॉडर्न’ ज़माने का दोष नहीं हैं । यह अंतर समाज में प्राचीनतम काल से चला आ रहा है । पाषाण काल में भूख मिटाने के लिए शिकार बहुत थे लेकिन शिकार करने की क्षमता सिमित थी । जब इंसान खेती करने लगा तो पानी के स्त्रोत सिमित थे ।  जब इंसान मशीनें बनाने लगा तो मशीनों को बनाने के लिए दुसरे पुर्ज़े सिमित थे । इस प्रकार सिमित संसाधनो का विनिधान युगो-युगों से किसी भी अर्थव्यवस्था का केंद्रीय प्रश्न रहा है।

दुर्लभता की इस मौलिक चुनौती का जवाब समाज दो रूप से दे सकता है । पहला है नवीनीकरण। पहले शिकार को पकड़ने के लिए बहुत से लोगों की ज़रुरत होती थी यह सुनिश्चित करने के लिए कि कहीं शिकार शिकारी पर हावी न हो जाए। इस चुनौती का एक हल था — औज़ारों का ईजाद जिससे खाद्य संसाधनों का अभाव कुछ हद तक काम हुआ । इसी प्रकार खेती में पानी के अभाव को मिटाने के लिए सिंचाई के तरीकों का शोध हुआ। हालांकि नवीनीकरण का उपाय दुर्लभता को मिटा सकता है , यह प्रक्रिया अक़्सर धीमी होती है ।

तंगी से निपटने का दूसरा तरीका है चुनाव । अर्थात अपनी-अपनी ज़रुरत, हालात के आधार पर फैसला करना कि कौनसी वस्तु अधिक मूल्यवान है। इसे अंग्रेज़ी में ट्रेड-ऑफ कहा जाता है । उदाहरणार्थ परीक्षा के पहले समय सीमित होता है — जिसकी नज़र में अच्छे नंबर ज़रूरी है उसे अपने सिमित समय में फिल्म, खेल इत्यादि त्याग कर पढ़ाई पर ध्यान देना पड़ता है । इस प्रकार वह पढ़ाई को मनोरंजन के साथ ट्रेड-ऑफ करता है । जब हम इस संकल्पना को एक सामाजिक स्तर पर देखें तो पता चलता है कि हर इंसान अपने अपने विवेकानुसार संसाधनों को जुटाने के लिए जाने-अनजाने में असंख्य ट्रेड-ऑफ करते रहता है । इस प्रवृत्ति से प्रतिस्पर्धा की स्थिति उत्पन्न होती है — कई लोग कुछ संसाधानों को अर्जित करने की रेस का हिस्सा बन जाते है । अब फैसला यह करना है कि विनिधान किस प्रकार होगा? किसे कितना मिलेगा? किसी चीज़ की कीमत और कुछ नहीं बल्कि इसी होड़ का सिगनल है । ज़्यादा क़ीमत का मतलब है कि वह वस्तु ज़्यादा दुर्लभ है जबकि उसकी मांग कई गुना अधिक।

यह दो तरीकों के आधार पर अब हम अपने मुख्य प्रश्न की ओर लौटते हैं । स्वच्छ पानी एक दुर्लभ संसाधन है । अगर उसे मुफ्त में बाँट दिया जाए तो क्या होगा? एक, उस वस्तु की क़द्र नहीं होगी जिसके लिए बहुत छोटा ट्रेड-ऑफ करना पड़े, अर्थात लोग पहले से दुर्लभ संसाधन को व्यर्थ करने या अत्योपयोग करने के लिए प्रोत्साहित होते है । दूसरा, क्यूंकि हम पानी के अभाव पर एक झूठा पर्दा डाल देते है इसलिए भविष्य में नवीनीकरण के तरीकों का गला घोट देते हैं । इस उदाहरण में हम Rain Water Harvesting या पानी के रिसाव को रोकने इत्यादि की पहल को दबा देते हैं ।

कहने का अर्थ यह नहीं कि पानी की क़ीमत बढ़ाना ग़रीबों के ख़िलाफ़ है । ज़रूरतमंद वर्गों को सरकार और किसी रूप से सहायता कर सकती है । परन्तु क़ीमत को कृत्रिम रूप से घटाने से केवल उसका नाश होता है और उसकी गुणवत्ता भी घटती है ।

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas


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सामाजिक क्रांति और भारतीय संविधान : एक अद्वितीय प्रयोग

असंख्य सामाजिक कुरीतियों पर अंकुश लगाने की ज़िम्मेदारी संविधान के लिए एक कठोर परीक्षा है

– प्रणय कोटस्थाने

आम तौर पर ‘क्रांति’ और ‘संविधान’ को विरोधार्थी सन्दर्भों में समझा जाता है । क्रन्तिकारी बदलाव के बारे में सोचते हुए अक़्सर हमारे मन में आंदोलन, जोश-ख़रोश, हिंसा और विशाल जनसमूहों के चित्र सामने आ जाते हैं । वहीं संवैधानिक बदलाव के साथ हम अक़्सर समझौते, धीमें बदलाव, विचार-विमर्श वगैरह जैसी मंद क्रियाएँ जोड़ देते हैं । केवल भारतीय संविधान ही एक ऐसा प्रयोग है जो इन दोनों भिन्न धारणाओं को व्यापक तौर पर साथ ला सका है ।

संविधान को सामजिक बदलाव का मुख्य एजेंट बनाना न केवल एक साहसिक प्रयोग था, यह एक अद्वितीय कदम भी था । साहसिक इसलिए क्यूंकि १९४७ तक भारतीय समाज नाना प्रकार की कुरीतियों की वजह से खोखला हो चूका था । जातिवाद, साम्प्रदायिकता, भूखमरी और गरीबी ने समाज को कमज़ोर बना दिया था । ऐसे वक़्त पर हमारे संविधान के रचयिताओं ने इन समस्याओं का ख़ात्मा करने का बीड़ा उठाया । साथ ही यह कदम अद्वितीय इसलिए था क्यूंकि उस वक़्त तक किसी भी संविधान ने क्रान्ति लाने का जिम्मा नहीं उठाया था । उदराहणार्थ , अगर हम अमरीकी संविधान पर नज़र डाले तो पता चलता है कि वह एक कन्सर्वेटिव रचना है । उसमें  केवल उस समय के मानदंडों की रक्षा करने का भाव है ।

संविधान रचयिताओं की यह असाधारण पहल ज़रूरी भी थी और शायद सही भी थी , किन्तु इस प्रयोग के कुछ साइड इफेक्ट्स भी हुए जो आज तक चले आ रहें हैं और जिन्हें समझना ज्ञानवर्धक होगा ।

एक, इस क्रांतिकारी बदलाव की कोशिश ने पूरे संविधान की वैधता पर सवालिया निशान लगा दिए । जो लोग सदियों से जात-पात या दहेजप्रथा जैसी दक़ियानूसी बातों में विश्वास रखते थे , वे यह पूछने लगे कि चंद लोगों के कल लिखे हुए कुछ  पन्नें आखिर किस रूप से प्राचीन रीति रिवाजों से बेहतर हैं ? ऐसा सोचने वाले आज भी मौजूद हैं खाप पंचायतों के रूप में जो गोत्र और जाति जैसी मनघड़ंत बातों पर आँख मूँद कर विश्वास रखने पर आमादा हैं । और जब कुछ लोग संविधान के एक क्षेत्र को नकारने लगें तो इस अवैधता का डर संविधान के अन्य क्षेत्रों को भी सताने लगा । उदाहरणार्थ, जो संविधान की छुआछूत उन्मूलन के सविचार के विरोध में थे, वह संविधान के धर्मनिरपेक्ष प्रावधानों को भी धिक्कारने लगे ।

दूसरा, सामाजिक परिवर्तन का जिम्मा उठाने की वजह से भारत गणराज्य का काम कई गुना बढ़ गया । कौटिल्य अर्थशास्त्र में कहा गया है कि राज्य के अभाव में मत्स्यन्याय की अवस्था होती है जिसमें व्यक्ति अपने बल के आधार पर अपने से कमज़ोर व्यक्तियों के साथ जैसा चाहे व्यवहार कर सकता है । अतः राज्य का स्थापन मत्स्यन्याय की स्थिति का अंत करने के लिए हुआ। चाहे राजतंत्र हो या लोकतंत्र, राज्य की सबसे बड़ी ज़िम्मेदारी है हर व्यक्ति की स्वतंत्रता की रक्षा करना, चाहे वह कितना ही कमज़ोर क्यों न हो । इस धारणा को rule of law कहा जाता है और हम अपनी ओर ही देखें तो स्पष्ट हो जाएगा कि हमारा गणराज्य इस मुख्य उद्देश्य को पूरा नहीं कर पाया है । ऐसी नाज़ुक अवस्था में भारतीय गणराज्य ने सामाजिक परिवर्तन का एक और महाकार्य अपने कन्धों पर ले लिया जिससे राज्य की कठिनाईयाँ और बढ़ गयी । उदाहरणार्थ, एक पुलिस अफसर का कार्य सिर्फ कानून की रक्षा करने तक सीमित नहीं है – उसे यह भी सुनिश्चित करना है कि दहेज, छुआछुत जैसे प्रकरण समाज में ना हो पाए ।

इन दोनों नकारात्मक पहलुओं का तात्पर्य यह नहीं कि हमें अपने संवैधानिक मार्ग त्याग दे, बल्कि हमें इस बोल्ड प्रयोग को सफल बनाने की और दृढ़ता से मेहनत करनी चाहिए । शायद हमारा गणराज्य निर्दोष नहीं , लेकिन यह हमारा सर्वश्रेष्ठ विकल्प हैं । इसके सारे पहलुओं पर रोशनी डालने से हम इसको बेहतर समझ पाएंगे । आख़िर इसकी सफलता में ही हम सबकी कामयाबी है ।

Pranay Kotasthane is a Policy Analyst at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter at @pranaykotas.

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Errors of omission and commission — how VLSI relates to subsidies

Second choice problem involves making a choice between two solutions – both of which involve costs.

The fundamental concept behind any testing is to prevent a faulty product from reaching the end consumer. A well-designed test is the one that accurately identifies ALL types of defects in the product. Very often though, this is not possible as tests may not cover the exact range of defects that might actually exist. In that case, the suite of tests leads to the errors of commission or omissions. The interesting question, then is – which of the two errors is acceptable?

An illustration

This second problem can be explained using a fairly simple scenario from “Design-for-Testability” theory used in all integrated chip (IC) manufacturing companies. Consider a firm that makes the processor chips going into your laptops. Every single processor chip goes through a set of tests to identify if the chip is good or bad. Four scenarios result out of this exercise:

Errors of commission and omission

Errors of commission and omission

The two scenarios marked in green are the best-case scenarios. In the first of these, all the designed tests are unable to find any fault with the chip. At the same time, the chip itself does not show any defects after reaching the end consumers. When such awesomely functional chips reach your laptops, the chip making companies make profits.

In the second “green” scenario, the tests indicate that there is a problem with the chip. Further debugging (involves greater costs) concludes that this chip is actually manufactured erroneously. It is then the raison d’être of the tests to throw away these chips so that they do not reach the customers.

However, when tests are unable to identify any problem with the chip even though it is bad, we end up in the second choice problem 1 scenario or the “error of commission”. This is the scenario you encounter when your laptop crashes within a few days/weeks/years (within the guarantee period) after purchase. Obviously this makes the consumer lose trust in the product and dents the manufacturing firm’s image.

On the other hand, there is the second choice problem 2, where tests are designed so thoroughly that they start eliminating chips which are actually not dysfunctional. This is the error of omission. The cost involved with this error is that it leads to loss of revenue as many good chips are just thrown away based on faulty tests. It also lowers the confidence of the firm.

The above illustration shows the two errors that are commonly encountered in the chip manufacturing business. Which of them is tolerable is a function of the company’s image in the market, the end application of the product and the costs involved. For example, if the chip is being manufactured for use in mission-critical automobile systems like auto-braking or fuel injection, the preferable error is the error of omission as there’s a life and personal safety at stake. On the other hand, if the end application is a low-end mobile phone, the company might settle for a higher error of commission and avoid the extra costs of rejecting lots of chips.

Application – Subsidies

The above illustration can directly be applied to a subsidy case to explain the effect of identifying beneficiaries incorrectly. Using the framework above, we can visualise a subsidy program as shown in the figure below:

Subsidy conundrum

Subsidy conundrum

From the framework above, which would be your second choice? The first option would be to start with very few beneficiaries being fully aware that there will be a definite error of omission. The next step would be to work on reducing this error rate itself. The problem here will be that there might be some people who, even though needy are not attended to urgently.

Another option would be to start with a large number of beneficiaries being aware of the errors of commission. A subsequent step would be to try and reduce this error rate. The costs involved here are that the free-riders might sideline the really needy. Such schemes will also require huge sums of capital as they will start by serving a huge number of people. This is the path that most of Indian government’s subsidies follow. And schemes like Aadhaar will help in reducing this particular error.

If you were to design a subsidy scheme, which would be your second choice scenario?


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Constituent Assembly debate on Freedom of Religion

By Apoorva Tadepalli

The fears of the constituent assembly members regarding politicisation of religion have come true.

In its young life, India has broken the norms of democracy in many ways; its “secularism” is just one of them. In studying the debates of the Constituent Assembly around the freedom of expression of religion, it is useful to go back to what the framers of our Constitution meant when they defined it, as well as appreciate how accurately they predicted the current complex state of secularism in India.

The most important point that every member of the Constituent Assembly stressed on was that secularism to India must mean a separation of government and religion, but not an absence of spirituality. H V Kamat said, “a secular state [was] neither a godless state nor an anti-religious state”. While they acknowledged the danger of allowing religion to be a part of governance, they also recognized the need all communities in their newfound republic would have for representation.

Two details were debated in the process of putting this broad-minded proposition of secularism into the Constitution. The first was whether the government should be allowed to “prevent” secular activity done in the name of religion, in addition to “restrict” it. The second was whether citizens should have a right to “propagate” their religion in addition to practicing it.

As pointed out in the debate, temples and churches were known even at the time to have ways of collecting large sums of money, getting tax exemptions by identity of being religious institutions, and showing the potential for corruption. The speakers who argued for the State’s right to “prevent” secular activity done in the name of religion were afraid that religion would become politicized and have more of a role to play in propaganda than in inward spiritualism. This dichotomy between a more communal, institutionalized religion and an inward, personal religion, which is a prominent narrative even today, was identified then and debated upon in great detail.

One point that arose from the appeal to prevent secular activity was the possibility that it could restrict citizens from following the personal laws of their religion. These personal laws are very much community based and deal with issues like property distribution, which is not spiritual, but are nevertheless deeply rooted cultural practices.

The worry that was constantly repeated in the court was that allowing some communities to operate with laws of their own would exacerbate differences between people who were supposed to identify as citizens of the same country. This is the real value of the personal laws over civil code discussion, and the reason it is still relevant after sixty years. The process of drafting our Constitution brought out the same regional-national identity crises we face today as Indian citizens, members of communities and practitioners of faith.

In discussing whether the right to “propagation” of religion should be included in the Constitution, K T Shah and others implored that the word be removed because it implied external motives, unlike the practicing of “religion in the widest sense…as the highest value of spirit”. L. Krishnaswami Bharati’s response to that, however, was that, “all religions have one objective and if it is properly understood by the masses, they will come to know that all religions are one and the same. It is all God, though under different names. Therefore this word ought to be there.” Mohammad Ismail Sahib agreed, saying that problems between religions did not arise because of practice or propagation, but of misunderstanding, and only when people were allowed to practice and propagate would there be a chance for others to understand them.

All these points show the members to be incredibly broad-minded and far ahead of their time. However, the one unarguable point in this whole debate was that propagation of one’s religion had been a basic right of every human being “from the beginning of time”. Clearly, for the writers of a Constitution for a country which was younger than all its cultures and values, deciding the “rights” of citizens who already identified with other, older communities, was not an easy task. Still, it is remarkable to note the intimate yet communal construct of religion these people were trying to create for future generations.

The important corollary to the right to propagate was also brought up – that propagation should not mean the decrying of other religions. Shri K. Santhanam suggested that “the article [was] not so much an article on religious freedom, but an article on religious toleration.” Today’s Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s teachings, which are disseminated to thousands of youth and include whole modules focused solely on the dangers of Islam, are only one example of what the framers of the Constitution were clearly afraid of.

The important undercurrent in these lengthy debates was the danger that protecting one community’s freedom of religion might violate other freedoms of another community or the general public. This was why, towards the end of the debate, K. Santhanam reminded the court that whatever rights were granted or not granted to the citizens of India, they would at the end of the day be determined by what was best for “public order, morality and health”, and that social practices would change over time, changing public interest also. “The full implications of [public order, health and morality]…will grow with the growing social and moral conscience of the people. I do not know if for a considerable period of time the people of India will think that purdah is consistent with the health of the people. Similarly, there are many institutions of Hindu religion which the future conscience of the Hindu community will consider as inconsistent with morality.”

Once again, Indian society has shown its “public health” to depend on exactly the kind of things the Assembly hoped would not define us. As we can see by the ban on Wendy Doniger’s book “The Hindus: An Alternative History”, which was taken to court by the Shiksha Bachao Aandolan Samiti, what some members of the Hindu community argue is their right to freedom of religion blatantly violates another basic fundamental right. The change that K. Santhanam assumed would happen is not doing so to the extent we would hope. The politicization of religion they so idealistically denounced is strong and particularly relevant today.

Apoorva Tadepalli is an intern at the Takshashila Institution.

This article is part of a series of posts on the constituent assembly debates, meant to highlight the various points of views and negotiations that went into the creation of the Indian Constitution. Each post analyzes the debates on a particular issue.

Ruchita Sharma and Apoorva Tadepalli are the contributors for this series.

The previous posts are here: Post1, Post2.

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