Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Economics of Food Delivery Personnel

 Ishaan Khaperde has studied the economics of food delivery by Zomato India and here are the results from the point of view of the delivery person. The data has been culled from videos shared by delivery boys like the one linked here. The delivery frequency is the least on Mondays and reaches a peak with dinner time on Sundays when it is three times that of Mondays. The base delivery payment for up to five kilometers distance combined for pickup from the restaurant and delivery to the customer is Rs 22 on an average while above five kilometers the delivery person gets Rs 11 per kilometer on an average in addition to the base delivery payment. The pickup plus delivery time is about 30 minutes on an average for short orders of less than 5 kilometers while it is 50 minutes on an average for long orders above 5 kilometers. The daily mix is about 30% short orders and 70 percent long orders with the short orders on an average being 2 kms or so and the long orders being on an average being 9 kms or so. The delivery persons on an average operate for 12 hours. Thus, by solving for these parameters and rounding off [30 x number of short orders + 50 x number of long orders = 12 x 60, number of short orders/(number of short orders+number of long orders)=0.3], assuming that they are continually delivering orders, delivery persons can at the most squeeze in 4 short orders and 12 long orders per each 12 hour day. The payment for this is [4 x 22 + 12 x (22 + 4 x 11)] Rs 880.

The total distance covered on an average is 120 kilometers per day. Assuming a coverage of 40 kms per litre in stop and start city traffic at higher driving speeds this means a petrol consumption of 3 litres at a cost of Rs 330. Add another Rs 50 per day towards two wheeler depreciation, insurance and maintenance cost and the total cost comes to Rs 380. Thus, the net earnings are Rs 500 for a 12 hour day which comes to Rs 333 per eight hour day. Whereas the statutory minimum wage in Madhya Pradesh in urban areas for semi-skilled labour like driving a motor cycle is currently Rs 411 per day. Conversely, assuming double wages for the extra four hours of work done, statutorily the wages for 12 hours of work should be Rs 822 and not Rs 500.
Moreover, the delivery persons face many challenges like having no place to sit in the shade in restaurants, having to climb up the stairs of buildings where there are no lifts or where use of lifts are prohibited to service persons and also face jams and diversions enroute to delivery which further adds to their troubles.
An analysis of the prices charged by Zomato for the food ordered as compared to the prices that the restaurants charge for in dining, shows that there is a mark up of about 10%. So Zomato is not only grossly underpaying its delivery persons but also overcharging its customers 😜.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Rationale for Taxation

 A recent paper published by a team of economists led by Thomas Piketty ( on the huge rise in inequality in India and their suggestion of taxing the rich to reduce this has led to a huge push back with people saying that it is the rich who create wealth and they should not be penalised through taxation. These people forget that redistribution of incomes through taxation has been a settled principle of all major economies since the 1930s because of very sound reasons. It would be helpful to go through these reasons which are as follows -

1. A modern economy has many enterprises which compete with each other to sell their products in the market and this leads to cutting of costs to stay competitive. Consequently, all enterprises tend to cut both material and labour costs. Cutting of material costs devastates the environment and labour costs are cut by paying low wages. Cutting of labour costs is also achieved by mechanisation which reduces the demand for labour while at the same time increasing the demand for materials, thus further devastating the environment.
2. The low wages of most employees in the economy, with some being unemployed or under employed, results in low effective demand for goods and services. This leads to recession in the economy and markets are flooded with goods and services that do not find buyers resulting in an over production crisis. Simultaneously, the devastation of the ecosystem results in the production of goods and services itself being jeopardised which can be termed as a production crisis. Thus, an unregulated competitive economy will eventually collapse due to an over production crisis combined with a production crisis.
3. This is what happened in 1929 across the USA and Europe and so the modern states thereafter stepped in to regulate the economy. An elaborate system of regulation was put in place to ensure that there is fair competition, wages are just and the ecosystem is not devastated indiscriminately. Moreover, the State in any economy is the biggest spender, not only in buying goods and services and developing infrastructure but also in providing subsidies of various kinds, especially in education, health and welfare, which ensures that the effective demand is kept at a level that counters recession. Apart from this the State maintains law and order and provides external security so that the economy can function smoothly. The state also protects the right to property without which the market cannot function and wealth cannot be accumulated by the rich.
The State has to garner the resources for this necessary regulation of and investment in the economy from taxes. The proportion of taxation in all developed economies currently is 40% of the GDP or more whereas in India it is only 12%. Therefore, the rich need to be taxed much more than they are being at present in India!!

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Universal Basic Income

May Day is celebrated in the memory of those valiant workers who gave up their lives fighting for better working conditions and remuneration. Many legal rights were won by workers organised in trade unions in factories. However, from the 1980s developments in computer technology not only made workers redundant in factories but the work could also be outsourced to distant locations. Even in factories apart from a few skilled workers to run the automated machines the rest could be employed through labour contractors. Consequently, the power of trade unions began to decline and both working conditons and wages grew much less than the productivity as most of the surplus was appropriated by the corporations.
Thus, there is very little to celebrate currently on May Day as there aren't permanent factory workers in enough numbers who can agitate for labour rights. The vast numbers of casual workers, a considerable proportion of whom are migrants, are in such a precarious condition that they cannot think of organising for better terms of work.
I am associated with the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath and the Centre for Labour Research and Action which are fighting for the rights of Adivasi migrant workers in Western India and we are unable to get even the Minimum Wages Act implemented let alone secure other benefits.
The problem is compounded by the fact that outsourcing and underpaying of labour is a global phenomenon and so if one factory or industry pays more to workers then it will become uncompetitive and go out of business. Therefore, it is an economic compulsion for corporations to under pay labour as much as they can. The Governments go along with this so as to prevent the companies from fleeing elsewhere in search of low cost labour. That is why currently all over the world and especially in India there is a lack of decent paid work and it especially affects the youth who are without livelihood options.
So, while it is all very well to come out with demands for the statutory right to work and implementation of protective labour legislation it is unlikely that they are going to be met given this sordid economic reality. Consequently, what is necessary is to launch a campaign for the Government to provide a lifelong universal basic income to all adults. This will considerably ease the distress being suffered not only by casual workers but also farmers and self employed small traders and artisans who together constitute 98% of the workforce. Moreover, by providing money at the bottom of the pyramid this will create huge demand that will revitalise the whole economy. Another benefit will be women's empowerment as paid labour participation of women is abysmally low in this country. This needs to be augmented with investment for ecosytem restoration, sustainable agriculture and distributed generation of electricity so as to counter the threat of climate change which is now the most serious challenge to human civilisation.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Are FPOs viable?

 Can Farmer Producer Organisations ((FPO) increase the incomes of small farmers as policy thinktanks and the government are suggesting?

For answering this we have to first study the economics of the farm sector in the USA. The farm gate prices offered to farmers by the market in the USA do not cover their costs of production. Therefore, the government there gives a subsidy of $20 billion to farmers. Now there are only 250000 actual farm owners left in the USA as small farmers have gradually exited due to the unviability of farming and of these 25000 are big corporations and tycoons like Cargill and Bill Gates who own hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland. However, even after practising industrialised agriculture with high levels of mechanisation, they are all running in losses as far as farming is concerned, and are compensated to the tune of $20 billion annually by the government through various subsidies.
Not only in the USA but markets worldwide do not remunerate enough to cover the costs of production of farmers and so governments provide hefty subsidies to keep farming afloat. When the likes of Bill Gates and agri-businesses like Cargill can't make profits out of farming it is farcical to expect FPOs to do so without substantial government subsidies. I have tried to get a few FPOs to reveal their audited financials so as to analyse their economic performance but have not succeeded so far 🙂.

Is Land Reform Possible

 What are the possibilities of the landless in rural areas getting land for cultivation at present? Those farmers having landholdings that are more than 5 hectares in size constitute only 5% of the total landed farmers and they own 31.8% of the total cultivable area. The average landholding size for this category being about 10 hectares of land which is less than the ceiling. The rest 95% of landed farmers have landholdings of less than 5 hectares and the average size is only 2 hectares. Thus, this latter cultivable area which constitutes 68.2% of the total is not available for redistribution. Totally 26 lakh hectares were identified as ceiling surplus land of which 24 lakh hectares were possessed and 20 lakh hectares redistributed. Some 1 lakh hectares are under legal dispute. Therefore, currently only about 5 lakh hectares of ceiling surplus land is available for distribution to 10 crore landless households. Which means that each landless household can at the most get 0.05 hectares of land. The overall average landholding size is also 0.8 hectares which is less than the limiting size for marginal landholdings - 1 hectare. Under the circumstances it is unlikely that landless people will get economically viable plots of agricultural land. Increasing the sustainability of agriculture and natural resource management combined with in situ localised production of energy through gasification of biomass and post harvest processing in cooperatives will be better options than distributing miniscule plots of land among 10 crore landless households.

Estimation of Poverty

 Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It would be helpful to discuss the extent of poverty in India. The World Bank has determined three poverty lines as follows - The extreme poverty line at PPP US$ 2.19 per capita per day, The middle poverty line at PPP US$ 3.65 and the higher poverty line at PPP US $ 6.85 (

PPP stands for purchasing power parities which are the rates of currency conversion that try to equalise the purchasing power of different currencies, by eliminating the differences in price levels between countries. The basket of goods and services priced is a sample of all those that are part of final expenditures: final consumption of households and government, fixed capital formation, and net exports. This indicator is measured in terms of national currency per US dollar. This is less than the market exchange rate in India's case and the latest available conversion rate (2022) is US $ 1 = INR 24.06 (
Thus the three poverty lines in India's case are equivalent to INR 52.7 for extreme poverty line, INR 87.8 for middle level poverty line and INR 164.8 per capita per day for higher poverty line.
Assuming that on an average the household size in India is 5 we have an extreme poverty line annual household income equal to - 52.7 x 5 x 365 = INR 96178, a middle poverty line annual household income equal to - 87.8 x5 x 365 = INR 160235 and a higher poverty line annual household income equal to - 164.8 x 5 x 365 = INR 300780. This can be assumed to the desired level of income for a household to live with dignity.
Now as per the Income Tax Department data the number of individual return filers having an annual taxable income greater than Rs 3 lakhs, in the financial year 2022-23 was 4.89 crores. Let us assume that this is also the number of households with income above INR 3 lakhs which is the higher poverty line determined by the World Bank.
Then once again assuming the average household size of 5 and a current population of 143 crores we get the total number of households in India currently as 143/5= 28.6 crores.
Thus, the proportion of households living below the higher poverty line of INR 3 lakhs annual income is a whopping 83 percent.
The Periodic Labour Force Survey Report for 2021-22 ( on analysis shows that the average monthly income for the 70.3 crores workers in the country is INR 11444 or an average annual income of INR 137326 which is much less than the middle poverty line of INR 160235. Thus, a substantial proportion of households, definitely more than 50 percent, are living below the middle level poverty line in India.

Limitations of Philanthropy

 Recently the Hurun India Philanthropy list was published giving details about how much the rich in India were donating for social causes. The top few hundred rich people donated around Rs 9000 crores. There was praise all round for this large hearted ness of the rich.

However, this philanthropy has to be put in the context of the profits being earned by corporations. The total such donations annually would be around Rs 20000 crores. Whereas, the total profits of all listed companies is 4% of the GDP which works out to Rs 11 lakh crores. Therefore, the rich are donating a paltry 2% of their profits as mandated by the law on Corporate Social Responsibility and not doing anything extraordinary 🙂.
Anyway the NGO sector which survives on such philanthropy has very marginal impact as far as solving the serious problems that face the multitudinous deprived and oppressed people in this country. NGOs generally wax eloquent about their work in a few villages or slums but unless the Government implements the programmes of the NGOs on scale very little can be achieved.
For instance, NGOs have been talking about the need to compensate women for the unpaid domestic and care work they do for quite some time without making any headway. The Madhya Pradesh Government in one fell stroke has made a massive impact by giving more than a crore of economically deprived women in the state Rs 1500 a month through direct benefit transfer which will amount to an outlay of Rs 20000 crore annually which is the cumulative annual budget of all the NGOs in the country.

The Water Wisdom of the Mughals

Burhanpur town on the banks of the River Tapti in the foothills of the Satpura Range was the southern outpost of the Mughals. Consequently, it had a massive garrison of soldiers numbering two lakhs and a supporting civilian population of around thirty thousand in the early seventeenth century when the Mughals not only wanted to defend their territory against possible incursions from southern kingdoms but also had plans to expand further south. Providing safe drinking water to this huge population was a major concern of the Mughal administrators. They feared that the water of the River Tapti and its tributary Utavali may be poisoned by their enemies and so they preferred the use of ground water. However, wells themselves could not provide enough water and also it was laborious to draw water out of them for such a large population in those days when there were no mechanised pumps.
The Subedar or Governor of Burhanpur Abdul Rahim Khankhana commissioned a Persian geologist Tabukul Arj to devise a system that would be able to harvest the rain water falling on the Satpura ranges and bring them by gravity to the town in 1615. A very ingenious plan was drawn up wherein a few large tanks were constructed to harvest the rain water and recharge it into the ground. Finally a 3.5 km long tunnel about thirty feet below the ground level, lined with marble, was constructed just uphill of the town into which the water from the t Bhandaras seeped in through the ground.
There are 103 round wells that reach this tunnel from the top at intervals and provide access to it for cleaning it of any debris and sediments that might have accumulated. The water in the tunnel flows by gravity from the first well to the last well at the end of which there is a tank from which pipelines take the water to the town below. The wells are called kundis whereas the tunnel is called Khooni Bhandara possibly because of the slightly reddish colour of the water in it.
Currently about 0.15 million litres of water per day flows out of the tunnel.
What struck me most was the ingenuity of the Mughals in devising a system that first tapped the rain water by harvesting it and then used an underground tunnel to extract it and take it by gravity to the town. This was a necessity at the time because there were no mechanised pumps to do lift water from the underground aquifer at that time. This tunnel was dug by human labour obviously as there were no machines then and this adds to the uniqueness of the system. Water harvesting is the most sustainable means of water supply. The Asirgarh fort on a high hill nearby too has excellent water harvesting systems for its water supply.



 Today a huge number of Indians are on the move as they are mostly migrating for labour. A conservative estimate based on various government data is that every year 100 million people or about 25% of the workforce are migrating seasonally for labour. In Alirajpur district the proportion is as high as 85% of the workforce. Migration has become a permanent phenomenon of the present form of economic development where agriculture has been severely under funded and industrial development has been predicated on cheap casual labour. To avoid the problems arising from unionisation of local labour employers prefer to employ casual labour brought from other areas by labour contractors. A vast majority of these migrants are poor labourers. Only a miniscule proportion of travellers are high flying executives who are frequent travellers on aeroplanes. Most people travel by train and the Indian Railways issues some 8 billion passenger tickets every year for short to long distance journeys including repeat ones for daily commuters and also less frequent ones for long distance travellers. Understandably, given this huge rush of people travelling all the time the Indian Railways cannot meet the demand. Things have been compounded by the fact that for long distance trains there are many AC and Sleeper Class Compartments which allow travel in relative comfort but on which seats have to be booked well in advance. There are only one or two general compartments in which people can travel without reservation at short notice. Therefore, these compartments are jam packed with some people having to stand and cover long distances of over hundreds of kilometres.

So due to the rush in trains now people have to rely on buses and various other kinds of road transport also which are not only much more expensive but also more accident prone. These modes of road transport too are over crowded as the picture below of a jeep over laden with passengers in Alirajpur shows.
Not surprisingly India has a high road accident fatality rate of 19.9 per 100,000 inhabitants per year which is more than the global average of 18 per 100,000 inhabitants. In terms of accidents per motor vehicles, it is 211.8 per 100,000 motor vehicles per year in India which is significantly more than the global average of 93.3 per 100,000 motor vehicles.

Markets Can't Solve Problem of Climate Change

 Pollution, especially greenhouse gas emission, is now the major concern and all nations will meet from 28th November onwards in Dubai to see how global warming can be kept below 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. We live in a capitalist world in which it is mandated that solutions to all problems be sought through the market. However, pollution can't be priced as there are no property rights in it and so is not naturally amenable to being traded in the market. The economist Arthur Pigou first recognised this and advocated governmental intervention through the imposition of taxes to regulate pollution. However, this was not palatable to neo-classical economists and so eventually Ronald Coase suggested that the Government apportion property rights on pollution to a party and then let bargaining in a market situation between those having property rights on pollution and those not having them, apportion costs in a fair manner. Later John Dales came up with the concept of marketable pollution permits or licenses being created by the government as a more workable option. With pollution permits and licenses which are tradeable, market forces come into play that can ensure efficient resource allocation and appropriate costs. This has now been extended to the creation of carbon credits by Government fiat, which can be bought and sold to offset emissions. However, this can't really solve the problem of global warming because as Garrett Hardin pointed out, in the real world a prisoner's dilemma kind of situation prevails in which every actor avoids buying carbon credits and tends to pollute as much as possible in the short run as there is no trust among them that others will refrain from doing so. Moreover, the emissions currently are as high as 40 billion tonnes whereas carbon credits being generated at present are for a paltry 100 million tonnes or so and can at most go up to 1 billion tonnes if afforestation is done on a massive scale.

Clearly, the market cannot solve this huge problem and there has to be Government intervention to reduce emissions either through. Over and above this Elinor Ostrom suggested that civil society actors too can play a significant role in abating pollution through collective action which complements and moderates the actions of both the market players and the State. If the civil society organisations can set up a conservation rule system based on consensus and implement it within their areas then pollution can be controlled for mutual benefit of the organisations themselves and for society as a whole.