Wednesday, July 14, 2010

'I, Society & Public Policy' seminar by Centre for Civil Society

Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pil...Image via WikipediaThe seminar started with a talk on liberalization, privatization and globalization by Professor Amir Ullah Khan, Dean and Director Research at the Bangalore Management Academy. Most of the students were mesmerized by the manner in which he pin pointed the inception areas for privatization in India. Following this was the ‘Who am I?’ session conducted by Manoj Mathew, Associate Director, Programs, CCS. The session saw the participants delving deep into each others backgrounds and perspectives.

The evening saw the first of many enlightening and provocative documentaries, the “Third Wheel” which covered the plight of auto-rickshaw drivers in Delhi due to government restrictions. The following days saw the screening “Hollow Cylinder” by Nandan Saxena and “Sex, Drugs and Consenting Adults” by John Strossel. Each screening was followed by discussion sessions that saw very active participation from the audience.

Activity during Bengaluru ISPPThe following days saw a focus on public policy, beginning with a session by Dr Parth Shah, President, CCS who analyzed the comparative use of public policy with direct action. This was followed by field visits wherein students were divided into groups and made to collect information on livelihood, health care, education and water resources from villages in the surrounding area.

The next day Naveen Mandava, an ex-ISPP graduate and Head of Policy Innovations gave a talk on the creation of public policy. This was followed by working groups where the students, using the data they had collected the previous day during their field visit had to create public policy solutions for specific problem of the area. Each group presented their policy recommendation on the final day.

Other outstanding sessions included a talk with P.D Rai, an MP from Sikkim, who is also an IIT and IIM graduate. The participants quizzed him incessantly about the process of joining politics and he obliged with much useful information. There was also a session by Ashok Kamath Chairman of the Akshara foundation where he shed light on various education related issues.

26 students from some sought after colleges like Lady Shri Ram College, St Stephen’s College, IIT Madras and Hyderabad, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Youth Development Nobel College, Kathmandu, and Kardan Institute of Higher Education, Afghanistan amongst other participated in the seminar. The seminar concluded with the graduation ceremony where students were awarded with a certificate.
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Review of Sujeev Shakya’s ‘Unleashing Nepal: Past, Present and Future of Economy.’

With any book on my hand, I go with ‘Foreword’ first. Gurcharan Das, author of ‘India Unbound’ and former president of Procter and Gamble (P&G India) was writing foreword for Sujeev Shakya’s new book. It was fascinating start for me as I have read number of articles by Das and I am very inspired by his insight into developing economics. Das here examines two fastest growing countries China and India. China is vibrant economy without political freedom and India, vibrant democracy with slow and steady growth. Das says these are choices we are going to make. And also he believes that the only way to prosperity and better future is through markeWorld Trade Organization accession and membershipImage via Wikipediat oriented capitalist economy.

‘Unleashing Nepal: Past, Present and Future of Economy’ gives complete picture of Nepalese economy. Shakya goes through the times of formation of new nation by Gorkha’s king Prithvi Narayan Shah at the time of Adam Smith in 1760s. Then he follows the politics of power and bloodsheds of Rana and Shah Dynasty. As Gandhi and Neharu succeeded to out throw British from India, they started to see India’s future on socialist system with democratic norms. Indian economy was almost totally restricted from foreign trade, and Nehru saw progress of Russian economy for short time and tried to apply it. At the same time, Nepal’s Shahs and Ranas were more aware of their power than anything else. They believed that the only way to save the nation from other countries was from total isolation. Same continued till the People’s Movement of 1990s. Trade, development and liberalization never saw light, and that was what I call ‘Biggest Mistake’ in history.

People’s Movement of 1990 finally became successful to establish multi-party democracy and economic liberalization. Economic policies were reformed with newly formed constitution and Nepalese were excited to see something good happening around their land. New faith on Nepal was found in each and every sector. Liberalization removed monopoly of Royal Nepal Airlines, Radio Nepal and state controlled banks which resulted on booming private banks, media houses, airlines and world class hospitality services. Soon people got more choices over travel, banking and media with efficiency and low cost. The statement ‘Market protects consumer and general public as a whole’ proved in the Himalayan nation. And the Economy touched whopping 7.8 % growth rate, highest in modern history of Nepal.

This high spirit was soon lost. Democratic leadership came into inter party and intra party feuds. The party politics didn’t deliver the promise of democracy. Then came Maoist’s insurgency killing around 15,000 people (most precious lives) and destroying infrastructures worth 30.55 billion rupees over 10 years. State expenditure on security forces and weapons totaled Rs. 107.8 billions. As Shakya calculates, “If this money had been used to build power plants, then Nepal would have had a 625 MW power plant!” Insurgency costs are not limited to money and budget. We lost more than 10 years (Oh God! 10 years) on fear, insecurity, violence and dim light. But fortunately, the insurgency ended in 2006 with Jana Andolan-2 (People’s Movement-2) which removed King without bloodshed and Maoist joined main stream politics abandoning their belief on weapons. Interim constitution formed and Constitution Assembly held peacefully. Nepal is now better off than what most of people believed it would be after year’s long conflict.

The most fascinating part of the book is part third, the future of the economy. I haven’t slept many nights dreaming with Shakya. His belief on market oriented economy is written and presented excellently. This is what we exactly need to understand and need to spread the word. People are wealth creators. We should stop blaming on our mothers for producing too many children. Instead we should focus on creating environment where they can thrive. This is only through free society which believes on rule of law, property rights and individual freedom. Further Shakya gives dreamy picture of Nepal. Yes, we need to dream, as Dhirubhai said, dare to dream BIG. In India, liberalization is work-in-progress; means there are still lots of hurdles while doing business. But still there are many ‘slumdog’ millionaires and ‘rags to riches’. Recently in a seminar in Bangalore, I was shocked to know that a farmer can’t sell his farm products to other than his state of origin even in his own country. He is restricted. This is just a example. In many ways we are better off on market oriented policy than our counterparts. Probably what is missing is bigger dream. We, who see opportunities in Nepal, and see it as half full glass, must fill that missing part of our history.

Another chapter which adds weight on the book is ‘Redefining Nepal’s economic borders’. It makes great sense to forget the political borders for a while and imagine this land. In school I was taught that Nepal is small land locked country, that’s why it is poor. Then I came to look on different perspective. We have one billion consumers in South; India. Another billion is in North side China. What about nearby Bangladesh, Pakistan? Capital Kathmandu is closer to seaport Kolkata than Indian capital city Delhi (800 KM and 1490 KM respectively). Nepal has GDP of 10 billion USD. But it is at the centre stage of China, India and Bangladesh and can trade easily with combined GDP of 160 billion USD. Add on this, China growing at double digit and India around 8% per year. By 2025, China will be biggest economy in the world, ahead of US. India is rising to be second largest economy by 2040s. We can’t even imagine the opportunities we have. The geographic location (land locked) caused poverty is devil’s philosophy.

My deep appreciation for this book doesn’t come only from author’s facts and figures. What I really appreciate is his experience with Nepal’s corporate sector and common sense watch to economy. We don’t need Marx to analyze our economy. If our leaders were with such a free mind we would have saved lives of thousands. If there were some who just thought of common sense, we wouldn’t be listed on top ten poorest countries. We would be probably on the top 10 rich lists. Those were lost opportunities. Now we can’t wait for prosperity and long road to development. Journey is long; Shakya has just started from scrap. This is must read for anyone who wants to live a better life. Start your Journey.

Unleashing Nepal (Past, Present and Future of the Economy, Volume 1) 
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