Saturday, August 28, 2010

We Indians like intermediaries

Bhaskar Datta, Professor at University of Warwick writes an article for ‘The Times Of India’ on ‘why most Indians go hungry to bed’. He points out that despite the abundance of food production; most Indians still go hungry to bed because India does not have an adequate delivery mechanism. According to him, finding an alternative to the current delivery system of PDS is imperative. Up to this point, his analysis is quite satisfactory. He ups the ante.

However, the alternative that he recommends and describes in last two paragraphs turns out to be a let-down. He highly (rather hurriedly) recommends the system of stamps, an idea originated in the US (No wonder, Bhaskar Datta must be an Indian). He says ‘The biggest advantage of food stamps is that it would wipe out the leakages associated with the PDS’. But he does not explain ‘how’. He probably must have assumed that the corruption that occurs in the PDS would not occur in the distribution of food stamps if it were to be implemented in India. (I am afraid, there would be another Telgi of the 'food' stamps- a 'foody' Telgi)

Professor Bhaskar Datta does not discuss any disadvantage of the system of food stamps, though he simply says ‘Of course, the system is not foolproof’. This sounds rhetoric, similar to saying ‘No system is perfect’. Perhaps, he wants to suggest that though the system of food stamps is not foolproof (because no system is perfect), it is better than the PDS.

This is sheer credulity. The system that has worked probably successfully in the US should not necessarily work in India.

Hence, a few questions need to be raised. Why does the PDS fail to distribute food grains to the poor? Are intermediaries in the system to be blamed? If yes, then is the system of food stamps a system without intermediaries? Is it possible to have a system with minimum or no intermediaries?

Intermediaries are part of our life. We can’t live without them. They are present in all spheres of our life. We need them in the form of agents to get a driving license, to rent a house or a flat, to get a passport, to have a gas connection, to have insurance and other products. We need them in the form of coaching classes to have better education. Most of them are free from any regulation or scrutiny. We believe in them. Even if we think of removing them, we feel helpless. We need them, because we like to be spoon-fed. Spoken words are more believable to us than writeen or printed words are. The reason is very simple: we dislike reading. Also we lack reading and writing skills. We do not know how to read. We are not aware of various ways of reading and writing. We do not know how to write briefly yet comprehensively. We do not like to keep records. We are indifferent to loss of valuable records. We want somebody to remember them and tell us them whenever we are in need of them.

That is why before we think of replacing PDS (however flawed it may be) with any other system; we should not forget that we Indians like intermediaries.


Here is the link of Professor Bhaskar Datta’s article:

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