In the evening of 18th March 2009 Professor Marcelo Medeiros, Senior Policy Specialist, International Poverty Center, Brazil, had a discussion with some of our colleagues at IGIDR. He has been around for about ten days and participated in Holi celebrations (taking those beautiful photographs) and interacting with many of us.
One of his first observations on India was that we are making the same mistakes that Brazil did during their initial years of liberalization based on Fund-Bank conditionality. There is growth, but it is concentrated and there is a strong case for distribution.
On the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) being operational he was of the view that it should be extended to urban areas, include all adult members of the household and extended to 200 days in a year. In fact, these seem to match with the demand to all political parties being put forth by the Right to Food Campaign.
He also opined that these wage-employment programmes should not be like digging and filling up holes. They should add value. The discussion also veered to how Right to Information (RTI) along with NREGA has helped in empowering the rural poor. Along with this wage-employment programme, I would like to add that there is the need for a comprehensive self-employment programme (as has been suggested by the Report of the Committee on Credit Related Issues under SGSY, Chairman R Radhakrishna, submitted to the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India) and a strong case for addressing the larger agrarian crisis.
He did mention that a large proportion of individuals/households in Brazil have an account in bank/post office with an id card. This helps in the direct transfer of welfare funds in a timely manner. This is similar to the Smart card experiment under NREGA. But, then we should have a common card for all purposes. Some political parties have put this in their agendas for the forthcoming elections in 2009.
On corruption and crimes he thought that India was much better. He referred to incidents of any entire Any Time Money (ATM) machine being taken away or waylaying of Trucks that carry goods (particularly medicines, as it is very costly). As a response to this the service providers have fitted these with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) so that they could be traced through satellites. In many cities of India, GPS are now being used by providers of some taxi services like MERU and MEGA CABS among others. Whether this has dented the incomes of the usual taxi drivers is to be seen.