The Telegraph
Tuesday , November 27 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Discovering the Gujarat beyond Modi

Gujarat made news for riots a decade ago. Even by Indian standards, they were spectacular. Shooting and framing of innocent Muslims, killing of pregnant women, creation of hell on earth for people of just one religion — such are the crimes for which a handful of men, women, politicians and ministers were sentenced, but the rest of the criminals were left free to enjoy the proud accomplishment of jihad.

Since the riots, Gujarat has not been much in the news except when Narendra Modi says something abusive, malicious or outrageous. But there is a Gujarat beyond Modi and the Hindutwits. I do not say it; in fact, I was largely unconscious of it — until my friend Bibek Debroy sent me his coffee table book (Gujarat: Governance for Growth and Development, Academic Foundation). It has some beautiful photos of a reflective lion, contented cows, village girls in fancy dress drawing water from a well and so on. But they are not the only things that make Gujarat distinctive; he tells us about quite a few other things.

For instance, Gujarat has privatized a quarter of its power production. Of its power capacity of 24 gigawatts, 2 GW is wind power; there are miles and miles of wind farms along its coasts. All villagers get three-phase power in their homes, which means they can run air conditioners round the clock. For the pumps on their farms, they get power for eight hours a day, announced in advance. So farmers do not scramble for power as in other states; they plan their operations, and grow crops that are more demanding but earn more, such as Bt cotton and wheat. The number of deep tubewells, which are power-intensive and deplete the water table, went down from 1,146 in 2001 to 47 in 2009. In 2002, 27 per cent of the families had taps in their homes; in 2011, 72 per cent did. Tourists had better rush, for one of Gujarat’s most beautiful sights, women carrying pots of water on their heads, is disappearing. The proportion of villages still unconnected by road with the rest of the world is less than 1 per cent; 98 per cent of the state highways, 97 per cent of district roads and 85 per cent of village roads are pucca.

Agricultural production grew at 10.5 per cent a year between 2001 and 2012; between 1999-200 and 2010-11, yield per hectare of cereals increased from 1,245 to 2,328 kilograms, of pulses from 563 to 812 kg and of cotton from 226 to 637 kg. One can see the impact of Bt, but there is a broader story.

Gujarat’s forest cover increased from 6 per cent in 1991 to 9 per cent in 2011; but even then, it is not much. What is remarkable, though, is the presence of trees in its cities. They cover 54 per cent of Gandhinagar, which has 152 trees per hectare. Gandhinagar is a new city which was designed to be green; but Bhavnagar has 89 trees per hectare, and 21 per cent of its area is green, while Baroda has 45 trees per hectare and 16 per cent of its area under tree cover.

One of the banes of schools is common toilets for boys and girls. Even if the boys haven’t turned into eve-teasers, common toilets are an invitation to mischief. Only a third of Gujarat’s schools had common toilets in 2011; 98 per cent had drinking water. More than 99 per cent of the schools had more than one teacher; the average was 6.4. The number of children in primary schools was 10 per cent more than the number aged 5-10 (presumably some had failed and were repeating a year, or had entered school late). More important, 97 per cent in the age group were in school for the full five years. Dropout rates were 2 per cent in classes I to V and 7 per cent in the next three years.

Among large-scale industrial projects which are reported to the Central government since the abolition of licensing in 1991, 11,517 involving employment of a million workers and investment of a trillion rupees were in Gujarat. Of them, 18 per cent had been implemented by 2011, and 68 per cent were being implemented. Gujarat had 15 per cent of the country’s working small and medium enterprises, and 7 per cent of closed ones.

Modi uses Centre-state meetings in Delhi to complain, but since he speaks in Hindi, no one listens to him. Debroy repeats Modi’s complaints in comprehensible English. When the Centre legislates on issues in the concurrent list of the Constitution, it should do so after consulting the states: after all, these are issues that belong to both. Second, the interstate council is a pretty ineffective organization. It should have a secretariat to follow up whatever it decides. Third, it is understandable that taxes not mentioned in the Constitution should be for the Centre to levy; but residuary powers which do not involve taxation should be put in the concurrent list. Fourth, there is a formality in the Constitution that after a bill is passed by the legislative assembly of a state, the chief minister refers it to the governor, who is only supposed to sign and return it. But the Gujarat assembly passed a control of crime and anti-terrorism bill in 2003, which the president returned because it was incompatible with Central legislation. The assembly amended the act, and the chief minister sent it again in 2009. After sitting on it for two years, the president then, Pratibha Patil, withheld her assent last January saying that Gujarat had not amended two sections as it was told to. Debroy says that there should be a time limit on how long the governor and the president can sit on it. Fifth, Modi does not get on with the governor, Kamala Beniwal. She appointed R.A. Mehta lokayukta (vigilance commissioner); he would like to have appointed his own nominee, or at least to have had a veto. He would also like the Central government to appoint his protégés as governors, and to see governors’ powers reduced, and would like many other Central government bodies to be under the joint control of the Centre and the states: for example, the Planning Commission, National Development Council, Finance Commission and so on. Sixth, the Rajya Sabha once represented the interests of states, but a 2003 amendment severed the connection; Debroy would like to have it restored. Finally, Modi would like to acquire some influence on the Indian administrative service and other Central services too.

This list shows that Debroy is a bit ambivalent about his role — whether he wrote this book as an ambassador of the Modi government or of Gujarat. He obviously received official help; quite possibly he also felt a certain sympathy for Modi’s grouses. That is not unacceptable; India is a democracy, and anyone is free to agree with Modi. But it would have helped if Debroy had been more surgical in separating his own opinions from those of his benefactors in Gujarat. He should be congratulated for having made Modi read Vivekananda or vice versa, but he should have quoted Modi wherever appropriate.