Inconvenient detail

India’s showpiece six Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are very much in the news these days for all the wrong reasons. Union HRD minister Arjun Singh is hell-bent upon ensuring that 27 percent of the annual intake of each IIM is reserved for OBC (other backward classes/castes) from this academic year starting July, and his ministry has been badgering the Supreme Court whose learned justices entertain some doubts about the intent behind ministerial enthusiasm, about exactly who are OBCs, and why ‘creamy layer’ OBCs (forward among backwards) should be given preferential access into the much prized IIMs.

Yet in all this excitement which is fodder for the sensation-hungry media, one tiny inconvenient detail has been overlooked — the heavily subsidised tuition fees that the lucky few (less than 1,500 in all IIMs put together) will pay after their admission into these privileged enclaves. Although some IIMs have belatedly raised their annual tuition-cum-residence fees from the previous Rs.2 lakh to Rs.2.50-2.75 lakh this year, business management education is provided to the fortunate few who top the annual CAT entrance exam at way below actual cost, which ranges between Rs.4-4.5 lakh per student per annum.

According to information provided by the placement cells of IIMs, the average annual remuneration package of IIM graduates in 2007 increased by 30-46 percent over last year, ranging between Rs.12-20 lakh per annum. Some IIM-Ahmedabad graduates were signed up for Rs.60 lakh-Rs.1 crore and some snapped up by foreign corporates take home even fatter pay packets.

Natural justice and equity demand that subsidisation of IIM students is ended forthwith. Instead student loans should be easily available to all IIM students with the obligation to pay back the full cost of their privileged education. It should be borne in mind that students admitted into the private sector Indian School of Business, Hyderabad uncomplainingly pay Rs.13.5 lakh per year as tuition-cum-residential fee. Why shouldn’t students admitted into the IIMs likewise pay the full cost of their B-school education?

The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

Capitalism gone haywire

oes Indian capitalism have a death wish?
Objective assessment of evidence available in abundance seems to indicate as much. Less than two decades after Indian industry was set free from the chains of Soviet-style licence-permit-quota regimen by the historic liberalisation and deregulation Union budget of July 1991, captains and leaders of liberated corporate India seem hell-bent upon giving liberalisation a bad name by indulging in an orgy of conspicuous consumption. Virtually every super-luxury product and brand from countries around the world is being heavily advertised — and presumably purchased — in markets countrywide.

This burst of indignation about capitalism gone haywire is prompted by news that ITC Hotels is all set to launch a Luxury Collection of hotels in India in collaboration with the US-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts. One wonders why corporate strategists in a poor but proud country need to bow and scrape to satisfy every whim and fancy of foreign visitors? By all global standards ITC hotels are already very luxe. So why the need to go the extra mile to further deepen the divide between the country’s few haves and have-nots?

But such social insensitivity is not the preserve of ITC managers. It is pervasive within the new business class of post-liberalisation India which is ruining the image of capitalism by indulging in vulgar conspicuous consumption. Recently the media celebrated the arrival in India of top-end motor cars including the Rolls-Royce and Bentley priced at over Rs.4 crore each.

Quick to mimic the worst practices of global plutocracy, India’s corporate leaders would do well to heed the best practices of American capitalism which has a built-in survival instinct. A walk through the campuses of even the most low-profile universities in the US reveals labs, libraries, dormitories etc funded by local businessmen. This is the example that India’s nouveaux riche corporate tycoons need to emulate rather than self-destructive indulgence in effete epicureanism. Enlightened self-interest demands it.

Mete and right

It’s an indicator of the vast, nationwide conspiracy to fudge the issue of non-merit subsidies — food, water, electricity, higher education among others — that India’s greedy middle class grabs for itself annually, that a recent directive of the Union government to the effect that all medical graduates must serve a minimum 12 months in rural India, has been buried in the inner pages of a few of the country’s estimated 50,000 newspapers. All said and done, newspapers are run and manned by the educated middle class, themselves the beneficiaries of life-long subsidies. So why blow the whistle? According to Union finance minister P.C. Chidambaram the republic’s annual non-merit subsidies payout is equivalent to 14 percent of GDP, i.e Rs.600,000 crore, six times the annual expenditure of government (Centre plus states) on education.

Therefore all right thinking citizens need to lay personal prejudices aside and support this proposal for the simple reason that medical education — especially in government medical colleges — is massively subsidised. For example in Karnataka, students admitted into government medical colleges pay an annual tuition fee of a mere Rs.35,000 against the actual cost of medical education calculated by the Medical Council of India at Rs.4.5 lakh per year. Likewise students in the showpiece All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi pay only Rs.250 per year for tuition. In private sector medical colleges too, the fees of students are rigidly controlled by state governments in the cause of socialism. Despite this, Indian medical graduates don’t have the slightest qualms about catching the first airplane out to amass fortunes in foreign countries.

In the circumstances, given that their medical education has been substantially financed by the poor majority, it’s only mete and right that medical students should pay back by rendering service in rural India where the doctor-people ratio is a pathetic 1:4,300 (cf. 1:180 in the US). Alternatively they could pay back the full cost of their education.

NB. This is not the first time compulsory rural service has been mooted. Similar proposals have often been made in the past and are being debated ad infinitum, Indian style.