Inhumanity lament

30-35 percent. 50 percent. 1956. 46 percent. 436 grams. In any self-respecting nation read contextually, these numbers and dates would provoke revolution. But in India they are mere statistics of peripheral interest to the self-absorbed intelligentsia and middle class. Yet they are silent testimonials of monumental loss and hardship inflicted upon the citizenry by big government and monopoly public sector enterprises.

According to Dr. H. R. Parpia, former director of the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, 30-35 percent of the country’s annual foodgrains and 50 percent of perishables are wasted because of post-harvest storage and transport inefficiencies. In an interview with the Chennai-based daily The Hindu (August 12), Parpia says the Central government was alerted about the phenomenon of post-harvest foodgrains wastage way back in 1956 — over half a century ago. But with the monopoly Food Corporation of India’s inertia as evidenced by visuals of open-storage, rain-soaked rotting foodgrains aired daily by the television news channel CNN-IBN, these warnings were consistently ignored. With such huge wastage of agriculture/horticulture output year on year, the stark reality is that 46 percent of India’s infants below five years of age — 55 million children — nursed by undernourished  mothers, are severely malnutritioned, underweight and in imminent danger of suffering permanent brain damage. Despite loudly trumpeted record foodgrain harvests, per capita net foodgrains availability is 436 grams (2005-08) per day against 440 grams in 1955-58. That’s development, India-shining style.

As the shameful numbers testifying to the cruel indifference to India’s children indicate, the price of the open and continuous neglect of post-harvest infrastructure and the food processing industry is being paid on a daily basis by Indian democracy’s voiceless citizens, its hapless children in particular. As the great English poet Wordsworth remarked: “Have I not reason to lament, man’s inhumanity to man?”

Ill-advised coronation

The announcement in mid-july by paul allen co-founder of Microsoft Inc, that he intends to follow the example of American billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and endow most of his $13.5 billion (Rs.63,400 crore) fortune to a foundation engaged in non-profit research, is unlikely to inspire India’s skinflint billionaires. The charitable impulse born out of empathy within the magnificent entrepreneurs and leaders of American industry which has enabled capitalist ideology to strike deep roots in that country, is conspicuously absent from contemporary Indian industry.

This observation is particularly true of the billionaire captains of India’s booming information technology (IT) industry who in the wake of a media-led campaign to liberalise and deregulate the Indian economy, have  amassed huge fortunes. Yet despite Indian society lionising them and gifting the IT industry generous tax exemptions on corporate income for over a decade, the philanthropy record of its accidental billionaires is nothing to write home about. Indeed although over-paid IT professionals have swamped several once-charming habitats such as Bangalore, Pune and Gurgaon, it’s rare to stumble upon a library, education or public institution funded by IT corporates or their over-hyped billionaire leaders. Indian style philanthropy is to throw small change at good causes and derive disproportionate mileage.

Certainly this publication has had a forgettable experience of the generosity of the country’s top IT majors including  Wipro Group, Infosys and latterly Tata Consultancy Services. Last month Tata Consultancy Services’ new chief executive N. Chandrasekaran ‘celebrated’ his promotion by withdrawing all advertising support and cancelling the five-year-old TCS-EducationWorld Teachers Awards (expenditure: Rs.8-10 lakh per year) under which classroom innovations of the country’s under-paid primary and secondary school teachers were celebrated. Never mind that TCS is India’s largest private sector recruiter of educated youth.

Chandrasekaran’s arbitrary cancellation of the TCS-EW Teachers Awards is typical of mean and narrow-minded techies projected by the media as great visionaries and savants. This worthy is well aware that the annual teachers’ awards were the brain-child of Fakir Chand Kohli, who as CEO from 1968-2000 built TCS from ground-up into the country’s largest IT services and consultancy company (gross income: Rs.30,028 crore) and one of the top ten worldwide. Ill-advisedly handed helmsmanship of this globally-respected megacorp on a silver platter by Kohli and his successor S. Ramadorai, this tunnel-vision techie, innocent of TCS’ wider social responsibilities, is all set to run the company aground.

Fraudulent conspiracy

The outrageously misleading ad campaigns in the print and audio-visual media of a growing number of professional education institutions relating to rankings, placements and foreign faculty has compelled the Delhi-based Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI)  to intervene. A report in the business daily Mint (August 16) says that ASCI has finalised a code of conduct which will curb and/or penalise advertisers and media for  publishing misleading ads of professional education institutions.

According to informed sources within the persuaders’ industry, the ASCI crackdown has been prompted by the sustained advertising blitz of the Delhi-based Indian Institute of Planning & Administration (IIPM, estb. 1973) in particular. Essentially a family-run business enterprise promoted by Dr. M. K. Chaudhuri who briefly served on the faculty of IIM-Bangalore, his son Arindham Chaudhuri and daughter-in-law Rakshita, IIPM claims to be “the world’s largest independent business school”. Unfortunately for the IIPM management, investigations conducted by several respectable print media publications including Businessworld and Mint indicate that most of the tall claims made by the institute are pure baloney.

Complicit in IIPM’s questionable business development strategy is Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd (B&C) — India’s largest media company which owns the best-selling Times of India and its affiliated television channel Times Now. Under Bennett Coleman’s notorious ‘private treaties’ initiative, ToI, Times Now and other publications and channels of B&C have traded free advertising and puff editorial coverage for IIPM in exchange for equity shares of the holding company of the B-school.

Contrary to popular belief, a well-engineered conspiracy can fool a huge number of — if not all — the people all the time.