Monday, June 30, 2014

Education is taking Assam backwards !!

'Education is taking Assam backwards' sounds like a paradox, but I shall prove the same true in this discussion today, albiet unfortunately.

Although Assam is the largest tea producing region in the world, yet it does not have a subject on tea education till the 12th standard. There are a few diploma courses for graduate and post graduate students, which hardly get students because of lack of awareness and interest in businesses related to tea. This is obvious because less than 5% of the population in Assam have education above class XII, and our education curriculum till then does not introduce our students to a career in tea, to raise any interest levels. Tea gardens are for the rich, they say. Sigh!

Similarly, Assam (Government, bureaucracy and its intellectuals) has not shown any strategic focus in educating our young generation in matters of petroleum related businesses, coal related businesses, bamboo related businesses, weaving related businesses, fishery related businesses, tourism related businesses and agri-based businesses. None of these topics get its due attention in the primary and secondary school syllabus, so as to generate interests in the minds of the ever inquisitive youth.

Here is one funny yet sad anecdote to support the discussion. Dibrugarh University had proposed to set up a “Centre for Tea and Agro Studies” in its campus with effect from early 2007. On 20th june 2014, I was aghast to see the website of that initiative. This is what I gathered from the website of Dibrugarh University.
  1. There were only three names on the faculty page: Prof. P. K. Borua (Director), Assistant Professor; Ms. Monalisha Sangma and Guest Faculty Mr. Siddhartha Sharma. The page didnt carry any details of their credentials and their functions.
  2. In the 'Departmental Publication' page, it was casually written "The Centre regularly publishes the Information Brochure for admission into the course" !! Thank you, but I was expecting some kind of a journal publication.
  3. In the Collaborations and Projects page, it had said, "The Centre is having collaboration with the Tea industry, Tea Research Association and Tea Board particularly in teaching and training". !! Is it possible to get more vague than this?

Dibrugarh University

It is tragic because we all know that the region of Assam and the North East is rich in various kinds of natural resources. We also know that the economy of a region is dependent on its natural resources and the core competencies that we develop around these natural resources. The inhabitants of the region have to be experts in harnessing the potential of the natural resources available in the region. Only then, the region won't have problems of un-employment, poverty and other socio-political disturbances like terrorism.

Contrary to the above understanding, Assam has negligible intent and infrastructure to educate its young citizens about the natural economic opportunities available in Assam. The obvious after-effect of such absence of vision is responsible for what we see today in Assam. Gamucha (traditional towel) are imported from outside the state. Significant amount of fish comes from the south of India, when Assam has enough water bodies, rainfall and shallow water table. Above all, we have the huge Brahmaputra. India had the first oil well in Digboi but still Assam does not have local entrepreneurs doing business in the petro-chemical industry producing plastic and other petroleum bi-products.

Tea was made a cash crop by the British and I don't think that we are even thinking about creating the second cash crop after 60 long years of our independence. There have been some efforts in exporting agricultural produce from Assam, but the efforts are not comprehensive and well planned.

Assam Lemon, Assam Papaya, Bora Saul (glutinous rice), Joha Saul (aromatic rice) are few of the agricultural produce that has the potential to become the second cash crop next to tea.

India leads the world in terms of Papaya production, but Assam has one of the lowest productivity in spite of the preferable tropical weather conditions. Some research work says Assam may be the home of lemon. Lemons of various kinds are found even today growing in a wild state in the tropical forests of Assam. Pomelo (robab tenga) is one such example, which is known worldwide for its vitamin C content.

If OIL market Duliajan can sell apples sourced from America, there is no reason why we can not sell Assam Papaya and Assam Lemon in the shopping malls of the United States of America.

All that is not possible if the education curriculum does not support these knowledge domains required for the Assamese citizens to take advantage of the natural potential of the region. Many argue that Assam is a land of 'laahe laahe', which literally means that Assamese people are lazy and therefore they don't take initiatives and work hard. I have a completely different explanation. I blame the strategists, their strategies or the lack of it in education. Or perhaps, I sometime imagine that it is a well thought design by the ruling rich capitalists to keep the locals out of understanding the potential of our state and its natural resources. But that is just my imagination talking, perhaps.

Lets compare the state education facilities in Assam and in Andhra Pradesh. The data is from the websites of 'Directorate of Technical Education'.

Andhra Pradesh has 120 polytechnics with an intake of 21,210 students every year, 225 engineering colleges with an intake of 65960 students every year, 270 MCA colleges with an intake of 13,495 students every year, 205 MBA/PGDBA colleges with an intake of 11,230 students every year and 31 B-pharmacology colleges with 1770 students every year. Assam has only 25 institutes. Assam has 10 polytechnic institutes and 15 other institutes including the engineering colleges with a total intake of only 2520 students every year.

Karnataka has 566 institutes under DTE. Gujarat has 620 institutes under DTE.

Education in Assam
Annual Student Intake in Assam
Assam lags not only in terms of number of institutes and but also lags in the type and variety of courses offered in these institutes. None of the institutes really focus on the natural resources, ecology and culture of the state of Assam.

Am I then not right in saying, 'education (of Assam) is taking Assam backwards'? Education is intrinsically progressive, but the direction and velocity of progress has to be worked on strategically. If the direction is not correct, it would obviously take a region backwards. The local population, its economy, its art and culture, its people, its languages - everything will be history if education is not in the right direction of progress.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Understanding Gender Equality to create happy families!

“We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” ― Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem is the demi-god of feminism and I do agree with quite a few of her widely spoken philosophies about women getting equal respect inside and outside the house. However, I have a major difference of opinion when it comes to the above statement, as I believe that it may be killing the very basis of a peaceful, prosperous and healthy family life. Moreover, it does not promote gender equality as Gloria Steinem had believed.

Gender equality is not about raising  our daughters more like our sons and vice versa. It is not about women doing what the men does. It is not about women behaving how the men behaves. Gender equality is not about gender neutrality. 

Gender equality is about equal respect and dignity for men and women in their own roles, which are guided by biology, physiology, anatomy and more importantly, choice.

According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Gender Equality, also known as sex equality, sexual equality or equality of the genders, refers to the view that men and women should receive equal treatment, and should not be discriminated against based on gender, unless there is a sound biological reason for different treatment.

Quite unfortunately, I see that we are confusing Gender Equality with Equality of Gender Roles. I see daughters being primarily raised like boys with a clear objective of having a career and financial independence. At first glance, there is nothing wrong with it, but if we look closely, we are curtailing the choice of a girl to decide her own role in a society. We are imposing a role for her to become financially dependent. It is similar to enforcing an engineering or a medical degree on to boys, irrespective of his visible or latent interests.

The girl is taught to, not be like her mother, and to earn for herself. It starts from the tender age of schooling where she has to compete with the boys in the traditionally masculine school curriculum. For instance, the school curriculum doesn't generally have competitions in the typically women centric activities like cooking, dressing up etc., as much as it has competition in the men centric activities like running (athletics).

Instead of teaching about the need to respect men and women equally to our kids, we are teaching a certain way to grab respect, and that too, to our female children primarily. Women have started demanding equal opportunities at everything men used to primarily do, in the guise of getting equal respect. As John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize winner for literature would say, “And finally, in our time a beard is the one thing that a woman cannot do better than a man, or if she can her success is assured only in a circus.”

There is a serious fallacy in the understood and perceived concept of gender equality. The fallacy is its benchmarking against what men used to do, or does by being biologically masculine, for no fault of theirs. We are trying to create equality or homogeneity in gender roles, instead of true gender equality. In effect, we as a society are not even moving towards gender equality. We are in fact creating gender tensions.

Here are a few tension inducing facts in the Indian society:
  1. Since the girl is considered 'parraya dhan' in an Indian family, she has more pressure to earn for a living as compared to the boy, who may inherit his father's properties. So if we indoctrinate a girl child towards financial independence, she is more likely to be under pressure.
  2. A boy can easily find a bride till the age of 40, which is sadly not true for a girl. It becomes very difficult to get a groom after 32 years. So, if a girl gets caught up in the career spiral, she may never get married. We see a large number of spinsters in urban India today.
  3. Trying to become like men in terms of career and lifestyle, the women folk are slowly losing the virtues typically attributed to women. They smoke as much. They drink as much. They sleep and wake up late. The patience level of women (generally considered higher than men) is diminishing with changing lifestyle of women. A boy may share a smoke with a girl without a question. He may actually encourage it. But he would not want a wife who is addicted to smoking.
  4. Men are not brought up differently to understand the changing expectations from a women. For instance, a mother would tell her daughter to be a career woman, but would refrain from telling her son to get ready to marry a career woman by learning the household chores (for instance) as well.
  5. Since the boy is not brought up to share household chores, we see Indian women working equally hard both at office and at home. Men just work at their offices. This creates tremendous tension in the family life and we have seen increasing divorces and lesser child births.
In effect, the confusion between gender equality and equality /homogeneity of gender roles is not only creating chaos, but also we are ignoring the learning processes towards the ultimate biological reality - a happy family life. Raising a family, living a peaceful, healthy, cultured family life is not getting enough focus in the learning phases of a kid's life. A happy family life is a must for overall well-being and happiness, and the basis of a happy family life is peaceful mutually beneficial co-existence of a man and a woman, with their kids.

As Author David O. McKay would say, "No other success can compensate for failure in the home."

It's no stretch to say that a person has a serious advantage in life if they come from a loving, supportive home. Many people still succeed though they come from less-than-ideal family situations, but having our basic needs met, knowing that our parents love us and learning life lessons at home make all the challenges of day-to-day living that much easier to face. Likely, as an adult you want a happy home for your family. This is no coincidence that natural evolution has organized us into families so that we grow up in happiness and safety, and so that we learn to love others selflessly.

A happy family life - may be nuclear, preferably joint - is the reason why there is an urgent need to re-define the concept of gender equality. We need to understand that gender equality is about respect and the celebration of choice over tradition. It is not about what we DO. It is about what we FEEL. The current understanding is weird and warped, and is proving to be the primary reason for disintegration of families, rising divorces, unhappy marriages, suicides, murders, bad childhood and perhaps rising heart and tension related diseases.

I am in no way meaning to say that a girl should not be educated. Neither am I saying that she should never work outside her family. In fact, I think family life becomes rewarding if the wife of the house is smart and highly educated. All I am saying is that we should give priority to building  happy families where kids can grow up happily. All I am saying is that life cannot center around making money and becoming consumers of conveniences.

Let us examine a few lifestyle realities of our times.
  1. Earlier it was shameful for a girl, not to know cooking. Today it is perhaps fashionable. Neither should that be shameful, nor fashionable. It should be part of the upbringing process. Even boys should learn cooking. I have met girls who have discovered that they love cooking only after their marriage, when they were compelled to cook.
  2. Child marriage is bad, but not marrying till the age of 30 is equally bad. Once, in a quick study in my place of work, all boys above 24 were married and all the girls above 24 were unmarried. We had girls above 35 as well in the set! This upsets the natural process of reproduction and maintenance of cosmic equilibrium.
  3. When I talk to my kid-cousins and nieces who are in school, their questions to me is not about what to study, but about what kind of career to choose, as if education will only make sense then. However, education should not be about getting a job, or about building a career. Education is primarily to lead a happy informed wholesome life. There is no harm in a doctor becoming the wife. It is only good for the family and the neighbors. Becoming an active doctor has its cons. For one, it is highly stressful and demanding in terms of time.
  4. Housewife is derogatory. Home-maker is the in-word. This is a direct off-shoot of the shame associated with being a housewife in our times. It is with utter disgust, I say that we as a society have failed the role of a wife in a family. We have demeaned it, just because it does not earn a monthly salary. One of my aunt (a housewife) has a beautiful garden in front of her house, and to me, she is a 'gardening expert' or an expert gardener. The joy that the garden provides to her husband and her kids, and the pride they all feel when visitors come to their house, are no less than the monthly salary that the husband brings home. Likewise, it is a for a good cook, a clean house, well mannered children, well cultured children, happy grandparents and the list is endless.
  5. I want to work because I want to be financially independent. I find this lifestyle statement dangerous, materialistic and mechanical. I do support working but not with the end goal of financial independence. One should work because he or she likes working in that particular field. It is difficult for men to follow this philosophy, as they must earn by any means (they can't give child birth!). Girls need not get into this vicious cycle of finding work just to earn money. If she is a singer, she should continue working (singing). If she is a doctor and loves treating diseases, she should continue working. Secondly, financial independence can also come from sharing the income of the husband. Every month, 30% (or an agreed amount) should go to the bank account of the wife without her asking for it.
  6. Rise in crèche is going hand in hand with the rise in the number of lonely grandparents. A family is not a family if the kid goes to a crèche at the tender age of a few months, and if there is no support system for the grandparents who have given birth to you. With working wives, it is seen that grandparents just come to visit. Either they stay in their  own house alone, or keep shifting between sons or daughters. Similarly, a kid is left to the crèche in the name of development of social skills as the mother has to go to work that she most often hates. 
My readers may not agree to all my points, and to all my analogies. That is perfectly fine. However, my request is to think, discuss and debate about the main point that I am trying to bring up in this blog - 'the strive towards achieving gender role equality, in the name of gender equality, is harming the most basic unit of human existence - the family'. If family system and values disintegrate, cultures and races will disintegrate. Human civilization will disintegrate into chaos, extremism and barbarism.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Abolising Taxes.. Arthakranti Proposal of an alternate Government revenue model

Today I received an whatsapp message about an organisation called Arthakranti Sansthan, which is proposing an alternate to the existing financial governance for the country. The message can be read at the end of this blog post.

Normally, I do not read long whatsapp forwarded message but this message had a line that attracted my attention. It said, "Scrap all 56 Taxes including income tax excluding import duty". 

From the day, I have become an entrepreneur, taxes have been a big hindrance to my business model in terms of maintaining accounts and paying taxes. The current tax structure is simply too complicated. I believe we should pay taxes and contribute to the overall growth and development of the country. However, it was an easy belief system till the day I worked in the corporate world of TDS, where tax is deducted by the company giving you absolutely no trouble in terms of paying your taxes rightfully.

After I have started my business, taxes have been my biggest hurdle. At one end, I simply can't forge and evade taxes. At the other end, paying tax rightfully is a complete pain in the ass. For instance, I have not met a single sales tax consultant who is willing to accept my proposal of paying sales tax rightfully every month. They all say, you should not worry about taxes till your business gets an annual revenue of over a crore. We will manage your taxes (by evading it and bribing the sales tax officials).

So a proposal of an alternative tax structure was a dream come true for me. I continued reading the Whatsapp message. It had a list of FIVE point of actions:
  1. Scrap all 56 Taxes including income tax excluding import duty.
  2. Recall and scrap high denomination currencies of 1000, 500 and 100 rupees.
  3. All high value transaction to be made only through banking system like cheque, DD, online and electronic.
  4. Fix limit of cash transaction and no taxing on cash transaction.
  5. For Govt. revenue collection, introduce single point tax system through banking system – Banking Transaction Tax (2% to 0.7%) on only Credit Amount. 
As a banker (a decade of banking experience), I would say that it is a great long term idea that can change how a country is run. It will be perhaps the first idea of governance that India has not borrowed from the West. Even our constitution is a borrowed cut and paste job!

From a consumer perspective, the head-ache of paying taxes and the guilt of not paying taxes will completely go away. Whatever money would come to the bank, 2% (or less than that) would be automatically taken out. The accounting hassle will lie with the bank and they have the talent to do the same.

The decision to scrap the higher denomination currencies is also a great idea to discourage cash transactions. It will increase card based transactions at shops and other business establishments. I would be saved of the hassle of going to the bank to deposit cash standing in a queue. I would be saved of the hassle of giving change back to the customers.

For the Government, there will be those fews banks to reconcile the revenue collection.

No taxing on cash transaction is also a boon for the poor. Although it sounds like a double edged sword benefitting the cunning businessmen and the capitalist as well, yet I would support any policy that will primarily help the poor in their day to day life.

One of the most corrupt departments in Assam is the Sales Tax Department. This new model will completely stop departmental corruption at the tax collection level. It will also stop other kinds of corruption which mainly survives on cash transactions. Without high denomination currencies, under-the-table cash transactions will be severely affected.

Having said all that, I have one point of discussion. I believe that all policies should aim for an egalitarian society for peace and prosperity. It should try to create greater or equal opportunities for the poor as well. As we know that India is corrupt, not because our rules and structures are weak, but because our conscience and dharma allows us to become selfish and corrupt, so it is pertinent that this new taxation model should not have loophole for the rich to become richer by evading taxes.

For instance, I am not doubting that banking penetration can be increased and every citizen will be part of the banking structure in the future. I am doubting our mentality to evade taxes and therefore will always carry on cash transactions avoiding taxes completely. Even if the Government put a limit on cash transaction (say Rs. 2000), will that stop the citizens to carry out cash transactions?

One thing is certain that it will help the small businesses who earn less than Rs. 2000 a day. We surely have a huge percentage of people living in that kind of earning per day across the country. The moot question however is whether it will stop economic polarity, the difference between the rich and the poor, the difference between the haves and the have nots.

Whatever said and done, a large scale national debate should start on this idea and quick actions should be taken by the Government.

WhatsApp Message:

Mr.Arun Bokil , one of the key member of Arthakranti Sansthan was given time to share to PM Modi before recent election. He was given 9min for sharing but Mr Modi heard him for 2 hrs.

“Arthakranti Sansthan” is an Economic Advisory body constituted by a group of Chartered Accountants and Engineers. Arthakranti Proposal is an effective and guaranteed solution of Black Money Generation, Price rise and Inflation, Corruption, Fiscal Deficit, Unemployment, Ransom, GDP and industrial growth, terrorism etc.

“Arthakranti Proposal has FIVE point of actions simultaneously.
  1. Scrap all 56 Taxes including income tax excluding import duty. 
  2. Recall and scrap high denomination currencies of 1000, 500 and 100 rupees. 
  3. All high value transaction to be made only through banking system like cheque, DD, online and electronic. 
  4. Fix limit of cash transaction and no taxing on cash transaction. 
  5. For Govt. revenue collection introduce single point tax system through banking system – Banking Transaction Tax (2% to 0.7%) on only Credit Amount 
Important Points to note:
  1. As on today total banking transaction is more than 2.7 lakh crores per day say more than 800 lakh crores annually.
  2. Less than 20% transaction is made through banking system as on today and more than 80% transaction made in cash only, which is not traceable.
  3. 78% of Indian population spend less than 20/- rupees daily why they need 1000/- rupee note. 
What will happen if All FIFTY SIX Taxes including income tax scrapped :
  1. Salaried people will bring home more money which will increase purchasing power of the family. 
  2. All commodities including Petrol, Diesel, FMCG will become cheaper by 35% to 52% .
  3. No question of Tax evasion so no black money generation.
  4. Business sector will get boosted. So self employment. 
What will happen if 1000/ 500/ 100 Rupees currency notes recalled and scrapped :
  1. Corruption through cash will stopped 100%.
  2. Black money will be either converted to white or will vanish as billions of 1000/500/100 currency notes hidden in bags without use will become simple pieces of papers.
  3. Unaccounted hidden huge cash is skyrocketing the prices of properties, land, houses, jewellery etc and hard earned money is loosing its value; this trend will stop immediately.
  4. Kidnapping and ransom, “Supari killing” will stop.
  5. Terrorism supported by cash transaction will stop.
  6. Cannot buy high value property in cash showing very less registry prices.
  7. Circulation of “Fake Currency” will stop because fake currency printing for less value notes will not be viable. 
What will happen when Banking Transaction Tax (2% to 0.7%) is implemented:
  1. As on today if BTT is implemented govt can fetch 800 x 2% = 16 lakh crore where as current taxing system is generating less than 14 lakh crore revenue.
  2. When 50% of total transaction will be covered by BTT sizing 2000 to 2500 lakh crores, Govt will need to fix BTT as low as 1% to 0.7% and this will boost again banking transaction many fold.
  3. No separate machinery like income tax department will be needed and tax amount will directly deposited in State/Central/District administration account immediately.
  4. As transaction tax amount will be very less, public will prefer it instead paying huge amount against directly/indirectly FIFTY SIX taxes.
  5. There will be no tax evasion and govt will get huge revenue for development and employment generation.
  6. For any special revenue for special projects, govt can slightly raise BTT say from 1% to 1.2% and this 0.2% increase will generate 4,00,000 crores additional fund!