Chidambaram on Chidambaram

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About the kidneys they say, that they do not complain at all. Quietly, they labour on, performing the most crucial of bodily functions, day in and day out. It is the elbows and the knees and the shoulders that keep squeaking and you keep dropping oil into their joints. Until one day, neglected, overburdened and exhausted, the poor kidneys just give way. Chronic Renal Failure—that’s what the doctors call it. Yes, chronic!

One could call agriculture the kidneys of the economy—solid, dependable, and sadly, quiet.

But what’s worse, is that no one seems to be listening, either. There is a lot of talk, even planning and surprisingly, monitoring and analysis, too. Then how is it that, over the decades, policy makers and planners have either forgotten or ignored the state of Indian agriculture? It is chronically ill 

and groaning under a severe resource crisis.

Every scan, report and image returns the same diagnosis—if something isn’t done immediately, we are heading for a catastrophic failure of agriculture. Our cover story examines the reasons behind agriculture’s chronic illness.

It is also said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Recent actions of the Department of Financial Services seem to indicate exactly that. Getting down to micro-managing PSU banks (specifically purchase decisions), they issue Tuglak like edicts at great regularity which send the regulator scrambling to reinterpret them for the banks to minimise damage; banks on the other hand drag their feet on implementing such edicts that may mean a certain ruin.

Ostensibly to dispense money to the poor, the department is reportedly buying ATMs centrally. If banks stop procuring them directly, then the department will take over that role. And if they jointly negotiate the purchase, then the ATMs of public sector banks, or at least quite a few of them, will operate without any unique branding. They will neither buy new machines, nor upgrade the old ones, handing over the competitive edge to private sector and MNC banks on a platter. There isn’t much to guess about the likely outcome.

In another move; the department has mooted the idea of four public sector banks pooling their core banking services into one and then run entire banking apparatus unitedly. Now, this is not only impractical, but fraught with serious financial dangers. A bank’s core banking service is its very heart. There are very few, if any, organisms on this planet, who have one heart for every four of them. 

The banks are setting up Ultra Small Branches to be manned by a Business Correspondent (BC) and regularly visited by a servicing bank branch officer. It is designed to give identity to the BC on the one hand and make people feel comfortable while doing transactions on the other.  The intention may be good, but the flip side is, the BCs nationwide may seize this opportunity, come together, demand and get the status of regularised bank employees—just as in the case of the RRBs. 

These might just prove to be the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back.

As told to Sameer Kochhar, Editor-in-Chief, INCLUSION 

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