Kerala Floods :: World Accepts the Challenge to Rebuild Kerala

Kerala-floods, 2018:: World Accepts the Challenge to Rebuild Kerala

People of Kerala and those who know them, have accepted the challenge arising from nature’s wrath which resulted in the worst flood the geographical area now known as Kerala experienced in almost hundred years. Something similar did happen in 1924 (famously known as the “flood of 99” where 99 refers to Malayalam Era 1099). But no comparison holds good, as in 1924 it was a natural calamity of a different dimension and scales with not as many dams, warning systems about weather etc and with much lesser humans living in the affected areas. Even in 1947, undivided India had a population of fewer than 40 crores against 130 crores in India alone today! What follows are some of my responses in the media and some unpublished thoughts, put together in different contexts during this month (August 2018).

Commendable coordination
Kerala is going through the worst calamitous situation anywhere in India in recent history, caused by nature’s fury. The state government, Centre and people of Kerala have so far worked in tandem providing every possible help to the unfortunate victims affected by floods. This is no time for recounting past mistakes or sermonizing about rights and wrongs. Still, we need to remind ourselves about some basic precautions which can reduce the gravity of damage that calamities like this can cause. They include:
(a)             Mutual support within the neighborhood.
(b)             Preparedness for disaster management.
(c)              Optimum use of society’s savings for society’s benefit.
Initial reports show that on these three fronts, a good beginning has been made in Kerala. The state government is commissioning support from all possible quarters and is coordinating with all agencies within the state and external agencies like army, navy and air force which are landing in the state to participate in the massive rescue operations. The Chief Minister himself is personally monitoring the rescue and rehabilitation efforts 24X7 and transparently communicating with the people of Kerala persuading them to keep vigil and cooperate with the ongoing rescue operations.
Let us hope that these efforts help in minimizing further damage and pray the weather improves fast.
M G Warrier, Mumbai
August 16, 2018

Open domestic vaults

This refers to the report “Govt may reject foreign aid for flood-hit Kerala” (Business Standard, August 22). Though Centre will have valid grounds for the position they have taken on acceptance of ‘donations’ in the instant case, it will take some time for the political blame game to subside, as celebrity ex-diplomats have come out openly taking extreme positions on the issue. While the political leadership debates the issue in media and legislatures, let us look at solving the issue from some other perspective.
Maybe accidental, the offer of financial support of Rs 700 crore offered by U A E equals the amount so far committed by PM. According to reports, the financial support from U A E Govt was to come from collections to be made there for this specific purpose, for which advertisements have been issued in that country.
In the context of a matter still before the Supreme Court, some revelations were made about the assets of Lord Sripadmanabha lying in the vaults of the temple in Thiruvananthapuram. Literature available in the media shows that the Travancore Royal Family had preserved the wealth for being used in times of situations like the one which the state of Kerala is going through now.
According to media reports, the inventory of treasure lying in the vaults of the temple prepared at the instance of the Apex Court include tonnes of gold coins/jewelry. GOI and the state government should consider some legally and politically feasible method acceptable to the temple authorities to mainstream a part of the treasure at this juncture (maybe, the temple can lend a portion of the treasure to state government at nominal interest) to help Kerala to help lakhs of Keralites who have lost everything, besides supporting rebuilding the infrastructure. Such an approach may incentivize other domestic organizations also.
M G Warrier, Mumbai
August 22, 2018
Managing India’s Hidden Wealth
M G Warrier

As distorted priorities in development planning is a legacy Modi government inherited from the post-Nehruvian governments (at Centre and states).
Kerala floods will remain a case study for posterity, to learn why all natural calamities are not ‘caused’ by nature alone, and, once a calamity happens, how best damages to life and property can be minimized depending on neighborhood support, technology, help available from any quarters and last but not least by providing a confident leadership which doesn’t add to distress. Incidentally, according to one estimate, dams in Kerala are capable of managing less than 20 percent of the water from annual rainfall. The problems of mid-August 2018 floods in Kerala were aggravated by several hostile factors, man-made and natural.
We need not call back Kasturirangan or Madhav Gadgil to tell the world that building houses, roads and resorts in Kerala have not been amenable to scientific planning and exploitation of resources for supporting these activities (quarrying, deforestation etc) were done without much respect to the protection of the environment. That apart, governments all through depended on short-cuts to ameliorate people’s suffering by providing temporary reliefs or subsidies/loan waivers (this observation holds good for India since 1990’s).
Kerala floods is a wake-up call. The development issues being debated now didn’t get this much attention any time before. Not even when death tolls had crossed a lakh in earlier calamities in India in the recent past (By excellent coordination in relief work Kerala has managed to restrict death toll to less than 500 with about a million in relief camps when the number peaked during the Onam week ending August 25, 2018).
The issues include improving infrastructure, upgrading and maintaining existing dams and rivers with appropriate safety systems, creating a transparent distress relief fund and distress management force with adequate training to handle different types of situations, rule-based, transparent mobilization of resources to meet emergent situations and last but not least considering the possibility of using part of the nations hidden savings which remain unaccounted and unguarded in different vaults with various organizations.

Some Economics

During the first half of July 2018 Indian media celebrated a change in India’s ranking based on GDP(Gross Domestic Product) growth with headline like “India scores over France in GDP” without much awareness about the fact that the GDP-based ranking too was yet another case of selective comparison which is used by various national and international agencies to serve their constituency interests. Ranking countries using GDP as a parameter is like ranking ‘High Net-worth Individuals’ (HNIs) based on their bank balances alone ignoring their borrowings and lifestyle. In the instant case, to know the position of countries in overall economic development, appropriate weightages need to be given for population, GDP, External Debt, and Savings Rate.
In a media response, I gave the following table giving some related data based on latest available figures in respect of 7 countries ranked in the report:
World’s top 7 economies (Amounts in trillion dollars)
Economy
GDP
Population
(In billion)
External Debt(ED)
ED as % of GDP
US
19.39
0.33
21.2
98
China
12.24
1.38
  1.7
14
Japan
  4.87
0.13
  3.6
74
Germany
  3.68
0.08
  5.4
141
United Kingdom
  2.62
0.07
  8.4
313
India
  2.60
1.30
  0.5
  20





France
 2.58
0.07
  5.7
213

As countries with lower levels of GDP migrate to ‘developed nations’ status, countries with higher levels of external debt will be under pressure and costs of servicing external debts will be on the rise. In the above list US, UK and France have already started feeling the discomfort of dependence on countries which are comparatively self-reliant for borrowing and also selling their products.
Surprisingly, no one objects to the harebrained methodology followed by rating agencies which compare the incomparable. For example, how we can compare the United States which country has less than one third population, three times geographical area, has been a free country for centuries and the whole world market as captive dumping yard for the country’s products with India with a population of 1.3 billion and was dripped dry of its resources till the middle of last century by external masters?
The argument is not that our position would improve by a realistic ranking by international agencies. India’s ranking based on economic prosperity and the people’s ability to live a comfortable and healthy life (for Indian situation, call it ‘Poverty Index’!) India’s 2017 ranking is 144, with a per capita GDP of US $1940 (Per capita GDP of France is twenty times as much. That ranking too is fallacious, as India has states with equal or more population than many countries which have a higher ranking, with much higher per capita GDP than countries with the higher ranking than India. Let us leave this confusion here for now and discuss what we can do to improve the position.
Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary solutions.
Long back, someone had stated that India is a rich country with poor people. That person was not talking about the ‘hidden wealth’ in this country. In reality the unaccounted wealth (for the time being the reference is not to tax evasion) in the custody of individuals and organizations in the form of gold, jewelry and real estate, waiting to be mapped and mainstreamed must be worth trillions of rupees. If we are able to create a national consensus and build public trust to mainstream a part of such domestic assets, India will be able to reduce dependence on external sources for our immediate development needs will come down drastically. This will be a challenge worth chasing.
It is not comforting to see ‘fund mobilization drives’ to help flood victims in Kerala at the instance of governments abroad being organized to provide financial support to India when our own wealth idle in vaults here. The following excerpt from a report (Source: The Hindu Website) about the Temple Treasure in Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram will give some idea about the immense possibilities of mainstreaming hidden domestic assets:

Inventory of the treasure[edit]

The Supreme Court of India had ordered an amicus curiae appointed by it to prepare an inventory of the treasure. Full details of the inventory have not been revealed. However, newspaper reports gave an indication of some of the possible contents of the vaults.[4] About 40 groups of objects were retrieved from Vault E and Vault F. Another 1469 groups of objects found in Vault C and 617 in Vault D. Over 1.02 lakh (102,000) groups of objects (referred to as articles collectively) were recovered from Vault A alone.
According to confirmed news reports some of the items found include :-
·         A 4-foot (1.2 m) high and 3-foot (0.91 m) wide solid pure-golden idol of Mahavishnu studded with diamonds and other fully precious stones.[7]
·         A solid pure-golden throne, studded with hundreds of diamonds and precious stones, meant for the 18-foot (5.5 m) idol of deity
·         Ceremonial attire for adorning the deity in the form of 16-part gold anki weighing almost 30 kilograms (66 lb)
·         An 18-foot (5.5 m) long pure-gold chain among thousands of pure-gold chains
·         A pure-gold sheaf weighing 500 kilograms (1,100 lb)
·         A 36-kilogram (79 lb) golden veil
·         1200 'Sarappalli' pure-gold coin-chains encrusted with precious stones weighing between 3.5 kg and 10.5 kg
·         Several sacks filled with golden artifacts, necklaces, diadems, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, gemstones, and objects made of other precious metals
·         Gold coconut shells studded with rubies and emeralds
·         Several 18th-century Napoleonic-era coins
·         Hundreds of thousands of gold coins of the Roman Empire
·         An 800-kilogram (1,800 lb) hoard of gold coins dating to around 200 BC [8]
·         According to varying reports, at least three if not many more, solid gold crowns all studded with diamonds and other precious stones
·         Hundreds of pure gold chairs
·         Thousands of gold pots
·         A 600-kg cache of gold coins from the medieval period
While the above list is on the basis of reports describing the July 2011 opening (and later) of Vaults A, C, D, E and F, a 1930s report from The Hindu mentions a granary-sized structure (within either of vaults C or D or E or F but not Vault A) almost filled with mostly gold and some silver coins.A. Srivathsan (June 6, 2013). "When the vault was opened in 1931". The Hindu. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
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(M G Warrier is a former central banker and author of 2018 book “India’s Decade of Reforms”. His email ID mgwarrier@gmail.com)






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