Professor Rohit talk based on the book Blood Red River published in June 2016 by Hachette. It interrogates the typical narrative of development conflict, that of a rapacious industry that is unwilling to share the gains of development with people affected by projects and, instead, prone to paying off politicians, bureaucrats and police officers to achieve ‘compliance’ with the law of the land on land acquisition and environment. While many conflicts observed by the speaker fit the narrative, he argues that there are two important relationships that run contrary to this narrative of development conflict. One is the nature of the conflict between members of the development elite – industrialists who stand to gain from industrialization. These industrialists, driven by their egos, business imperatives, and even family feuds, target their fellow industrialists with methods foul and fair. They often adopt the violent methods of insurgents while at the same time laying the blame on them. Such operations are usually outsourced to contractors who are also backed by pliant politicians, bureaucrats and members of the police force.
The second conflict is between global and national elites. This is a more subtle conflict that is carried out through a series of actions of bodies like the Federal Reserve of the USA, the IMF, and the World Bank, that protect the recession prone economies of the advanced economies through activities like monetary expansion, without considering the possible consequences on the emerging economies. This leads to the national elite getting tethered to the rise and ebb of the global commodities cycle, making them appear visionary and blundering in turn, without any real cause for either opinion.
Further, many dichotomies of development are in fact, spurious. One of these dichotomies relates to the conflict between the welfare of the poor and the protection of the environment – forests, rivers, and wildlife. Many people feel outraged that environmentalists want to protect the environment against industrialization. ‘Think of the many poor people who could benefit,’ they argue. However, the day to day life of adivasis (dalits and other lower castes) described in the book shows that the adivasi spends half their working day on the field and half in the forest foraging for fruits, fodder and wood. Therefore, the depletion of the environment directly takes away half their livelihoods. The acquisition of agricultural land takes away the other half. Moreover, the increasing capital intensity of mining and industrial production, overall, results in there being nothing to substitute the loss of livelihood. The speaker will posit potential solutions to these problems both at the level of national and international policy making. These solutions will highlight structural aspects of the world economy that offer hope for inclusive development.
Rohit Prasad is Professor of Economics at MDI Gurgaon. He has a Ph.D. in Economic Theory from SUNY Stony Brook, USA where he was taught Game Theory by the Nobel Laureate Professor Robert Aumann. His thesis written under the supervision of Pradeep Dubey, leading professor at SUNY-Stony Brook, provides a framework to address questions related to the optimal fiscal and monetary policy choices of a government in a free market. After his Ph.D. he worked in the software industry in USA and India in senior management positions before joining MDI Gurgaon. His last position was Vice President at Xansa, then a USD 700 million firm. His research interests include the economics of ICT¸ and sustainable development. His papers have been published at leading international journals including Telecommunications Policy and Netnomics. He writes a fortnightly column based on game theory called ‘Game Sutra’ in the Mint. His book, The Dynamics of Spectrum Management co-authored with Dr. V. Sridhar was published by the Oxford University Press in 2014. He is the author of a popular book on entrepreneurship, Startup Sutra and a travelogue that explores development conflict in India, Blood Red River, both published by Hachette. He recently served on a high powered committee of the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India to make recommendations on spectrum allocation and pricing in India, and on two Expert Panels for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, to study the value of 2G spectrum. He has provided expert testimony for a major telecom operator on spectrum related judicial proceedings.