Mr Surjit Bhalla, Please come back.

To say, I am disappointed with Surjit Bhalla’s piece supporting Greenpeace, would be an understatement. I always believed that he was a moderate, rational, Right of center economist, till this piece, making me agitated enough to write a rebuttal.

I am first extracting all the nine paragraphs from his post, verbatim but with my own heading so as to quickly give you the essence of what he is trying to convey. Some of the paragraphs have been broken down further as they make additional sub points in support of his arguments. I will outline my arguments rebutting him subsequently.

His Post:

Establishes his credibility and sets up the questions on the IB report that he seeks to answer in his post:

1) I, along with several others, have been documenting, in some detail, the steep decline in GDP growth in India over the last few years, whose magnitude, coincidentally, is almost identical to the decline attributed by the IB to a few FFNGOs. Some questions require an answer. How realistic is the IB assessment? How truthful is the analysis? How professional, in an “academic” sense, is the IB’s discourse on the subject?

IB Report is silent on whether any laws have been broken

2.a) In my opinion, the only legitimate issue, whether with foreign or domestic NGOs, or foreign or domestic individuals, or foreign or domestic institutions, is if any law is broken. Unfortunately, in its 21-page report, the IB is silent on laws being broken, but explosive in wearing its own righteous ideology on its ever so arrogant sleeve.

IB Report did not comment on the fact that UPA /Institutions supported the recommendations of the NGOs

2.b) The IB report is also tight-lipped on the large probability, or indeed reality, that several very Indian institutions, and indeed several UPA government officials and ministers, agreed wholeheartedly with the economy-stopping recommendations of the FFNGOs.

BJP and UPA are more at fault as they enacted bad legislations:

2.c) Indeed, the present ruling party voted with the Congress on economy-destroying legislation like the land acquisition and food security bills. So who is more at fault if fault is present — a mere FFNGO advocating a policy or a not-so-mere UPA government and political parties, which supported the enactment of very bad legislation?

Foreign Funding does not matter:

2.d) Further, how does the source of funding (evil foreign hand) matter? Surely, it is the execution of a policy that is most relevant.

Donee Institutions are respectable:

3.a) Some of the institutions that have allegedly received funding from Greenpeace include respected names, such as IIT-Delhi.

Parliamentary Standing Committees and Supreme Court recommended Committees agree with the recommendations:

 3.b) Some of the Indian institutions mentioned in the IB report that agree with the FFNGO-recommended ban on Bt cotton are “the Parliamentary Standing Committee (August 9, 2012) and the Technical Expert Committee (TEC), appointed by the Supreme Court (October 7, 2012)”. The report also alleges that FFNGOs “are making efforts to debunk the Gujarat model of development”.

I did not agree with the FFNGOs several times in the past

4.) Some disclosures are in order. I had argued against the opposition to the Narmada dam as far back as the late 1990s. At that time, NGO activist and leader and novelist Arundhati Roy had published a pamphlet alleging that over 50 million people had been displaced in India because of dam construction. I offered an elaborate set of calculations (later published in an academic water journal) that indicated that individuals displaced by dams were no more than three million, that is, Roy and other anti-dam activists were exaggerating by more than 15 times the “true” number. Over the last two years, I have published several articles suggesting that the so-called Gujarat model of development does stand up to scrutiny and that Gujarat, under Narendra Modi, has been tops in economic growth, near tops in poverty alleviation of disadvantaged social groups (Muslims and SCs) and tops in poverty alleviation of the STs. In terms of other social indicators (education, infant mortality), the progress in Modi’s Gujarat has been comparable to the rest of India.

5) What is quite clear is that my research has led me to quite the opposite conclusions as advocated by some FFNGOs and some domestic NGOs. I had also helped Rahul Mehra and Prashant Bhushan in their successful fight against the biggest NGO of them all, the BCCI. Thanks to policy reform, the BCCI no longer has the status of an NGO. I might also add that I had vehemently disagreed with the Aam Aadmi Party’s destructive policies with respect to water and power supply in Delhi.

Cause and Effect are disproportional: A small spend by the NGOs cannot result in such large loss

6) The IB report alleges that India’s economy has suffered 2 to 3 per cent GDP loss per year — at today’s levels, that is approximately Rs 2 to 3 lakh crore; midpoint is Rs 2,50,000 crore. The IB is diligent in documenting how much money the allegedly “bad” NGOs have received since 2005-06 to 2011-12. The amount received by “bad” NGOs, hold your breath, has been close to Rs 55 crore per year; generously, let us assume the estimate to be nearly twice that, Rs 100 crore. Now the pitiful margin of Rs 100 crore has gone into the hands of utter geniuses who have made a loss to India (by their research, lobbying and demonstrations) of 2,500 times their original “investment”. Both Roy and even the CAG turn out to be infinitely better economists/ accountants than the IB.

Digression with a barb on Arnab Goswami:

7) One final point on the IB report and the reaction of some. India’s leading news anchor, Arnab Goswami, berated S.P. Udayakumar for producing “only” 20 research papers from the $40,000 he received from Ohio State University. Goswami weighed in that Rs 1 lakh was anywhere near a lot for a research paper. Perhaps if we knew how much TV anchors get paid for each sentence they speak, we are likely to find out that it is more than Udayakumar got for each research paper.

IB Report fails all assessment criteria: Documentation, Logic, Analysis, Inference or Conclusions:

8) The IB report is a failed flunkie report no matter what the assessment criteria — documentation, logic, analysis, inference or conclusions. It is an obscenely foolish report. It is a huge disservice to the new Modi-BJP regime. While the IB might think that they are speaking His Master’s Voice, my guess is that it has grotesquely misjudged the new masters. Perhaps it is not their fault — they have been used to a very different master for the past decade. Let the IB get it — it is no longer business-as-usual.

Conclusion: Law abiding NGOs can do what they want:

9) I welcome all NGOs, research organizations and governments who follow the rule of democracy and law. If any of them wants to fund me for research, they are welcome to do so. Given the ideological preferences of most FFNGOs, I am not holding my breath. But law-abiding NGOS, foreign or domestic, are an asset to any society because they enlarge the debate via research and advocacy.

My rebuttal :

Lets now remove paragraphs 1) 4) 5) 7) from the discussion as they do not have any impact on the issue we are trying to debate. They only go to establish his credibility and the fact that he has not always agreed with FFNGOs in the past. To my mind, his credibility has long been established and as pointed in the first para, one always considered him rational and Right of center in his outlook. Any justification towards this is redundant.His barb on Arnab is understandable, given the fact Arnab may have not allowed him to make/complete his point in some of the debates  on TimesNow.

Paragraphs 8) and 9) are his conclusions so we will deal with them later.

Which brings us to the meat of his arguments, which can be summarized as follows:

a)   IB report does not mention whether any laws have been broken.

b)   IB report does not mention the fact that many institutions & UPA officials agreed with the FFNGOs.

c)   UPA & BJP are more at fault as they enacted bad legislations.

d)   Source of funding does not matter

e)   Institutions which received money from these NGOs are respectable

f)    Parliamentary & Supreme Court appointed committees have agreed with their recommendations

g)   Cause does not equal the Effect. A small spend by NGOs cannot result in such a huge loss.

I do not have the benefit of copy of the report of IB, but from the report in the Economic Times, the following seems to be the essence of IB’s report.

The IB report ‘Impact of NGOs on Development’, claims the NGOs and their international donors are also planning to target many fresh economic development projects including those in Gujarat.

“The report, which has been sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Home Minister, the National Security Adviser, the Finance Minister and others, alleged the NGOs work for stalling development projects along with agitations against nuclear power plants, uranium mines, coal-fired power plants and hydel projects.

In a section related to protests against coal mines and coal-fired power projects, the report alleged Greenpeace expanded its activities to oppose coal-fired power plants and coal mining and received Rs 45 crore from abroad in the last seven years.

“It is using foreign funds to create protest movements under ‘Coal Network’ umbrella at prominent coal block and coal-fired power plant locations in India,” the report said.”

Let me now respond to the seven key points Surjit Bhalla seeks to make in support of Greenpeace.

a) First and foremost any protest or attempts to delay projects need not break the law. There are myriad of ways in which one can protest without breaking the law but with the clear and deliberate intent of stopping or stalling the projects. This point does not need elaboration here. The focus of IB is not on law but intent.

b) I am at loss on the tone and tenor with which to react to his lament that IB report is “tight lipped” about institutions and officials in the UPA government agreeing with the recommendations of these FFNGOs. Suffice it to say that IB’s job is certainly not to write a thesis on “Development economics in Emerging Countries- Challenges and Solutions.”  IB is an investigating agency not the Economics department at JNU, their job is not to write about the views and actions of all the stake holders.

c) Ditto to his comment that UPA & BJP being responsible for bad legislations and not FFNGOS. IB is surely not writing a report on ‘ Rights based Society – Convergence in Political Outlook of “Left of Center UPA” and “Right of Centre NDA”.’  The fact that UPA and BJP are more responsible for enacting some bad Laws has nothing to do with the issue at hand, which is “Whether foreign funded NGOs have stalled developmental projects?”.

d) Coming back to intent, the source of funding becomes a key factor to look into, since the donor institution does have a specific agenda for which the donation is made. No institutional donor writes a cheque without mentioning the cause or end use of proceeds. Since these NGOs have protested against specific developmental projects such nuclear & coal based power plants, the source of funding is a key aspect to establish their motive. To brush aside the source of funding would be an act of naivety.

e)Again, his point on the fact that some of these FFNGOs have in turn donated sums to IITs has no relevance to the main accusation. An act of good or the respectability of recipient does not in any way cancel a wrong committed in stalling projects.

f) Similarly, he makes a reference to the fact that some committee’s had similar recommendations as the FFNGOs. This may very well be true. But we are talking about two distinct issues here. The examples cited relate to ban on BT Cotton, which is completely different from the IB accusations against these NGOs as those of stalling power and developmental projects.

g) Lastly he makes a lame argument that amount spent or received by these NGOs and the amount of disruption they are accused to have caused are disproportionate. Frankly I am surprised that such a venerated economist has even proposed such an argument. How much does it really cost to have protestors do a dharna? Or file a PIL? There are several instances of large projects being stalled by a simple letter, forget even going to the Court.

In conclusion (Para 8,) he accuses the report of failing on all “assessment criteria — documentation, logic, analysis, inference or conclusions”.

I would like to put it to him with my above rebuttal,that it is he who has failed on all criteria for a commentary written as a reaction to an event – logic, analysis, inference or conclusions.

Finally he concludes his argument with the proposition that as long as it is “legal” all NGOs are welcome as they enhance research and advocacy.

I agree with him, with a rider that all NGOs and donors are welcome as long as their intent is genuine and not mala fide.Unfortunately in his haste to support Greenpeace, he has chosen to construct an illogical argument and refused to pierce the veil on the source of the donors to look at their past conduct elsewhere. This would have enabled him to draw the right inference on their motives which would in turn have enabled him to judge the IB report better. By focussing excessively on the legality of the FFNGOs acts, he has given a go by to their motive, which was the essence of the point IB report was trying to make. The principle of “mens rea” should be applied not just for criminal acts, but even for legal acts that are  destructive in nature.

I believe Rupa Subramanya attempted to do so correctly in her piece in Business Standard.(http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/when-green-warriors-battle-gdp-crusaders-114061201461_1.html)

Finally I sincerely hope that this article is an aberration and he will return to his old self. Unfortunately with this post, I felt he crossed over to the Left.

Please come back Sir. We need you on the Right.

5 thoughts on “Mr Surjit Bhalla, Please come back.

  1. Hello Dear Bhalla ji: If IB report about Greenpeace is unreliable, better you tell all the security agencies who rely in IB inputs to discard IB reports. It’s easy to save those who receive easy money to undo what India want to do. Having dealt with those funding this NGO, I am aware of the Originality now thrown open by IB. No one believe and even the UN Specialized Agencies promoted such funding institutions since early 60s.

  2. Pingback: Do we need to turn Ostriches over the IB Report?

  3. Pingback: Do we need to turn Ostriches over the IB Report? | Swarajya

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