Thursday, March 08, 2007

India Uncut : Dude Where Does My Magazine Subscription Go ?

Amit VermaVarma, undoubtedly India's most-read blogger, had crossposted an article from Mint about the how the dumb-headed babus at GoI offices are chanelling our tax money for purposes that ulimately serve no-one. To prove his case, he cites our FM's allocation of "Rs. 563.88 crores for the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy" in 07 budget.

These days we are getting so much used to read these kinda news. I even developed a natural reflex action - Read the story, then take a deep sigh and if the figures are too high nodd your head heavily in disapprovement. If the figures are not too high, nodd my head less vehmently, while chucking out a Tsk-tsk sound out of my tounge. When all these steps are over, I finally get back to my life and forget about the misuse of my tax-money. Somehow today I went beyond my natural reflex action and instead of a deeper sigh, took the deeper googling route to this piece of news item. A little probe lead me to this particular government department's (also known by sweet acronym AYUSH) website.

What I gathered from this website that folks in this department are supporting:


753 Ayurvedic hospitals with a total bed-capacity of 35182
223 Homoeopathy hospitals with a total bed-capacity of 11205
15193 Ayurvedic dispensaries and 5634 Homoeopathy dispensaries
450 UG Colleges with an admission capacity of 24880
57 PG Colleges with an admission capacity of 2128
9493 manufacturing units of which 7997 are producing Ayurvedic medicines.


If these figures don't carry any meaning, let me share another fact from their Citizen's Charter [link in pdf] - Among this list, there is the Advanced Ayurvedic Centre for Mental Health in none-other than the renowned medical institute NIMHANS. Now if NIMHANS can be claimed as a center for psuedo-science, then probably Freud was a voodo magician too.

Asides from all these figures AYUSH is responsible for enforcing the quality control for all Ayurvedic, Homeopathic and natural medicines. In other words they are responsible that we are not sold cow-urine in the name of natural medicines. Not sure if that pisses off Amit or not.

Also if you want to know more about what happens to your tax money at AYUSH, here's one more info - AYUSH also manages the company known as Indian Medicines Pharmacutical Corporation Ltd. This is one of those sarkaari units that, to the joy of the libertarians around blogging world, the GoI hope to disinvest. Incidentally this company's net worth is Rs. 316 crore and made a profit Rs.0.77 crore in 2003 as per the last figure Google could obtain for me from the net.

So does the allocation of Rs.563.88 crores to AYUSH sounds money going to drains? After browsing through all these figures, even my most skeptic avatar also fails to agree that AYUSH is something similar to moustache allowance of Lucknauwi Havaldar.

Before making my point about Amit's nearly research-less work, let me put the disclaimer I am in no way a fan of our FM, neither I say GoI is the best when it comes to plan the crores of tax-payers' money. In fact if somebody decides to rank the governments around globe for planning their expenses, I've no doubt India's position in the list might be even worse than its FIFA ranking.

Having said that let me come back to the point I'm trying to make. Unlike any other fukat-main-blog-likhnewala blogger, Amit is a journalist who's paid by the paper that publishes his articles. Being paid for these articles makes him even more responsible for checking the facts and figures before making it to print. As far his blogging is concerned, it's his blog - his own space in this big WWW. He is fully entitled to write whatever he feels like. Heck, I wouldn't mind even if he cook-up gossips about the Bollywood nymphets without backing them up with hard evidence.

But Amit dude, when it comes to serious journalism, please do make it a point to do your research work (it took me only 10-15 minutes of surfing time ) just to see if any single paisa of the enormous Rs. 563.88 crore has been put to any good use or not. Otherwise your articles are no different from those extra-imaginative journos at HT Tabloid who get paid to update us about Bipasha Bose and Celina Jaitley's sex life at regular intervals that you keep on cribbing about. Atleast I don't have sources to verify their stories and also I don't hear the nymphets protesting about misquotes.

Looking at the state of things, may be I should to start a series of posts on "Where does your Magazine Subscription fees Go?". The first in the series would definitely touch upon aspects of "Funding the Cow-Lover" to pay for his broadband connection which happens to be a prime requirement for his bovine Google Search.

ps: Bongopondit's take on the same AYUSH fund allocation in the lines of why bio-technology gets only a fraction more to natural medicine was much more sensible than Amit's take. Then again, he's not paid a single cent to write about it. May be that is where the difference between passion and profession kicks in.

13 comments:

DITO said...

good one bishu!! it's a hot trend now to curse any and every move govt makes - which our 'educated middle' class feels is not in the best interest of making a shanghai out of indian cities... other day i was shocked to read that in murshidabad dist some quack doctor tore away a baby's neck while child birth... it came out that doctors in remote towns are in such short supply that there is a major network of 'regsitered' quacks who actually take care of most medical needs for districts in poorer parts of w bengal... and then these buggers will raise a hue and cry when govt allows STs to become doctors or when UK govt pushes back the surplus indian doctors

Mahesh said...

Your magazine subscription is given willingly. Your taxes are not. There is a difference there.

It's most amusing to find someone who actually thinks that all this is good use of government money:

"753 Ayurvedic hospitals with a total bed-capacity of 35182
223 Homoeopathy hospitals with a total bed-capacity of 11205
15193 Ayurvedic dispensaries and 5634 Homoeopathy dispensaries
450 UG Colleges with an admission capacity of 24880
57 PG Colleges with an admission capacity of 2128
9493 manufacturing units of which 7997 are producing Ayurvedic medicines."

Ha!

Bishu said...

@Dito: Yes this middle-class mentality of looking at the partial picture is both very very True and very very sad .

@Mahesh: Would your opinion change if I tell you that most of these hospital facilities are given for free. And also the money as I mentioned is given to a dept that manages a 300 crore company that manages to make profit, atleast the taxpayers money is multiplied.

The market for alternate medicines is quite big(think of the vast empire Tiger Balm/Dabur have built and you'll know). If India decides to get a share of that market, it needs to plan it resources. I can also tell you that in Singapore a good boost is given to traditional Chinese medicine. Singapore government is ranked quite high in acheiving financial miracles, and when they do this there are good reasons for it. But then again since we don't see eye to eye on these issues, I guess my points will fall into deaf ears.

However the point of the post was not about alternate medicine or its usability. It was about how much less research our journos do before publishing their columns.

amit varma said...

Biswarup, there was nothing lacking in my research, simply because none of these additional facts you have presented make any difference whatsoever to my central point: that the taxes my maidservant pays should not go into funding this department.

If the department was profitable, then it would not need the large allocation made to it by the government, would it? If it was a profitable area of growth, then the private sector would already be there, you wouldn't need government funds.

And if you believe that the Advanced Ayurvedic Centre for Mental Health, being part of a "renowned medical institute", is worthy of support, then by all means support it with your money. Why demand that I and my maidservant pay for it?

Also, a basic truth of economics: "there is no such thing as a free lunch." The service any of those hospitals provide for free is coming at the expense of taxpayers like my maidservant. Of course, charity is a wonderful thing, but should it be forced?

And finally, neither Mint nor India Uncut are a magazine, and you have spelt my name wrong. So much for research!

Bishu said...

Amit, first of all, my sincere apologies for misspelling your name. But considering you too have spelt my name (correctly spelled as "Biswaroop" but for the time being my blogger nick Bishu would be fine too) wrong in your comment, we are now even on that front.

Coming back to the point I was trying to make, if you consider AYUSH is a waste of tax-payers money, it's entirely your opinion. I personally felt this is not at par with mush allowance for police constables of Lucknow. Considering the size of the department, the kind of infrastructure it supports it might be worthy of such a generous grant from FM. That's what I felt and supported it with figures to prove that. As for your article it had only a one-liner. That was not at all a complete picture. Infact I felt it was quite a biased example. And so I put up the figures here, for others to decide is it a waste or not.

Also to your doubt whether the field of alternate medicine is profitable or not - ask the Burmans@Dabur or Dr. Reddy@Reddy's Lab. There is already huge number of private players in that sector and they're doing well. Check out the listings of the company in NSE and you'll know how much they are thriving. In one way or the other AYUSH is responsible for all these pvt players to make it big. If GoI also plans to make some hay in this sunshine, and utilize the profits generated for good use, I'm all for it.

I understand that Mint is technically a newspaper and not a magazine. But still then the readers of the printed version do shell out money from their pockets. So like the figures I quoted don't affect your central-point, it doesn't affect my central-point- ie. The readers of poorly researched articles don't get value for their money.

Also Amit, I understand your compassion for your maid-servant. Did you by any chance asked her whether she minds paying an extra 10p for her bar soap, knowing that'll ensure free treatment for her.

Another thing that I'm a bit confused about - Do you mean to say that individual tax-payers will have a section in their tax-form about the % allocation of their yearly taxes, something similar lines of a SIP portfolio. I don't think even the most anarchist libertarian dreams about that. But on second thoughts I would love to see it put to work as some form of experimentation, just to see the ultimate futility of the idea.

Good luck mate, hope to see many more researched articles from you in future.

amit varma said...

Whoops, sorry about the mis-spelling! :)

"if you consider AYUSH is a waste of tax-payers money, it's entirely your opinion."

Precisely, and that is just what I was expressing in my piece. If in your opinion, it is a good use of tax-payer's money, well, good for you!

"In one way or the other AYUSH is responsible for all these pvt players to make it big."

I'm afraid an assertion like that cannot be taken seriously unless you back it up, and explain how.

"Did you by any chance asked her whether she minds paying an extra 10p for her bar soap, knowing that'll ensure free treatment for her."

I shall ask her tomorrow how she feels about giving up maybe 20% of her earnings (I'm approximating the level of indirect taxes) so that people she's never heard of, many of whom are probably more well-to-do than her, get free treatment at hospitals she's never seen. I'm sure she'd rather just be able to save her money and choose her own treatment.

"Another thing that I'm a bit confused about - Do you mean to say that individual tax-payers will have a section in their tax-form about the % allocation of their yearly taxes, something similar lines of a SIP portfolio."

No. I mean that people should be free to spend their own money on whatever causes they support, and not demand that the government do it for them, because that involves using other people's money.

Bishu said...

I'm afraid an assertion like that cannot be taken seriously unless you back it up, and explain how.
Let's ask a simple question - Where does these pvt players in alternate medicine business get their skilled personnels from? As far as my knowledge goes, I haven't heard of any private schools that teach Homeopathy or Ayurveda. It's the colleges maintained by AYUSH that are responsible for churning out this work-force.
AYUSH is even responsible for defining and maintaining of "Pharmacopoeial standards for Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy drugs".
So whenever Dr. Batra comes up with a new product that we can apply without any side-effects, it's because guys@AYUSH have done their clinical trials and certified it.

I shall ask her tomorrow how she feels about giving up maybe 20% of her earnings (I'm approximating the level of indirect taxes) so that people she's never heard of, many of whom are probably more well-to-do than her, get free treatment at hospitals she's never seen. I'm sure she'd rather just be able to save her money and choose her own treatment.

When I was staying in UK, they use to take our pants off in the name of council taxes. But still I didn't hear anyone complain. Because as far as me and my roomies (who paid the taxes in a combined effort) were concerned - I was happy that the council library allows me to borrow 8 books (including a good collection of Bengali novels) and 2 VCDs, my one roomie was happy he gets to use the multi-gym at council center. The other one was very happy when in spring the council fellas planted flowers all around the neighbourhood.
In a similar line, there were other people who were paying these taxes that enabled me and many others like me to enjoy a lot of facilities. The problem with India is that the tax money we are paying in very few cases are redirected to our direct welfare. Infact as K mentioned very correct Chiddu will tax our pants off and put it into the grubby hands of party functionaries across the land.
That's where the grievances should be directed at - that the government needs more and more effort to see to it that the tax I pay get used to meet full or partial expenses for my medical treatment, my child's education and education for some folks in some remote corner of India.
The reason I say so is because when I completed my Engg degree, I did it with a palty sum of Rs 180/semester. I know how much others have beared for my education, now it's my turn to do the same for others. That's what collective responsibility is all about.
So in a sense while your maid servant buying the soap is responsible for my education, the tax I pay while I buy my next commodity in India should go to her benefit as well. If the government fails to do so, direct your grievances towards that just cause. But don't cite examples where some department is doing a good job of what it's supposed to do and even better. (Yesterday I came to know that AYUSH is breeding the endangered Musk Deer that gets killed for medicinal values.And this is not even something they are bound by their guidelines to do so).

No. I mean that people should be free to spend their own money on whatever causes they support, and not demand that the government do it for them, because that involves using other people's money.
You and I can go on debating about individualism vs collective responsibility,role of government vs pvt players etc etc for hours. But knowing that each one of us has had their taste of bitter medicine, in the end we will remain where we started.
But bottomline is when you say why does a whooping 500+ crore is allocated to a department, please do explain what are the tasks this department is performing. And then ask the question does these tasks justify the amount. I asked myself and got my answer. What about you?

amit varma said...

Bishu, I've already stated my views on all this, and we could just go on restating our disagreements, so I think this is a good place to stop. But thanks for your views!

Cheers

Amit

Bishu said...

Amit, yes I think both of us are firm on our PoVs and I personally ,being too old and too harderned, disqualify to convert to the other side.
But that doesn't take out the pleasure of the discussion I had in the comments section and it was good that the opinions were exchanged.
Infact now that I'm more clearer about your opinion and how firm you stand for it, there's one more reason for my visit to the IU blog :)
Cheers,
Bishu

Ashutosh said...

Hi...thanks for the comment on my post. I think that as a rule, any endeavor that our honorable govt funds is money and taxes ill-used. But then why pick on certain things like Unani? This fact gave me the impression that Amit is speaking against the motive itself.
As for his contention that if it were a profitable venture, then it would be funded by the private sector, we don't yet know how profitable it is. If you look at the philosophy and history of Ayurveda, it holds promise for lots of potential profit. The problem is not with the potential for profit or the lack thereof in the field itself, but the modern model of pharmaceutical research that unfortunately sidelines such fields. This is related to the entire concept of "profitable" that modern pharma worships. Therefore, the logic that because the private sector is not funding the field, therefore it is not profitable, and therefore it is a waste of our tax money if the government funds it; this logic is too simplistic, and I think that's the flaw with the post.

Shreemoyee said...

Ei je besh bhaloi debate hoyeche dekhchi, and it seems both parties have called it a draw.

Bishu said...

@Ashutosh: Yes, that would be over-simplifying the perspective of which sectors needs funding for research. Pvt players have their own reasons for investing money and that's not always the correct one. I remember speaking to a Doctor in a North Bengal hospital,who told me they receive more grants/medicine for AIDS than malaria that has risen to epidemic proportions in those hilly areas. The reason is clinical trial data on AIDS is much more valued by pharma company than malaria. I rest my case.

@Shreemoyee: Yes it was a good debate and the only thing we both agreed upon finally was to disagree.

Apoplexy said...

Ki byapar..kabyo theke mon udhao???