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The Making of Asia
Makers of Modern Asia edited by Ramachandra Guha, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014; pp 385, price not indicated.
How can we understand contemporary Asia? One answer is that global and domestic economic changes over the past three decades account for the nature of contemporary Asia. By contrast, Ramachandra Guha’s new edited book suggests that it is Asia’s political development, shaped by 11 outstanding leaders, which is the key. Last year, my review in EPW of Srinath Raghavan’s book on the Bangladesh war was titled, “The Making of Bangladesh.” Guha’sMakers of Modern Asia lends itself nicely to a parallel title—“The Making of Asia.” Raghavan is more a political scientist with a historian’s eye, and Guha is more a historian with an increasingly political science eye; both are drawn to rendering the story of Asia in a larger global history setting.
Guha’s broad contention is that while there is considerable literature on Asia’s dramatic economic rise over the past two decades, scholarship on the political and sociological factors which preceded rapid economic growth suffers by comparison. There are various ways in which the political and sociological development of Asia over the past 70 years might be understood; Guha argues that biography is an increasingly attractive method.
Guha has selected 11 Asian leaders—Mahatma Gandhi, Chiang Kai-shek, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Jawaharlal Nehru, Zhou Enlai, Sukarno, Deng Xiaoping, Indira Gandhi, Lee Kuan Yew, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto—to tell the story of Asia. With Lee Kuan Yew’s death in March 2015, they have now all passed from the stage. Everyone will have a thought on a leader that the volume missed. Guha addresses forthrightly his reasons for omitting well-known leaders such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Mahathir Mohamad, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Park Chung Hee as well as leaders from Japan and West Asia. Broadly, their legacies are insufficient (Jinnah died too soon), their impact uncertain (Mahathir, Suu Kyi), their stature questionable (Japanese leaders, Park), or their historical context too different (West Asian leaders).
Guha’s introduction presents the rationale for the volume. It argues that Asia’s rise has been mapped economically and that its political ordering has been relatively neglected: “the political independence and autonomy of these Asian countries is taken for granted” and this “present[s] a partial, slanted picture of the Asian resurgence” (p 4). Economic success “could scarcely have been possible without the creation…of an ‘orderly’ government” (p 4). In short, Guha and his collaborators want to bring politics “back in” to the Asian story and show that “nationalist revolutions…were the essential precondition to their economic rise” (p 4). This story could be told in various ways, but Guha suggests that biography is a particularly effective way of doing it—“Biography is a study of an individual in his or her context” (p 10)—and one that historians are increasingly using as a method, at least in the West.
Guha is right that the literature on economic change in Asia could fill libraries. One might also say there has been a relative neglect of political Asia—though I suspect that political scientists and area studies specialists in the West and in Asia itself would disagree. The larger question of the relationship of politics to economics (and vice versa) is of course one of the staples of social science going back to the 18th century. Most recently, the institutionalist literature in the social sciences (vast, but including the works of Karl Polanyi, Mancur Olson, Douglass North) and the stylised macro and global histories written by the likes of William McNeil, Jared Diamond, E L Jones, Ian Morris, Kenneth Pomeranz, Charles Tilly, Michael Mann, Mancur Olson, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, and Francis Fukuyama, to name just a few, deal in various ways with the relationship of the political to the economic. These works draw largely on the rise of the West politically, geopolitically, and economically over a very long period of time, and they substantiate Guha’s larger point about the paucity of writings on Asia, at least in this “big picture/big ideas” genre.
On the other hand, the 1950s and 1960s featured a large literature on nation building, political development/political order, and modernisation written by political scientists, most prolifically in the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) series in comparative politics in the United States. Quite a lot of this American literature dealt with Asia, and in the hands of someone like Lucian Pye it was explicitly comparative across the continent (e g, his Asian Power and Politics). In economics, Gunnar Myrdal’s massive Asian Drama, on the causes of poverty in South Asia, dealt with the relationship of political and sociological factors to economics.
The return of the state as a conceptual variable in political science and sociology in the 1980s also provided insights into the relationship of the political to the economic. We can think here of attempts to think about Asian politics and economics in terms of predatory, patrimonial, clientelist and weak states. Quite a bit of energy has gone into the question of whether or not democratic states (as against authoritarian states) do better economically, at least in the “take-off” stage of economic growth. Perhaps the best known literature on politics and economics in Asia is the “developmental state” literature. Drawing on the original formulation of Chalmers Johnson, it tried to account for the rise of East Asia economically.
In short, there are many ways “into” the relationship between politics and economics. Guha would not deny this, but the point remains that most of the thinking about that relationship comes from the experience of the West, and the most eye-catching work in recent times on Asia has focused on explaining its economic rise without a terribly deep account of its prior political consolidation.
Return to Comparative Politics
This is where Guha steps in. While he has thrown the gauntlet in suggesting that Asia’s economic rise depended on its prior political development, what this volume primarily does is to give us a taste of what it might be to do comparative studies of Asian nation-building. This is in a sense a return to the agenda of comparative politics in the 1950s and 1960s. For a political scientist, it is interesting that as a historical-minded comparative politics/area studies has been strangled in the US, the contemporary history movement has gathered steam and is addressing issues that preoccupied political scientists in the 1950s and 1960s, namely, nation-building.
Guha and his collaborators set out to rehabilitate biography in this task. Biography as a vehicle for telling the story of Asian politics has its pluses and minuses. One of the key advantages is that it restricts the scope of the storytelling and thereby allows for a much finer and more nuanced account. Another key advantage is that it allows the author to tell the story more seamlessly and to integrate politics, sociology, and economics as they bear on each other. Leaders deal with a complex and intertwined reality, and political biography allows us to comprehend how leaders understood that complicated reality, why they did what they did in response, and how they altered reality through their actions.
Biographies of the giants of Asia abound. Mao and Gandhi would probably be the most biographed of all Asian leaders, with Nehru in third place. The most recent big biography of an Asian leader must be Ezra Vogel’s Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. Guha himself has just finished Gandhi Before India. Seven of the authors in the volume are biographers of Asian personalities. Another author in the volume, Rana Mitter, has just published a wonderful book, China’s War With Japan, 1937–1945: The Struggle for Survival, which contains three quite rich biographies along the way—those of Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong, and Wang Jingwei.
Is there anything like the Guha volume, though, which brings together a whole set of Asian political biographies? The only book I am aware of is Hugh Tinker’s Men Who Overturned Empires: Fighters, Dreamers, and Schemers published in 1987 in which Tinker pens biographies of six Asian and two African leaders (Jinnah, Nehru, Aung San, Thakin Nu, Sukarno, Ho Chi Minh, Nkrumah, and Kenyatta). Tinker prefaces his book with almost exactly the same rationale as Guha advances in Makers of Modern Asia: “to illustrate the recent history of Asia and Africa—their re-emergence from colonial subjugation into full membership in the world family….” And he ends with a quote from the historian David Thompson that Guha would applaud: “Biography is likely to remain one of the most effective means of promoting the true historical attitude on the part of a wider public.”
Tinker’s book, while valuable, is dated and in any case was written fairly lightly, without the benefit of archival material. I don’t know of any other comparative biographies of Asian leaders. Andrew Kennedy has compared Mao and Nehru’s beliefs about “national efficacy” and how this affected their foreign policy in his The International Ambitions of Mao and Nehru (2012) but his work, though rich in historical scholarship, is not quite comparative biography.
Do the 11 portraits in Guha’s volume tell us much that is new about these leaders? To answer this, you would have to be an expert in each of these various countries, which I am not. However, my sense is that the essays have interesting, even provocative moments and ideas. For Indian readers, the essays on the non-Indian leaders are the most stimulating.
The four China chapters are quite captivating. Jay Taylor’s excellent, balanced essay on Chiang Kai-shek shows that in his Taiwan period the General came to pioneer the economic and administrative paradigm that came to typify mainland China after Deng’s ascendancy—authoritarian one-party rule which delivered technocratic government and created the conditions for rapid economic growth.
Rana Mitter’s superb chapter on Mao contends that Mao’s leadership drew neither on older imperial modes nor Stalin’s totalitarian mode. Rather Mao was Mao, disdainful of Confucianism, traditionalism, hierarchy, and patriarchy. He was pragmatic, but from the 1930s onwards drew on “charismatic Maoism” which “revered dynamism over stasis.” Mao, Mitter shows, was a romantic in the sense that he had a strong belief in the emancipation of individuals from the chains of social constraints through constant assertion and action.
Chen Jian’s essay on Mao’s most devoted follower, Zhou Enlai, is also revealing. The image of Zhou as more moderate, suave, and subtle than Mao is accurate enough, but the essay shows that the Chinese premier was deeply revolutionary, committed to the use of force when necessary, and until the early 1930s was a powerful figure independent of Mao, indeed he deliberately stepped back and helped propel Mao to the top at a critical juncture in the evolution of the Chinese Communist Party(CCP). Thereafter, Zhou turned into an almost slavish subordinate of Mao who attacked him intermittently until the former’s death in 1976 shortly before the Great Helmsman’s passing.
Westad’s chapter on Deng Xiaoping is richly drawn but suffers from the fact that so much is now known about his later years. If there is a surprise it is the extent to which Deng appears as part of the mainstream in the CCP. He was committed to CCP rule to the end, he rarely crossed Mao if ever, he was attracted to Mao’s “impulsiveness” (Mitter’s charismatic Maoism), and betrayed colleagues (such as Zhou) if and when it suited him. On the other hand, throughout his political life, he exuded confidence, was a first-rate administrator, shrewdly cultivated the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and looked abroad for economic and governance lessons.
The three chapters on Southeast Asia too are rewarding. Sophie Quinn–Judge in her very interesting chapter argues Ho Chi Minh never had the Stalin-like grip that outsiders think he possessed over the Communist Party in Vietnam. Nor was he as stringently anti-Western and anti-French as his image during the struggle for independence and the subsequent war with the US suggests. By 1967, Quinn–Judge notes, “Uncle Ho” had almost disappeared from public view and was probably not much of a player in decision-making.
When you think of Sukarno you think of Bandung, Panca Shila, Asian solidarity, the uniting of hundreds of islands into a nation, konfrontasi with Malaysia and Singapore, and in the end the dreadful failure to provide stability and economic development in the 15 years of his rule. Yet there is the Sukarno that read great books and was something of a political thinker, that was politically creative and could reconcile the antagonistic views held by different social and political groups, and that could sway thousands through his oratory.
The chapter on Lee Kuan Yew is fairly standard fare, but balanced in its assessment and cogently written, capturing his policies and actions but also his philosophy and ideas. Marr suggests that a key to understanding at least the later Lee is to comprehend the almost epistemic break that occurred in the early 1980s when the Singaporean leader seems to have discovered the importance of China and Confucianism.
The South Asia chapters add the least new materials at least for readers from the region, though it must be said they are all solid portraits.
Guha’s essay on Gandhi is a pretty conventional account. At the end of the essay, though, he recounts the support Chinese migrants in South Africa gave to the non-violence campaign and concludes that “Indians and Chinese jointly gave birth to idea of satyagraha” (p 39). This is a bit of a throwaway line but gives us a tantalising glimpse into an untold story.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Guha’s essay on Nehru relates to the first prime minister’s final push for a Kashmir solution that involved Sheikh Abdullah going to Pakistan to search for a settlement. While the Sheikh was in Pakistan, Nehru suddenly died, and the moment was lost. Also interesting is Guha’s reference to J R D Tata’s increasing discomfort with Nehruvian “Bombay Plan” socialism which the magnate had originally backed. Guha also makes the important point which is too often forgotten that Nehru, for all his power and popularity, was never free from criticism from respected voices in India, including his own former Congress colleagues.
Srinath Raghavan’s essay on Indira Gandhi grows out of his current research on India in the 1970s. Raghavan suggests that Indira felt her father had been taken advantage of by close political associates and this led her to be a much harder-headed politician. Young Indira, he reveals, was deeply affected by the rise of fascism in Europe, which might account for her strong reaction to the JP movement. Raghavan also argues that Indira tried to liberalise the economy as early as 1974 and in the years thereafter but failed to make the big changes that had to await the crisis of 1990–91. Contrary to the increasingly popular view in India, he contends that the 1972 Simla Accord with Pakistan was Indira’s finest moment.
The Bhutto chapter by Farzana Shaikh traces the usual contours of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s rise and fall. There are interesting twists to the tale, though. For instance, in his early political days Bhutto was quite an admirer of Nehru the socialist. He proposed that the principal divide in world politics was material as between the rich and poor nations rather than ideological as between the Western and Communist blocs. That Bhutto was a critic of the Pakistan–US relationship and that he was a champion of Pakistan–China friendship is well known; more interestingly, he was convinced that his country had a special role in Asia. Shaikh leaves us with the haunting view that he was a rather tragic figure: she digs up the reminiscence of a former British High Commissioner in Pakistan who in 1965 had already concluded that the prodigious Bhutto “was born to be hanged.”
Achievement of Volume
What can one say about these leaders and their political choices across the 11 essays? Guha usefully points out that except for Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Bhutto they all had to fashion strategies against the colonial rulers or occupying powers. After independence, they had to grapple with the challenges of national solidarity and unity. Then there was the question of what kind of political system was appropriate. A fourth choice related to economic development: what was the best way to lift millions out of poverty and craft a modern industrial economy? Nehru said freedom meant freedom in foreign policy. All these leaders had to deal with the big powers, international institutions, and regional neighbours. Finally, they all had to decide how to deal with culture and custom in their societies including the claims of religion and language. Obviously they chose differently in these six dimensions of policy. What is clear though is that Asian leaders confronted massive, simultaneous challenges. How well they chose is still being debated, but it is clear that they took on burdens that few leaders anywhere have had to carry. To show this at a time when there is so much scoffing at the first generation of leaders is one of the achievements of the volume.
What else can we glean more personally about the 11 leaders? For one thing, except for Mao, they all lived in the West at some point in their lives and were deeply influenced by Western thought and practice. Second, they were all talented and prolific writers. They were also rather well-read. To use Guha’s term, they were “scholar-statesmen”: strikingly, no contemporary leader in Asia, or anywhere else, with the exception of Barack Obama, would measure up.
Third, most of Asia’s big leaders were authoritarian, if not dictatorial. Only Gandhi and Nehru escape that stricture, and Indira Gandhi and Bhutto only partially do so. It seems to have been South Asia’s luck— some would say “ill-luck”—to have had more democratic-minded leaders: quite why South Asia was different is an interesting question. Fourth, Asia’s leaders were all leftists or socialistic in economic policy at some point in their lives, though Chiang Kai-shek and Lee Kuan Yew moved on from that position. Fifth, in building their nations, they all used force at one time or other. Even Gandhi supported the use of violence in self-defence (over cowardice), and in 1948 he accepted that Indian troops had to be used in Kashmir against the tribal invaders from Pakistan. Mao used more violence against his own people than probably any other leader. Zhou Enlai and Deng were complicit in his violence. War, revolution, and coercive governance made the four Chinese leaders the most violent.
Sixth, the 11 leaders were all political romantics in their own way. Isaiah Berlin has defined political romanticism as
a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective, a search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals.
Perhaps all great leaders, even lesser ones such as Indira Gandhi and Bhutto, must be romantics in some measure, but in any case my sense is that the writings and speeches of these Asian giants would reveal a deep romanticism in their drive to make and remake their societies.
‘Bringing Back the Political’
Makers of Modern Asia is not a book of path-breaking insights into the lives of these rather well-known leaders—that is not its intention in any case. Rather, its contribution is to “bring back the political” in the telling of contemporary Asian history. Its value is in its encouragement of cross-Asian comparisons of nation-building and public policy. It succeeds in drawing attention to the complexities facing Asia’s early leaders without exonerating them of their mistakes. On the whole, it delivers sophisticated, balanced accounts of their lives and integrated narratives of the political, social, economic, and cultural life of these nations at a critical juncture in their history. If I have a criticism it is that the essays might have been structured more systematically according to a common set of themes; but then perhaps they would have lost as much as they would have gained and been rather dry, analytical, “political science” instead of “readable,” fluent contemporary history.
Makers of Modern Asia does not have the intellectual stature of the eponymous Makers of Modern Strategy, that wonderful compendium on great strategic thinkers (both the Earle and Paret versions); but then how many edited volumes do? On the other hand, if it inspires a spate of rigorous scholarship on Asia’s scholar-statesmen and on the political making of Asia it will have done a lot. I would certainly read this volume alongside Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia, Prasenjit Duara’s recently released The Crisis of Global Identity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future, and for an ironic and pessimistic treatise on leadership, Moises Naim’s The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be.
Pilibhit Tiger Reserve
Conservation Opportunities and Challenges
Home to a sizeable tiger population and several other endangered species, the Pilibhit Forest Division, an erstwhile timber yielding reserve forest, was notified as a tiger reserve by the Uttar Pradesh state government in 2014. To successfully protect and perpetuate the tiger species in this area, noted for its “exemplary wildlife values”, the administrators will have to preempt discord that is likely to arise between the forest department and human communities whose livelihoods are affected by the creation of the new reserve.
Thanks are due to the Uttar Pradesh State Forest Department for extending permits and providing logistical support and to WWF-India and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for funding this project. B R Noon, S Worah, D Ghose, J Vattakaven, A Bista, R Warrier, R Sharma, S Nair, K Ramesh, B Pandav, H Guleria, M Gupta, N Lodi and our field assistants facilitated this study. I thank my family for their generous support. Finally, I am grateful to N Chanchani and S Worah for their comments on this article.
In June 2014, the Government of Uttar Pradesh (UP) notified Pilibhit Forest Division (PFD) as a tiger reserve. Pilibhit Tiger Reserve (PTR) is noteworthy because it supports a notably large tiger population even though it has been an important timber yielding reserve forest for over 100 years. This situation, which is unique to PTR, raises a series of questions. What factors have enabled the persistence of tigers in the erstwhile PFD? How will its conversion into a tiger reserve benefit the species’ long term conservation in this region? And what must administrators and managers do to conserve this endangered species while also accommodating the needs of human communities dependent on forest resources?
Map of Pilibhit Forest Division (Tiger Reserve) showing the locations of productive grassland habitats, forest-edge habitats, and the locations of key wildlife corridors. (Pranav Chanchani)
A Nationally Significant Tiger Population
Although PFD has had a long association with tigers, its importance for conservation was highlighted in 2004, when scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India concluded landscape-wide surveys for tigers and noted the area’s “exemplary wildlife values” and the presence of a resident tiger population. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-India) concurrently established a field office in Pilibhit and initiated a tiger conservation program. Taking cognizance of the area’s importance, the National Tiger Conservation Authority recommended that PFD be recognised as a tiger reserve in 2008.
Extensive surveys using motion sensing camera traps to monitor tiger populations between 2010 and 2013 established that PFD harbours one of the largest tiger populations (22-30 tigers) within the 1,500 km span of tiger habitat between Ramnagar Forest Division in Uttarakhand and Kaziranga Tiger Reserve in Assam. Moreover, the estimated density of tigers in PFD (2.3-4.5/100 km2) was close to the mean estimates of population size and densities reported from 30 prominent tiger occupied forests in India, as reported by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife Institute of India from nation-wide surveys in 2010-2011. It is likely that PFD supported a larger tiger population than several tiger reserves, including Satpura in Madhya Pradesh and Melghat in Maharashtra[i]
Bustling with Human Activity
The forests of PFD, covering a 700 km2 area, were disturbed due to several factors. Foremost among these is the fact that from the 1870s until 2014, PFD was primarily managed as a timber yielding forest. The importance of historical forestry operations is evidenced by the railway line that bisects it. Laid out in the late 19th century to transport sal(Shorea robusta) trees to stockyards and saw mills, the railway line today services rural populations. PFD is also striated by an extensive grid of unpaved roads, designed to allow foresters easy access to timber lots. This grid, not unlike that of a planned city, was frequented by tractors and teams of labourers involved in logging operations.
Residents of forest-edge villages harvest Phalsa (Grewia asiatica) berries in Pilibhit Forest Division. (WWF-India)
Additionally, since the late 19th century, Pilibhit and its neighboring districts have been transformed by policies aimed at converting segments of the Terai’s swampy wilderness into fertile agricultural land. Through the colonial period, and in decades that followed, administrators encouraged farmers to settle in the region and occasionally encouraged the removal of dangerous wild animals. Furthermore, sustained efforts to eradicate malaria that were undertaken for several decades after 1947 have been very effective in containing the disease.
Assisted natural regeneration (ANR) and other practices have drastically altered PFD’s forest structure and composition. ANR involves clearing the forest understory of trees, vines and shrubs that compete for space with the commercially valuable sal. To reduce the likelihood of destructive summer forest fires, large portions of the understory are also burned each March. Sal dominated patches today resemble well manicured plantations. As in many other reserve forests in India, the forest department staff posted at PFD were primarily invested in managing these operations. In contrast, wildlife protection was a more peripheral management responsibility in PFD.
The footprint of fuel wood supply from Pilibhit forests extends primarily to 350 villages located within three km of its perimeter. Today, these villages are populated by approximately 3,34,000 people. Fuel wood from Pilibhit forests was also transported to the district towns of Pilibhit and Puranpur and to the agricultural hinterland on heavily loaded bicycles. Grass harvesters, mushroom pickers, pilgrims and pastoralists are daily visitors to the forest, and cattle are grazed in large numbers in grasslands along the Khannot, Mala and Sharda Rivers.
The peculiar geography of Pilibhit’s narrow, linear forests, which are surrounded by densely populated villages, also contributes to heightened disturbance. Owning to its narrowness, only 28% of its total area was located at distances greater than 2 km from the forest edge. By contrast, the adjacent Corbett National Park and Bardia National Park (Nepal) have notably larger “core zones”, removed from disturbed forest edges. About 40 km of paved roads and 650 km of unpaved forest roads dissect PFD. This excludes the network of well used bicycle and animal trails that criss-cross the forests. Furthermore, the Lalpur-Deoria forest patch (ca. 200 km2) is disconnected from other tiger habitats in Pilibhit by a 1.5 km wide breach. This breach is crowded with farmlands, homesteads, fences, a highway, a canal, and a timber depot. Finally, like other forests along the India-Nepal border, Pilibhit’s wildlife may be highly susceptible to the risk of poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
Tigers, Surviving Against all Odds
Despite high levels of human use, intensive forest management, and other forms of anthropogenic pressure, PFD supported a notably large tiger population. This may be attributed to the region’s unique habitat and geography, to the concentration of human activity in the forest only during daytime hours, and to specific habitat features that have sheltered tigers from some forms of human disturbance.
A male tiger furtively strides along one of Pilibhit Forest Division’s many unpaved roads. (WWF-India)
Geographically, unlike Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, Pilibhit did not exist as an isolated forest “island”. Instead, it is imbedded in a larger 1,200 km forest complex, which includes, in addition to PFD, a large portion of the Terai East Reserve Forest in Uttarakhand, Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary and South Kheri Reserve Forest in UP. Pilibhit’s tigers are therefore members of a larger population that occupy this large forest complex. Data from camera traps has revealed that tigers both disperse out from and emigrate into Pilibhit forests from these surrounding habitats and also from Shuklaphanta Wildlife Sanctuary in Nepal. In all, this forest complex supports a population of about 50 adult tigers. Possibly only nine Indian tiger reserves have populations that are as large, or larger.
Unlike many tiger-occupied areas in India and Nepal, Pilibhit has only one small forest-interior village. Therefore, most people who enter this forest on a regular basis are residents of villages beyond the forests’ boundaries. These visitors spend the daylight hours in the forest, collecting fuel wood and other resources, and return to their homes at dusk, when tigers emerge from their daytime hideouts. In PFD, tigers appear to be resilient to daytime disturbance, at least to a degree, and may have benefitted from the near absence of humans within their habitat at night. This scenario is in sharp contrast to many tiger habitats in India within whose perimeters are populous villages. Such settlements may restrict wildlife access to grasslands and river edges. Additionally, they generate noise and light, and harbour livestock that often compete with wild herbivores.
Recent studies have identified that tracts of tall grasslands and swamplands that are located primarily along the Khannot, Mala and Sharda Rivers, and Kheri canal may act as refugia (defined as “geographical locations where natural environmental conditions have remained relatively constant or stable during times of great environmental change”) that have sheltered tigers and enabled their persistence in Pilibhit’s highly managed and human-dominated forests. In addition to providing essential habitat for prey species, such as swamp deer (Cervus duvacelii) and hog deer (Hyelaphus porcinus), these grasslands also provide cover for tigers. During the day, tigers often rest or feed on their kills in these grasslands, maintaining distance from humans.
Hog deer search for forage in the sal forest understory. (WWF-India)
PFD’s tigers might also have benefited from selective timber felling. This practice creates canopy openings, which promote grass growth providing forage for chital and other wild ungulates. Also, in the course of their forestry operations, department staff frequently toured remote areas on foot. This provides a de-facto mode of off-trail patrolling that is absent in many protected areas.
Opportunities and Challenges for Conservation
Even as some tiger reserves that experienced extinction events are being repopulated with tigers (for example, Panna in Madhya Pradesh), the species has persisted in PTR, where historically the emphasis on wildlife conservation has been minimal. However, Pilibhit’s tiger population faces many threats and addressing these requires unstinting political support. There has been a steady attrition of the tiger population in recent years, with carcasses and body parts of poisoned and poached tigers being recovered from Pilibhit and beyond, despite spirited protection efforts by forest department personnel. This information needs to be heeded and acted upon. Carnivore populations that comprise a few dozen animals are small and vulnerable to extinction due to unsustainable harvest and habitat degradation.
Suhelwa Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh is a case in point. Conservationist Billy Arjan Singh reported that in the mid-twentieth century Suhelwa supported a sizable tiger population. Today, Suhelwa’s tigers are on the brink of local extinction, and their habitat is highly disturbed. This alarming finding and the fact that PTR is at the crossroads of Kishanpur and Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuaries in India and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Sanctuary in Nepal underscores its strategic importance for the species long term conservation. Elevated protection in PFD also presents an opportunity to conserve swamp deer, rhinos, Bengal floricans (Houbaropsis bengalensis) and other endangered species.
This said, unless other critical measures in addition to enhanced protection are acted upon, PFD’s transformation into a tiger reserve may accrue few benefits. A three-pronged conservation strategy is proposed to safeguard the species’ future in this region.
First, three key wildlife corridors need to be restored. One of these is the Garah-Deoria corridor whose restoration will entail creating forest cover in a 200 hectare area that is currently under agriculture, and garnering community support for this initiative. This will aid the recovery of tiger and prey populations in the depleted Deoria Range. Rampant cattle grazing along the Sharda River has compromised the integrity of high-quality grassland habitats of the Pilibhit-Shuklaphanta corridor. Increased protection and a reduction in grazing pressures will provide a safe conduit for the movement of tigers, rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), and swamp deer. Finally, protecting and enhancing connectivity in the forest corridor between the Pilibhit forest complex and Nandhour Wildlife Sanctuary will facilitate dispersal between Terai and sub-Himalayan Bhabbar habitats, promoting genetic heterozygosity in tiger populations.
Fragile corridors are also threatened by the proposal to develop a new road along India’s international border, and upgrade an existing road along the border in Nepal. WWF-India and the UP State Forest Department have recently recommended to the public works department that the proposed new road in India be engineered to include flyovers or underpasses to facilitate unimpeded wildlife movement in corridor areas. Recent studies from the Terai have revealed that the loss of forest corridors can lead to drastic declines in tiger population.
Second, rigorous ecological monitoring should guide management plans in the new reserve. This is important because the creation of a protected area will likely terminate century old management practices in PFD. In nearby Dudhwa National Park, where no logging has been conducted for several decades, the understory has been extensively infiltrated by Teliocora acuminanata, a weedy climber with little forage value for grazing herbivores (prey species). Therefore, it is imperative that these forests be adaptively managed in order to maintain habitat heterogeneity and species diversity and habitat management strategies to promote grasslands and maintain canopy openings.
Finally, in order to realise long-term conservation targets, administrators must preempt discord that is likely to arise between the forest department and human communities whose livelihoods are affected by the creation of the new reserve. Given that tiger reserves aspire to create inviolate habitats for wildlife, effective management will ultimately hinge upon administrators’ abilities to uphold restrictions on certain human activities. Such questions will therefore need to be deliberated: where will core, buffer and tourism zones be delineated in a forest that is no wider than 5 km in much of its extent? How will the rights of fuel wood gatherers, grass harvesters and mushroom collectors be described? Will tourism and management involve and economically benefit local human populations? How will managers redress the woes of farmers whose crops are depleted by wild ungulates or suffer livestock losses from straying felines? It is easy to anticipate a situation where added restrictions on entry into Pilibhit Tiger Reserve will result in escalating conflicts among and between village communities and state agencies.
As restrictions on human presence in PFD and the extraction of its resources are enhanced, so should the government’s delivery of alternative energy sources and development benefits to forest dependent human communities. This is important when one takes cognizance of the fact that the persistence of tigers in this landscape may also be credited to the tolerant attitudes of its human communities towards fierce animals. Therefore, Pilibhit Tiger Reserve’s long-term success will depend not only on affording better protection to its wildlife but also on the commitment of central and state agencies to envision and provide sustainable solutions for the human denizens who co-inhabit the tigers’ landscape.
Death by Neglect
The RTI is virtually being strangled to death by deliberate delays in appointments.
If you find a law uncomfortable, even one that you supported and passed, what should you do? Repealing it would not be politically smart; amending or diluting it will give ammunition to your critics. So the best strategy is to strangulate it, softly and steadily, until it is rendered lifeless and ineffectual. Something like this is happening to the Right to Information (RTI) Act under the current government.
Passed with much fanfare in 2005, the RTI Act was path-breaking and considered a major step forward in encouraging transparency in governance. It was exceptional also because it came about as a response to demands from the ground, from civil society groups that had demonstrated the importance of such a law in a democracy. The law was premised on the belief that citizens have the right to know how governments and their agencies function, to access data on government programmes and to know how or why decisions are taken, or not taken. The response to legitimate queries from the public had to come within a time frame, as unnecessary delays would undermine faith in such a law.
From the start, it was evident that the implementation of the law would not be simple or easy. Much depended on the quality and commitment of the men and women tasked to take it forward. These included not just the chief information commissioners (CIC), at the centre and in the states, but the information commissioners and other personnel who handled the queries. For the law to really work, the general public had to be aware, the staff handling petitions had to be well trained and records had to be properly maintained. On all three counts, there were shortcomings. Despite this, each year saw an increase in the number of petitions filed under the RTI Act, suggesting that faith in the law was growing.
Yet, even as an increasing number of people turned to the RTI for information, it was clear that for people in power, the law was an irritant. Hence, even though the former United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government initiated the law, its members, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, were wont to make negative statements about it and government agencies dragged their feet as much as possible in responding to queries. The UPA also tried twice to dilute provisions in the law but backed down in the face of strong protests from citizen groups.
The Modi government is following a more devious strategy. It is not openly questioning the law, drafting amendments or finding other ways to dilute the actual provisions of the law; it is killing it through simple neglect. Hence, since August 2014, no one has been appointed to the post of CIC. Three posts for information commissioners also continue to lie vacant. This might not appear to be so important. Yet, as former CIC Shailesh Gandhi pointed out in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by delaying these appointments the government was rendering the law “dysfunctional.”
Explaining how this happens, Gandhi points out that certain levels of queries can only be dealt with by the CIC. With no one occupying that chair, all such queries are put on hold, creating a backlog. The absence of the full quota of information commissioners further adds to the backlog. According to Gandhi, each commissioner should be able to clear at least 6,000 cases every year to prevent a backlog from building up. While in 2011, six commissioners were able to clear 22,351 cases between them, in 2014, seven commissioners cleared only 16,006 cases. Even if these positions are filled tomorrow, there will still be a backlog of 38,000 cases.
It is delay that erodes faith in the efficacy of the law. When an individual files a query under the RTI Act, under provisions of the law the response should come within 30 days extendable to 45 days. But if the process takes years, as do cases in judicial courts, petitioners gradually tire of the process and give up. So delaying appointments is not accidental or incidental; it is deliberate.
As the Modi government completes its first year in office, it is noteworthy how many appointments and positions remain vacant. Apart from the CIC, other vacancies include the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), the Lok Pal as well as heads of innumerable academic institutions. The post of the CVC was created in the 1960s to curtail corruption in government. Despite not living up to its full promise, the CVC has been an important check on financial malpractices. The present government likes to claim that it has kept corruption down, yet it has followed a deliberate policy of weakening the very institutions which keep an eye on official acts of omission and commission.
Why has it taken the government so long to find competent people to fill these positions? Or is it, as most believe, that patronage and ideological leanings score over competence? From the few appointments that have been made, it is clear that the chosen few are above all either loyal to the ideology of the Sangh Parivar or are loyal to Modi (note the preference for bureaucrats from the Gujarat cadre who have worked under him). Furthermore, while the institutional need to fill these positions is fairly urgent, the long-term ideological vision of the government compels it to take its time to find what it considers the “right” person. In the process, important rights—like that to information—and important institutions crucial to the system of checks and balances in the executive are being bled to death.
Salwa Judum, Version 2.0?
Are the knives being readied as another round of “development” is foisted on the Adivasis of Chhattisgarh?
We are passing through a period that is dominated by the word “development.” Development is the word of the times we live in. Indeed, the respective identities of its beneficiaries and of its victims tell a lot about the character of the ruling classes and their political representatives. Behind the affluence of the beneficiaries of development lies the poverty of its many victims. The words development, the Constitution, democracy, protection and humanity seem to acquire the flavour of folly and betrayal when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, use them.
Development naturally comes first, so the memoranda of understanding (MoU)—instruments to launch the development process—came first on Modi’s agenda during his recent visit to Chhattisgarh. MoUs for a 3 million tonne per annum steel plant by the public sector steel-maker SAIL and the public sector iron ore mining company NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation) at Dilmili in Bastar District, iron ore processing facilities by NMDC at Bacheli-Kirandul, and the second phase of the Dalli–Raoghat–Jagdalpur railway line were announced.
What followed were some noble words about the futility of Maoist violence. Never mind the fact that Raman Singh was concurrently proposing “protection” to the participants of the jan jagaran abhiyan (JJA, translated as “people’s awareness campaign”) that Chhavindra Karma (son of the assassinated founder of the armed private vigilante force Salwa Judum, Mahendra Karma) had announced on 5 May, four days before the arrival of the Prime Minister in Dantewada.
The people of the Bastar region know only too well what the present turn of events portend, for there is the bitter public memory of the first JJA in the early 1990s, the second in 1997 and 1998, and then the Salwa Judum, launched in June 2005, which crumbled four years later in the face of Supreme Court orders as well as local, including Maoist, resistance. The Salwa Judum had been nurtured by the state government and financed by the centre; its launch coincided with the signing of MoUs by the Government of Chhattisgarh with private power generating and steel manufacturing companies. There is enough documented evidence that this armed private vigilante force was contracted to provide protection and “ground-clearing” services to the private investors. In an operation backed by the security forces, the Salwa Judum evacuated hundreds of villages, hounded the inhabitants into police camps, and forced many more to just run any which way they could choose to save life and limb.
In Dantewada and Bijapur Districts, between June 2005 and 2009, 644 villages were razed to the ground, displacing some 3.5 lakh Adivasi peasants, according to one estimate; of these 47,000 to roadside camps, 40,000 fleeing across the border into the then Andhra Pradesh or Odisha, and 2,63,000 seeking shelter in the forests. The process in southern Chhattisgarh might very well have been one of the largest and most brutal development-induced displacements of people so far in independent India.
But that was in the first decade of the present century, what about so-called development now? SAIL has had plans to source iron ore from the Raoghat area of southern Chhattisgarh right since the early 1980s and the people’s struggle against such mining in Raoghat goes back to the early 1990s. Of course, some reserves of iron ore over there have been handed over to private companies, and concerted efforts to get the mining process going have been on since 2007. And indeed, after the Modi government came to power, 21 more battalions of paramilitary forces have come into the area to beat back the resistance. Another huge project in southern Chhattisgarh, hidden from the public eye, is the proposed army training school in Maad in Narayanpur District, covering some 750 square kms and 90 villages, one-fourth of the total area of Maad.
One might ask, are the protections prescribed in the Fifth Schedule and the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996—the PESA Act—being applied? Further, one might ask, and one has to first ask: When a state government enters into an MoU with a company, does it ever seek even an initial consent of the people who are going to be the likely victims of the project? Are even the local legislators and elected representatives informed of the terms and conditions agreed upon in the MoU? The business tycoons and their political representatives take decisions which concern the fate of tens of thousands of poor people. It is such persons who are the extremists for it is they who want no compromises. As another round of “development” is foisted on the people of southern Chhattisgarh, the extralegal vigilante armies of Salwa Judum 2.0 are apparently being readied. Are we condemned to repeat history?
Ecologies of Suffering
Mental Health in India
This article proposes an “ecology of suffering” which mediates between the sufferer and the “clinic.” “Ecology” refers to the network of forces acting on and by the people suffering and those around him/her. It is chosen to stress the mix of “natural,” and “social” such as landscapes or air pollution. “The clinic” refers to what happens locally between the sufferer and mental health professionals attempting to actualise the National Mental Health Policy. The aim is to enhance a crucial, yet neglected, aspect of India’s National Mental Health Programme: that individual mental suffering is related to a wide range of local factors.
This article calls for a framework linking what happens in the “clinic” to wider ecological forces, both material and social. The aim is to enhance a crucial, yet neglected, aspect of India’s National Mental Health Programme (NMHP): that individual mental suffering is related to a wide range of local factors. The current India National Mental Health Policy, both radical and holistic (NMHP 2014), requires a cross-disciplinary approach to reinvigorate theory to bridge the gap between policymakers and practice (Jain and Jadhav 2009). To ensure congruency between mental health policy and practice, a framework is required which integrates ecological, economic and social sciences as applied to mental health.
This article proposes an “ecology of suffering” (conceptualised as vectors, pathways or forces), which mediatesbetween the sufferer and the “clinic.” Suffering is interrelated in a complex manner with the outside world. Each person’s suffering occurs within a specific “ecology,” a network of interrelated forces with variable directionality. The term “ecology” refers to the network of forces acting on and by the people suffering and those around him and her. It is chosen to stress the mix of “natural,” and “social” such as landscapes or air pollution. The term, “the clinic,” refers to what happens locally between the sufferer and mental health professionals attempting to actualise the NMHP. The centre of any framework for India’s mental health, particularly in rural areas, needs to map and link the relation between locally specific forces, national politics, and international social and political forces; the so-called local/global dynamic. A map, or set of relationships will facilitate linkage between a policy decision and those forces identified by the clinic which profoundly affect the sufferers. The hope is that once the forces are named, and the ecology of local suffering drawn, policymaking can address local and more concrete aspects of suffering.
In the following section, we describe three case studies linking clinically applied anthropology with local ecologies of suffering. We will first document what such factors are, how they play out, and the bearings they have upon mental health delivery. In the last section, we sketch out the broad parameters of what might an ecology of suffering entail, and its implication for theorising and delivering culturally responsive mental healthcare.
2 Ecologies of Suffering
Our work suggests that suffering is profoundly affected by ecological relations that are contingent on local particularities. This is contrary to conventional psychiatric formulations which emphasise the narrow focus of social stressors having an impact on the psyche as the primary site of morbidity (Kleinman et al 1997). Asymmetric interactions between people, the environment (wildlife, climate, agriculture), and institutions governing both, generate socially toxic landscapes that are actively counter-therapeutic (Jadhav and Barua 2012). Within the context of India’s new development agenda, such local ecologies are continually emerging across the country, as highlighted through the three examples below.
(a) Counter-Therapeutic Events, Natural Disasters: The case of human–elephant conflict in India persuasively illustrates the impacts adverse environmental events can have on mental well-being. Documented loss of crops to elephants amount from 0.8 to 1 million hectares annually, with individual farmers losing up to 15% of their annual produce in many regions. Consequently, people have to spend considerable amounts of time guarding crops, resulting in increased opportunity costs such as poor school attendance and performance, besides exposure to disease vectors, sleep loss and consequent mental health. A majority of those exposed to conflict are amongst some of the most disenfranchised people in the world (Barua 2013). Conflict is often fatal for farmers—on average one person is killed every day by elephants in India. Studies have shown that those who have fatal encounters with elephants tend to be from the poorest sections of society (Das and Chattopadhyay 2011).
As Jadhav and Barua (2012) show in their study, such conflict can aggravate already poor socio-economic conditions resulting in significant mental health effects. These include increased intake of alcohol as a means of coping with the risks of guarding crops from elephants at night. Inebriation leads to greater vulnerability to elephant attacks and resultant fatality. This in turn causes severe psychiatric morbidity, kinship ruptures and poverty amongst survivors of the deceased. If human–elephant conflict is an illustrative example of stochastic environmental events affecting well-being, it is the tip of the iceberg. The mental health impacts of large-scale displacement induced through local ecologies that generate such suffering remain poorly documented.
(b) The Toxicity of Markets, Agrarian Practices: Agriculture-related problems and agrarian failure are poised to become a minefield for future mental health challenges. The suicide pandemic chiefly amongst low caste cotton farmers in India is a tragic and compelling example. Chemically-intensive agriculture promoted under the rubric of the Green Revolution has adversely affected human and environmental well-being. Documented effects include health impairment due to direct or indirect contact, contamination of surface and groundwater, and the accumulation of pesticide residues in the food chain (Pingali and Roger 1995). More pertinently, the spate of suicides through pesticide consumption has become a major public health concern (Vijayakumar et al 2013).
The suicide pandemic is in part fuelled by the increasing neo-liberalisation of agriculture. Technological intensification and a shift from the Green to Gene Revolution introduced genetically-modified crops into rural Andhra Pradesh, a move legitimised by the Indian government and its agricultural policies (Raina 2014). To match the demands of textile companies, genetically-modified Bt cotton was introduced by multinational and national seed companies with a marketing blitz in 2002. Its apparent higher yield was alluring to cotton farmers reeling under severe pink bollworm attacks and spiralling pesticide costs. However, the effect of Bt cotton was disastrous to many small farmers. Open market policies adopted by the government exposed them to the vagaries of international prices (Shiva and Jalees 1998; Sridhar 2006). Increased cost of production and decreasing returns created significant debt amongst farmers (Vyas 2004).
Cultural autopsies of suicide amongst Dalit cotton farmers suggest that survivors of the deceased experience a wide range of problems that have an impact on their well-being. Mental health consequences include humiliation, dissociation disorders, depression, substance misuse and suicide. In addition, surviving members, especially women and children, experience profound consequences of displacement and dislocation resulting from migration to urban slums and large-scale inter-rural movement (Kannuri and Jadhav 2014).
(c) Extraction and Its Discontents, Resource Use Conflicts: Our third example pertains to the displacement and deprivation brought about through conflicts over resource use. Coercive forest governance, frenzied infrastructure development, large-scale hydroelectric projects and mining, have fuelled displacement of marginalised communities in India (Kabra 2003; Padel and Krysinska-Kaluzna 2012). Mining has displaced a total of 10 million people (Ghose 2008). Acute and possibly long-term mental health problems associated with displacement are resultant outcomes of poverty, caste and gender oppression as intersecting variables within the mining sector (Goessling 2010).
They have compounded economic, caste and gender disparities within India’s population, including rising costs of healthcare and cultural incongruency between urban mental health professionals and their rural subjects (Jain and Jadhav 2008). For instance, tribal communities earlier relying on small-scale subsistence agriculture have now been converted into wage labourers for India’s increasingly neo-liberal economy. Economic hardship has forced them to migrate to urban slums in search of work and employment (Parkar et al 2009). The development of personal skills and strong community action, factors essential to fashioning health-enhancing spaces (Williams 2010), are disrupted. In fact, the NMHP explicitly recognises that “there is very little information on the mental health needs” of internally displaced people (NMHP 2014: 9).
3 Ecology and the Clinic
These case studies, while confirming poor access to mental healthcare and difficulty of health professional to address the specifics of local cultures, show that suffering cannot be separated from local ecologies of suffering. Each person’s suffering occurs within a specific ecology of forces or factors. In each of the case examples, these dynamics move between the person’s body to wider issues, comprising a mix of economic, geological and social forces. Each of these forces has a local focus such as family, gender and caste relations. They also include national forces such as government policy in health and finance, as well as international forces such as trade agreements and political alliances.
The concept of ecology of suffering opens up the dynamic between the local, national and international. This approach requires decentring from the person and their body to the ecology or series of interacting forces which interconnect with the person and their body. The aim is to maintain the agency of the person, and ensure they are an active participant in their fate, whilst naming and addressing the forces acting upon them.
Whilst the NMHP acknowledges “natural or man-made disasters are frequent causes of psychological distress” (NMHP 2014: 9), environmental geographers have long argued that there is no thing as a “natural disaster” (Smith 2006). At every phase and aspect of calamities, be it “causes, vulnerability, preparedness, results and response, and reconstruction,” both the nature of the disaster and “the difference between who lives and who dies is to a greater or lesser extent a social calculus.”
“Ecologies of suffering” is an attempt to conceptualise integrating mental health with social development (Plagerson 2014). The risk is that the mechanisms of social inequality will be difficult to hide, possibly generating disagreement between groups with different social interests. If the concept of ecologies of suffering becomes acceptable to policymakers as well as local health professions, it may provide a framework for:
(1) Local mental health professions to elicit, document and facilitate addressing local and global issues such as debt, displacement and agricultural problems at spaces of suffering in the clinic and within community sites.
(2) Enabling public health professionals to focus on education and intervention at wider social factors such as caste, gender and economic relations.
(3) Facilitating state and national policymakers to link departments that address ecologies of suffering, such as between health and social development.
(4) Enabling politicians and media to move from blaming individual factors (such as specific elephants or farmer debts), towards identifying sets of relationships (such as rural policy and development of tourist industry; or the link between family structure, land inheritance, and regulation of the financial sector). The use of the concept, ecology of suffering, will focus attention on mutual interaction with each person or agency having different powers, resources and responsibility. The hope is that a focus on relationships rather than individual factors will increase questioning, and demand for transparency. The local effects of corruption will become more evident.
(5) Ensuring that the concept of ecology of suffering will encourage the inter-linkage of the global and the local. This will also ensure that modernisation will not isolate more specific ecologies of suffering that are at risk of being glossed over by more recent and popular “global mental health models” for India (Lancet Global Mental Health Group 2007).
Current approaches within global mental health that link mental health and development focus on very narrow definitions of both the concepts. This link is conceptualised in economic terms, with mental health problems framed as an impediment to “wealth creation” (Thornicroft and Patel 2014). A conceptualisation integrating mental health with social development and local ecologies has yet to emerge (Plagerson 2014). We argue that by drawing a map or diagram of the ecology of local suffering, the complex interlinkage between the Local and Global will emerge beyond simplistic understandings of the relationship between poverty and wealth.
There is an urgent need for developing coordinated conservation, agriculture, development and health policies sensitive to local ecologies that shape well-being and suffering. At a policymaking level, it is critical that a dialogue is initiated between health professionals, environment and development experts and government policymakers. This would allow for both training and intervention (that is, sensitising clinicians to local ecology, and environment and development practitioners), and institution of an integrated service delivery. Each local ecology of suffering may require different policy-driven research and include different range of policymakers such as those involved in wildlife conservation, agriculture or mining. Once accepted, specific ecologies may appeal more to those involved; and encourage using local vernacular and embodied knowledge to arrive at locally-appropriate solutions. Based on the documented case studies, we argue that this proposition could be empirically tested through the deployment of emerging and locally applicable clinical interview techniques, such as the “Bloomsbury Cultural Formulation Interview” developed by Sushrut Jadhav (Napier et al 2015: 1614). Most significantly, this operational concept holds potential to empower the disenfranchised and rural poor.
Tackling Transfer Pricing
In the complex set of transactions between the affiliates of multinational enterprises located in different countries, the valuation of such deals for taxation by the host country is a complicated matter. A discussion of the various models and practices and a consideration of what the United Nations can offer in this regard.
In the last few years, the question of what constitutes an equitable incidence of taxation has gained a very high profile within countries and internationally as well. One key aspect is the issue of what level of taxation of investment represents the appropriate balance between recognising an economic footprint or engagement in the taxing country that justifies a contribution to revenue, on the one hand, and acknowledging that too highly taxing such investments might deter the investors to the point that production is not carried out altogether.
Each country makes its own sovereign decisions on such matters, but there is increasing acceptance that governments need to work together more often and more deeply to ensure that such sovereign decisions are respected. This will lend support to the development of a country and its ability to gain fiscal and policy space. How countries cooperate to ensure appropriate taxation behaviour by the multinationals of one country in relation to another country will therefore be a test of how sincere this age of apparently greater international cooperation really is.
The subset of “transfer pricing” cases will be especially important in this context. In referring to transfer pricing, we are talking about the pricing arrangements for transactions between related parties—such as among companies that are members of a corporate or multinational enterprise (MNE) group. These arrangements can relate to prices for goods, services, loans or use of property. Transfer prices are inherently part of the way in which MNEs operate, because MNEs need to assess which parts of the group are profitable and which ones are not. By itself, the term transfer pricing refers simply to this process of allocating values to transactions, without necessarily implying any tax evasion or avoidance.
There is, however, a risk that the prices declared by an MNE will, either deliberately or not, fail to reflect its real economic engagement in a country. In other words, there is “mispricing.” One result of mispricing (whether it constitutes tax avoidance or evasion) is that losses might be reported in a country where, in fact, profits should have been reported.
The reason why transfer pricing represents such a test of international cooperation on tax matters is because, in many respects, developing countries, especially those with weak or small administrations, are especially disadvantaged by factors such as the complexity of transfer pricing concepts and their practical application, the “fuzziness” of some of the concepts involved, the frequent lack of data needed to evaluate the correctness of the profit allocation (and the cost of access to relevant data), the resource-hungry nature and long time frame of transfer pricing cases in terms of person-hours and costs, and the very large sums often involved.
Some General Challenges
A key transfer pricing challenge for both developing and developed countries is how to identify, for tax purposes, a fair price for intra-group transactions. This has to be done bearing in mind the real economic engagement of the multinational in a particular country, and therefore, the extent to which profits are truly being made there or elsewhere. If the transfer pricing does not reflect the true profits earned in that country, the country is unfairly deprived of revenue.
But that is not the only challenge. There is also a need to have internationally accepted “norms” in this area that are fair to countries involved in the transaction generally, and also to taxpayers. There is a risk that if one country adjusts the pricing of a transaction within a group so as to increase profits made and taxable in that country, another country will not decrease its calculation of the profits made in that country. In that case, some part of the profits may be taxed twice, with a possible discouragement or deterrence of investment that can itself hinder development.
There is a further aspect, which in Financing for Development terms, is referred to as a “systemic issue” and involves what could be termed “the rules of the game” for transfer pricing. Whether one agrees with them, or disagrees, current approaches to transfer pricing were elaborated by developed countries and premised on an access to technical resources—including skills, knowledge and data—that are beyond the reach of many developing countries. In the future, indeed, in the present, more attention needs to be paid to the role of developing countries as “norm makers,” rather than as just “norm takers.” Transfer pricing is an area where this issue arises with particular cogency.
Another related issue is whether the home countries of MNEs need to make greater efforts to ensure that the taxation behaviour of their residents—the MNEs—support development in other countries rather than acting as a brake on it. This is indeed a complex issue, but one that deserves greater discussion in an increasingly globalised world.
There are particular issues and controversies in the area of transfer pricing that reveal opportunities for international cooperation on these issues and also illuminate the potential role of the United Nations (UN) and other multilateral organisations in that process.
Arm’s-length Approach vs Global Formulary Apportionment: The tax treaties and domestic rules of countries seeking to address transfer pricing issues almost always reflect the approach that pricing of internal transactions within a multinational should be done on basis of the “arm’s-length principle.” This means comparing the transaction between the two related parties to one that occurred on market terms between companies that have no special relationship with each other (that is, that operate at arm’s-length).
The difficulties begin when this is put into practice, especially since many MNE transactions do not have direct market analogies. This can be because they involve intangibles (such as intellectual property rights) that have a unique, but difficult-to-determine value, or because they involve “set-off”1 arrangements that would not occur between unrelated companies, or because they involve the sharing of costs that would only ever be shared within a related group.
Critics assert that this is a fatal flaw in the arm’s-length approach; that hypothesising an arm’s-length relationship is the antithesis of the synergistic relationship between different parts of an MNE and of the ways in which MNEs use their integrated, non arm’s-length nature to unlock value from their transactions. Those who take that view often argue that a different approach is required, based less on hypothesising an arm’s-length return in a non arm’s-length situation, and more about apportioning the overall profits of an MNE between different economic aspects of its operations on an agreed basis.
Critics of the arm’s-length approach often propose some form of “global formulary apportionment,” which would allocate the profits and losses of an MNE among the different jurisdictions where it operates. A formula would be used, based upon factors showing economic activity such as the proportion of sales (on the demand side) and assets or payrolls/employees (on the supply side) in that jurisdiction. There is room for considerable debate about which of these factors are most relevant, and therefore, about the proportionate weighting such factors should have in determining the areas of real economic activity.
This method is similar to the formulary approach taken by many states of the United States (US), where a Multistate Tax Compact reflects the value to both states (especially smaller ones) and taxpayers of a single approach, more or less uniformly applied by the Multistate Tax Commission.2 There are also developments in the European Union (EU), with a proposed (and optional for taxpayers) Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base that relies on a formulary apportionment method which evenly weights the three factors chosen, and which, therefore, ultimately favours the supply side.
It is worth noting that proponents of formulary apportionment not only emphasise the benefits to jurisdictions of a common approach that addresses profit shifting and helps taxpayers in filing tax returns relevant to several jurisdictions, but also point to the benefits for taxpayers of a consistent approach across several jurisdictions.
Taken in a broader perspective, the debate about the arm’s-length approach versus formulary apportionment reveals a clash of preferences between a more overarching, or “macro”, approach that proposes a generalised fairness, and a more “micro” approach that emphasises the “particularised” examination of transactions offering fairness to individual taxpayers on a case-by-case basis. In view of the resource constraints of many developing countries, there is a particular significance to this debate.
The process of applying the arm’s-length principle in actual practice is very complex. In order to find the arm’s-length price of a transaction, tax authorities and businesses make use of transfer pricing methods that are esoteric and convoluted. These represent ways of calculating the profit margins of transactions or entire enterprises, or of calculating a transfer price (or indeed, a range of prices) that qualifies as being at arm’s length. There are a variety of methods for doing this, each one more appropriate to a particular form of transaction or to cases where relevant data are not available. Access to data and analytical resources is critical to an effective arm’s-length approach.
For example, traditional transfer pricing methods used to find the arm’s-length price are applied, in practice, by establishing comparability between the conditions of a controlled transaction (between parts of an MNE) and of an uncontrolled transaction (between independent parties). They therefore rely, to a great extent, on the availability of data from comparable uncontrolled transactions (that is, sufficiently similar transactions between unrelated parties) in a comparable market.
However, in many developing countries, a market for such transactions does not exist or is not properly documented, and a market price can be difficult or even impossible to determine. There are usually not organised databases where one can find such comparables about activities in the local market. Some developing countries use data extracted from developed country databases, such as EU and US sources. This can be problematic, however, since access to such databases is costly, and market conditions may be so different that for the data to be useful, it must be adjusted for the developing country’s market conditions. Such adjustment is itself a resource-intensive process (and therefore costly, including in terms of other work forgone that might assist revenue collection). It often also leads to contested results.
Fixed Margins: The difficulty in finding suitable and available comparables when determining the arm’s-length price on a case-by-case basis, especially in developing countries, raises the contentious question of whether “fixed margins” should be introduced in transfer pricing regimes. The term fixed margins refers to cases where tax laws indicate what level of profits can be treated as arm’s-length in particular transactions, and consequently, what are treated as being, at least prima facie, mispriced.
Those arguing for a fixed margin approach consider that as long as fixed margins are transparent and “scientific” in their formulation and operation, and genuinely seek to determine prevailing market margins, they provide a more flexible, real world response to what constitutes an arm’s-length price. They take the view that such an approach gives certainty to both taxpayers and authorities, and means that neither is required to resort to resource-intensive case-by-case analyses and expensive, highly specific or tailored outside advice.
Proponents argue that the fixed margin approach is a simplified, but fair regime that may pave the way to a more traditional case-by-case regime. They say that this is especially the case if taxpayers bear the onus of showing that the fixed margins do not reflect arm’s-length pricing in a particular case. This equates to having a “ready-to-wear” approach to what constitutes correct transfer pricing, rather than requiring a “tailored” approach in each individual case, with the time and costs the latter entails.
Those opposing the fixed margins approach say it is intrinsically inconsistent with the arm’s-length principle, and would only work (if at all) in large, competitive markets where profits tend to equalise among different competitors. They argue that it is impossible, in practice, to keep margins so up to date as to reflect the reality of the limitless number of types of transactions in a varied set of market conditions. They consider that it would be especially difficult for smaller countries to keep the fixed margins under review and to update them as necessary, and to cover the many different types of industries and cases.
Once again, this debate illustrates a clash of preferences between, on the one hand, a more overarching approach (this time, in the form of fixed margins) that proposes a generalised fairness and, on the other, an approach favouring a more particularised examination of individual transactions that proposes fairness to taxpayers on a case-by-case basis. In this context, greater recognition is needed on the part of the developed countries that favour the approach that the complexity and individualised attention to each case found in the traditional arm’s-length approach often creates its own unfairness, even though it is designed to give a fair result in each individual case.
In fact, the more complex the exercise to hypothesise an arm’s-length price (in the face of the reality that multinationals are highly integrated in their operations, and even more distant in their internal dealings than in normal market conditions), the more disproportionate will be the impact on those least well equipped to deal with unnecessary complexity. They will be unable to bridge the gap between theory and reality and to fulfil the promise of the arm’s-length principle—the promise of fairness to all stakeholders in the system.
There is no doubt also that the complexity involved in case-by-case analysis has encouraged an industry of “tailored” advice. The role of advisers on tax issues is an important one, but critics have warned that this can produce a bias, and leads to even greater complexity and to unnecessarily individualised attention that is burdensome, and not just upon smaller and less well resourced taxpayers, but also on smaller and less well resourced countries.
It follows that developing countries, particularly those with the fewest resources, will disproportionately bear the cost inpractice of what are, in theory, fair solutions tailored to the facts and circumstances of individual cases. Global formulary apportionment is not the solution, at least at this time. Even though it may be a part of it, or may be a framework for other approaches, the global formulary apportionment method is not yet sufficiently worked out in practice at the international level to displace the arm’s length approach.
Assistance in applying the arm’s-length principle can, however, play an important role in equalising the positions of developing countries with those of developed countries and MNEs. For this reason, the UN Tax Committee has prioritised—for its substantive involvement in transfer pricing work—the completion of the UN Practical Manual for Developing Countries (www.un.org/esa/ffd/tax) in 2012. The manual is currently being written to help make the arm’s-length approach as understandable and workable for developing countries as possible.
Efficient capacity building also involves encouraging countries to share experiences, both good and bad, with a view to building enduring networks and limiting the risk of costly policy and administrative dead ends. This South-South sharing of successful tax practices is something we have been working closely on with the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation of the UN Development Programme and others (www.s4tp.org). At the global level, effective capacity building requires that the UN, the Bretton Woods institutions, the OECD, non-governmental organisations and regional institutions, all working closely and effectively together, seek to avoid unnecessary duplication, but also remain true to their varying mandates, memberships and guiding philosophies. This will sometimes mean that developing countries have alternative views to choose from in the context of their situations and priorities, and that is a good thing.
The need for clarity and predictability to promote investment and to avoid long and resource-intensive disputes raises questions regarding the potential role of dispute avoidance and resolution mechanisms such as (1) Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP), (2) Arbitration, and (3) Advance Pricing Agreements (APAs) in the area of transfer pricing.
The MAP, under bilateral tax treaties, is designed to settle treaty-related questions and to provide a forum where residents of one of the involved states can seek reconsideration of actions they find to be contrary to a tax treaty. It does not compel a result, and MAP proceedings can become bogged down for years with no ultimate resolution.
Arbitration, on the other hand, provides for an alternative dispute settlement outside the courts when the parties have not been able to reach an agreement through the MAP.
Finally, Advance Pricing Agreements are agreements between a taxpayer and a tax authority (or more than one tax authorities) on an appropriate transfer pricing approach for some future set of transactions.
Despite the potential to provide greater clarity and predictability to taxpayers, and possibly assist smaller or weaker countries in dealing with complex transfer pricing issues, arbitration raises some potential concerns, especially for resource-strapped developing countries.
Arbitration is a potentially costly and complex procedure. For example, the costs of the judge, facilities, translators and other support services in arbitration—unlike in a court-based system—must be paid for by the parties. Also, extra-budgetary allocation of amounts for arbitration and the use of foreign currency reserves for payment, for example in dollars or euros, might be required for arbitration. This could tend to increase pressure on countries to settle outstanding cases merely for practical or budgetary reasons, regardless of the merits of the case. This problem becomes especially acute if multiple arbitrations are launched by different taxpayers on essentially the same facts—a situation similar to the many investment protection arbitrations faced by Argentina following its debt restructuring in response to the 2001 economic crisis. There is no apparent provision for consolidating multiple cases into a single arbitration.
Resource constraints can therefore challenge the practical application of such arbitration procedures in developing countries and may unduly weight the scales against them in the way those procedures work. If the cost were borne by the taxpayer, the concern is that this would encourage (or more accurately, be perceived as encouraging) arbitrators to make decisions unfavourable to the tax administration.
Another possible perception is that arbitrators in this area are likely to be predominantly from developed countries for some time and may lack understanding of developing countries’ realities and conditions. Developing countries may have had no experience of arbitration, or may have had a bad experience in an area such as investment treaty arbitrations.
In the long term, arbitration probably has a very important part to play in dealing with transfer pricing disputes, but in the short to medium term, it is an approach that needs to be taken with caution, and a full understanding of all the potential scenarios, including not only the best case scenarios, but also the worst case ones.
APAs also have great long-term potential, but agreeing upon such issues in advance requires a good understanding of the rules of the game and of potential loopholes that need to be closed off. There is also a concern frequently expressed, that in the early years of a transfer pricing regime, APAs can tie up key resources as an administration deals with taxpayers seeking the APAs (taxpayers likely to be broadly in compliance) rather than allocating those resources to address the greatest transfer pricing risks.
United Nations’ Role
The complexities in the area of transfer pricing, and the issues they raise from the perspective of developing countries, lead us to consider what special characteristics the UN, with its current limited tax cooperation resources, can bring to the table in meeting these challenges.
The first such characteristic is its universal membership and legitimacy. The challenges in this area, the growing recognition of the development aspect of tax systems, and even the emergence of multinationals that are “home-grown” to developing countries, all mean that efforts to reduce the complications of transfer pricing, in a way that is fair to all stakeholders, must have broader input and ownership than in the past. An approach of inclusive multilateralism is called for—one that draws upon the experience and perspectives of all stakeholders in international taxation issues, including business and non-governmental organisations.
The United Nations is increasingly looked to in this area as an impartial, responsible, representative and legitimate means to advance international tax cooperation with a view to development, including both fair returns to countries and a climate favourable to investment as part of a long-term partnership for development.
The United Nations can, in short, help safeguard that all with an interest in the “rules of game” will have a full seat at the table, to ensure that those rules meet the challenges and needs of development, and not only the needs of developed countries. In fulfilling this role, both procedures and outcomes must be fair to all those affected, and ultimately remain people-focused, because to be properly people-focused is to be development-focused, and vice versa.
Future of Climate Finance
A Critical Evaluation
Providing developing countries adequate funds to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions remains vexed in spite of the urgency of combating climate change. In 2009, developed countries pledged to provide $100 billion by 2020 for a corpus to fund developing country climate mitigation initiatives. They have been tardy so far in honouring this commitment. This article tries to evaluate some of the potentially innovative sources to raise funds, examines suitability of private fi nance for the purpose and suggests ways to ensure effective utilisation of scarce public fi nance.
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