March 30, 2013

Rs100aday blog report

Dear all,

Wish we could have followed up more actively on our blog – but our venture to get India healthier and fitter has been taking up all our time. However, we did manage to summarize our experiment and this blog into a report. Feel free to download, print or forward! We will also be sharing a presentation soon.

We would welcome ideas to spread and use the learnings from our experiment. If you would like more data or take this forward in any way, please write to

March 21, 2012

Rs. 100/day – Redux

Yesterday, we were on NDTV to discuss the Planning Commission’s new poverty line numbers:

January 13, 2012

The commencement

Two months after our experiment ended, we had the chance on December 28 to discuss our experience and learnings to the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia. As many of you know, the Commission is responsible for setting policy on many social programs that benefit the average and the poor India, among them the poverty line. Given the uproar over the Commission setting the number at Rs. 32/person/day in late September, we were pleasantly surprised to find Dr. Ahluwalia receptive to many of our ideas and suggestions. We formally handed over our blog report to him as well. (We hope to make the report publicly available soon – in the meanwhile, lookout for our upcoming experiment executive summary post.)

Given this very positive response from a Cabinet Minister ranking official, we hope to continue our outreach efforts to the government as well as the private sector on how they can incorporate our findings into policies and corporate social responsibility efforts, respectively.

January 2, 2012

Mobile Post #2: Case for providing end-user subsidy for data

In the previous blog post, we established that internet connectivity is critical for development and democracy and therefore it should be a priority for the government to ensure that India’s population is connected in the most efficient manner as soon as possible. In this post, we establish that the fastest and the cheapest way of achieving that could to be to use existing 2G and 2.5G infrastructure in the country.

The current government plan to get India connected via internet is to create new infrastructure by laying down fiber optic backhaul to every Gram Panchayat (GP) over the next 3 – 5 years, that is over 250,000 villages in total. The government has been pondering this idea for quite some time now, and the Department of Telecom in conjunction with other ministries has debated various solutions. The Confederation of Indian Industry, in partnership with Analysys Mason, and supported by a variety of telecom operators and vendors presented an extremely detailed proposal to the government on this last year. One of the key findings of the paper was that it is indeed critical for the government to intervene and enable deep broadband connectivity as all countries with successful or rapidly developing broadband penetration have benefited from government investments in infrastructure to kick start the growth, especially when broadband is at less than 10 – 20% penetration. The paper also estimated the cost for providing this fibre access at INR 17,500 cr. While this is a large enough, the USO Fund has enough to cover it. Continue reading

December 18, 2011

Mobile Post #1: Why is connecting India critical for development and democracy?

When was the last time you checked an important email? Or looked up a question you had on Google, or something you weren’t sure of on Wikipedia? Or even bought a railway or plane ticket on a website? In fact, when was the last time you were politically active thanks to online social media? Chances are that you have done some if not all of these in the last one month, if not the last hour. Aided by the power of the internet/mobile, you now have access to combined human knowledge, efficient service and powerful self-expression at the click of a mouse or a tap on the phone. Unfortunately, Matt and Tushar could not have the privilege of this universal access channel at Rs. 32 a day. And its not just their story, the large majority of your fellow Indians who could really benefit from being connected today remain dark. And its not the cost of having a handset/access device, its not even availability of connectivity, its the cost of data usage that keeps them out. But before we analyze that and try to present solutions, its important to identify how and if at all, being connected is important for development in India. How valid is the promised goodness of the Internet Protocol? Could being connected really uplift the Human Development Index? Could it lead to better governance and a stronger democracy?

Continue reading

December 5, 2011

Connecting India – The Mobile Series

We have been asked often, what we missed the most during our stint with poverty. Besides a healthy diet, the answer is clear: “you can maybe survive, but not live a life of aspirations”. What do aspirations mean? To us, they mean having access to knowledge and information, healthcare access and awareness, and communication and mobility. Basically tools that can help us remain healthy, enhance our awareness and skills and give us the freedom to follow our dreams and preserve our rights. Tools that remain out of bounds at Rs. 32 a day.

Until now, the government has tried to assist in these avenues for the poor who cannot hope to pay for these services by creating large-scale infrastructural interventions. However, in the last few years, if not months, a silent revolution has taken place in India – one that of universal mobile access. With 900 million subscribers, feature-phones under Rs. 1000, call costs at 1 paise/second and 95%+ cellular coverage, people have access to a unique portal that can act as a gateway for many of these “aspirational services” and can help create a more accountable, efficient governance and a more inclusive democracy. However, this not happen on its own, as we have clearly witnessed the inability to pay for anything but the most essential calls at Rs. 32 a day. “Connecting India – The Mobile Series” posts are about what intervention can be made to get the country connected efficiently and meaningfully and utilize the incredible potential of mobiles towards enhancing our country’s Human Development Index. Continue reading

December 1, 2011

UID & the other half

Both of us were employed at the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), contributing to the goal of uniquely identifying every Indian resident, before we started on this experiment. It was a remarkable learning experience, working on a complex public policy challenge alongside some of the brightest minds in the world. At UIDAI, we had become aware of the many potential benefits of a Aadhaar (UID) – each stemming from getting access to identity and being able to prove it online – anytime and anywhere. For instance, possession of Aadhaar can be used to satisfy the Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements to open a bank account, acting as the first step in financial inclusion of the masses and enabling direct transfer of subsidies from the government to citizen. During our experiment – either through our own experience or by talking to the people we encountered – we realized that some of these benefits are more relevant Continue reading

November 30, 2011

The first Average Indian Fast

Hi all, hope you can join us in the first Average Indian Fast tomorrow. This will be first of many (hopefully frequent) times in which we relive our month-long of experience of living at Rs. 100/day. If you need help planning your expenses for the day, you can refer to this post. We have created a spreadsheet – similar to the one we used – that you can use to keep track of your food expenses. Please add and label a new tab with your name/pseudonym.  Do join the facebook event page here, so we can all discuss our experience later.

What to cook? We don’t want to be too prescriptive, but you can take ideas from our facebook album on food. We will also be posting on the facebook event page about things we will be doing and eating. How to get to work? Try sharing rides or public transport – but it will be a tough stretch if your work place is more than 5 – 10 km. Trying walking some distance? Switch off that heather/AC. Try to switch off fridge too if you can!

Let’s single handedly bring down food-inflation (even if it is only for one day) ! Good luck!

November 25, 2011

Food debate #3: What’s the right mix?

Is wheat/rice, sugar and kerosene the right mix for India’s nutrition safety? Should the mix be more balanced? Is kerosene supply outdated? This blog post looks at the current public distribution offer mix and tries to make a case for a better one.

-Tushar Vashisht & Mathew Cherian

In the post, Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, we analyzed the nutritional intake one can hope to get from the current PDS mix of sugar and wheat/rice and proposed that 50g of soybean per person per day could do wonders to the nutritional intake. We had said:

The food allocation prescribed centrally under PDS or proposed in the National Food Security Act translates to 35 kg per family or 7 kg per person of food grains ,which is around 230 g of foodgrain per day per person assuming household size of 5. Let’s further assume that the 2 adults each eat 300g of grains a day (more than 50% greater than 3 kids). Now, this means between 1,110 and 1,000 total calories and between 20g (8% of total calories) and 40g (15% of total calories) of proteins – depending on whether you use rice or wheat, respectively – which is low for a person weighing ~70kg. Adding 50g of soybean to this could push the protein to 48g and 66g respectively, which is closer to the minimum healthy levels of 57g (0.8g per kg of body weight or ~20% of daily calories intake)

The difference would look something like this: Continue reading

November 17, 2011

Food debate #2: Universal or Targeted PDS?

Should the government provide food to everyone as a right? Or should it be restricted to the poor people? The debate on how much food dole should be given to Indian residents and how the targeting of the food subsidy should be done has been going on for the last 2 years. This post tries to make sense of that debate given our recent exposure and the way forward.

Food debate #2: Universal or Targeted PDS?
-Tushar Vashisht

As two 26 year olds living at the infamous poverty line of Rs. 32, Matt and I clearly experienced that getting the adequate amount of calories and nutrition was exceedingly difficult if relying on market prices, if not impossible (See our post on nutrition for details). Access to subsidized food would have been of tremendous support, if not a life-saver. So what if we lived just above the poverty line? Should we have been denied subsidized food? Continue reading