Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Class Profile of India - take your pick

On July 19th, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell's Open Source Radio net-aired an interesting discussion on what and where India is, in the context of the Mumbai blasts of July 11.

It was an interesting debate - even though, Christopher Lydon (the moderator) had set-up the "terms of debate" in a west-o-centric terms, i.e, the Mumbai blasts were a repurcussions of the increasing class-divide in India).

The Panelists (alphabetically):

  • Atanu Dey
    Chief Economist of a Mumbai based company, Netcore, and a blogger on Deesha.com

  • Pankaj Mishra
    The author of Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond, and more recently, of an IHT article The Myth of the New India

  • Suketu Mehta,
    Author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, and more recently, of an article in The New York Times (July 12, 2005), A Passage From India

    One can listen/download the debate from here (about 50mnts and 24MB MP3):
  • Listen
  • Download (right-click and save)

    Some Excerpts:

    Atanu Dey:
    "...It is not true that this bombing represents something like the clash between the haves and the have-nots. India has always had that disparity. We need to understand that the bombings are part of the global phenomenon, and not localized to India… More people have died since India’s independence through Islamic terrorism than [in] the wars that India fought with Pakistan and China...

    ...It is undeniable that the rate of growth has been low up to the early 1990’s, but [now] there’s real improvement, and poverty levels have gone down all around. It’s a secular improvement across the board. Although the top segments have benefitted more, it is a rising tide, and it is going to lift all the boats."


    Pankaj Mishra:
    "What people do not realize.... is how a very very small percentage of India’s population is actually employed in… outsourcing and call centers. If that’s what you’re preoccupied with, so you have a woman wearing a headphone on the cover of Time magazine, this is the kind of myth that gets multiplied many times.

    ...I was trying to counter the increasingly commonplace Western perception of India as this rising economic superpower, this is a kind of perception that has originated within a very tiny elite… people who are writing in the newspapers and in the blogs. This infectious enthusiasm, a lot of which is based in fact, is now spreading to the American media, business, political elite, and somehow these two elite have come up with this wonderful idea that India is rising. I wish it were true, but there are a lot of problems that India has not reckoned with."


    Suketu Mehta:
    "There are sections of the country that are enjoying a boom, and there are large sections that have been left behind and have found their standard of living actually dropping year by year… In the years of socialism, there wasn’t so much of a perception of inequality, because people didn’t have access to the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Now with television, and with the internet in every little village and hamlet in India, people have their noses rubbing up against windows, literally, they can see how this new middle class lives...

    There is a potential for tremendous social conflict, but I think what moderates it is that there is that democracy, which has been established, and it is real and it is irrevocable.."


    One India/ many Indias...

    ....take your pick!

  • Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    A Lesson in "War Capitalism"

    This is not a news - everyone knows this:
    The middle-east is once again up in turmoil; Israel has launched an attack on Lebanaon/Hezbollah... in a way, a repeat of 1981..

    One news item was interesting:
    A missile fired by Hezabollah was found to be of Iranian origin!!!
    ...and that proves the complicity and war-sponsorship by Iran and Syria to Lebanon/ Hezabollah.

    But who sponsors Israel' war???

    Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute, explains on Democracy Now.

    Excerpts:

    "Well,... you’re talking about 20% of the Israeli military budget...

    ... We’re looking at incredible increases in U.S. military aid and weapons sales to Israel. Military aid stands at about $3 billion a year. That’s about $500 for every Israeli citizen that the United States provides on an annual basis. And then, weapons sales, most recently, since the Bush administration came into power, we’re looking at $6.3 billion worth of weaponry sold to Israel.

    ...just on the 14th (July), the United States decided to sell $120 million worth of jet fuel to the Israeli military. The little notice that announced the sale from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said, "This fuel will be used to promote peace and security in the region." And then, meanwhile, you have jets strafing villages, bombing civilians, taking out bridges, destroying water treatment plants.

    ...Almost all of the weapons used by Israel are from the United States. There might be a couple French fighter planes that they’re using, but its F-16s made in Fort Worth, Texas; its Apache helicopters; its Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles; it’s all from the United States. So you have this real disconnect between an overemphasis on the supply by Iran and Syria of Hezbollah's weapons and no discussion of the fact that all of the Israeli arsenal is from the United States, and that that is in contravention to U.S. law to the Arms Export Control Act, which says that U.S.-origin weapons are only to be used for self-defense and for internal security.

    ...Israel's relationship with the United States is unique in a number of ways. And one of those ways is that essentially the United States provides 20% of the Israeli military budget on an annual basis, and then about 70% of that money that is given from the United States, from U.S. taxpayers, to Israel is then spent on weapons from Lockheed Martin and Boeing and Raytheon."


    This is good example of "War Capitalism"

    Steps:
    1. Take money from the citizens as taxes
    2. Give it to a country as defense aid
    3. Get the country to buy weapons using that aid
    4. The money reaches from the citizen to the corporates
    ... Everyone is happy!!

    Sound (and sleek) business model!!!

    The more intelligent ones can also make a fortune in such a War Without End

    Here is a Guide to Investor Survival in "War Without End" that was published before the Iraq invasion/ liberation (to be neutral, let's call it "disaster")... The basic logic of how to make profits from war (and deaths and misery) remains the same...

    Postscript:
    ...in the meanwhile (lest someone thinks that this is a bad thing to do), the "civilized world"/ "international community" etc., will show concern, give news-briefings, pass resolutions, etc., about the rise of international terrorism, and proliferation of weapons across the "terrorist" groups/ states...

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    India's improved "Right to I_f_r_a_i_n Act"

    According to news reports, the Indian Union Cabinet has approved that the "Right to Information Act, 2005" will henceforth be known as "Right to I_f_r_a_i_n Act, 2005"
    ?!!
    ...well, in a manner of speaking.

    The Union Cabinet has proposed an amendment. According to the Hon'ble Information & Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Das Munsi, this amendment "would remove ambiguities in the bill and make provisions of the Act more effective and progressive."

    The "ambiguities" that will be removed are the "file notings" that relate to the govt decisions; they will become exempt from the Act - i.e., the citizen (subject?) will have no right to access the process by which a certain decision was taken. According to the Minister, exemptions exist in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia (maybe that is what makes it "progressive")

    ...though,actually, "file notings" had been a bone of contention even while the Act was in its nascent stages last year. In December 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had instructed the Department of Personnel and Training to change the rules pertaining to disclosure of file notings under the Act. "Substantive file notings on plans, schemes, programmes and projects of the Government that relate to development and social issues may be disclosed," the PM had said. "However, file notings relating to identifiable individuals, group of individuals, organizations, appointments, matters relating to inquiries and departmental proceedings, shall not be disclosed."

    In response to this, O.P. Kejariwal, one of the five Central Information Commissioners appointed under the Act, had written to the Prime Minister calling the decision the "last desperate attempt on the part of some vested interests within the Government to protect their identities from being exposed."

    What is a "file noting"?

    To quote from an article that was published a fortnight before the RTI was enacted:

    "...the government file, usually has two halves: on the right side is the correspondence and materials. This could be someone's grievance, a project proposal, a tender, a concept for a policy, anything the government needs to consider. On the left is the closely held note sheet, which records how the proposition was examined. The advice given in the notings has to be strictly in accordance with laws, rules, norms, and orders. The concerned officer puts down views, advice and recommendations. The file then goes up the line to the decision-making authority. On the way the hierarchy adds more notes, putting their signatures against their views. With all advice in hand a justifiable decision must be made.

    Cumulatively, the note sheet reflects the mind of government, bares the intention of an individual officer and whether his advice and consent were grounded on established rules. File notings, then, are X-rays of government functioning. They are proof of fair play and reason , or dishonesty, bias, and negligence. They are the shield that most honest bureaucrats wish they had and the sword that dishonest ones fear. It is only by allowing thorough public scrutiny of the evidence of how the government works at every level that corruption can be fought. File notings fall squarely within the definition of "information" in the Act."


    Given the Cabinet's recommendations, in effect:
    The recommended amendment aims to ensure that public has no information access to :

  • the mind of government

  • the intention of an individual officer and whether his advice and consent were grounded on established rules

  • proof of fair play and reason, or dishonesty, bias, and negligence

  • the evidence of how the government works at every level that corruption can be fought.
    etc.

    Ah.. OK!, now I get it!!!
    According to the "amendment", the GOI will tell me what the decision is, but has no accountability to share
  • why a decision was taken?
  • how the decision was taken?
  • who took that decision?

    So, can we petition that RTI should now be called Right to Ignorance Act?
    -----
    UPDATE: According to press release from PHD Chamber of Commerce: "The justification that it is excluded in other countries like the US, the UK and Australia is not valid as what is excluded by these countries is internal communication between different departments of the government during which these decisions are deliberated."

    Can One Do Something?


    Yes, one can. To the best of my knowledge, even if the amendment to the RTI Act 2005 is passed by the two houses of parliament, it has to have the consent of the President of India.

    One can write to the President, by going to the site:

    http://presidentofindia.nic.in/scripts/writetopresident.jsp


    or simply sending a mail at:

    presidentofindia@rb.nic.in

  • Thursday, July 20, 2006

    Thanks for Blocking the Blogs/Websites, Govt of India!

    3-4 days back, when it became apparent that the Govt of India had once again asked India's 153 ISPs to block some internet sites, I had thought that I will start this post with a quote often attributed to Voltaire:

    "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

    Unfortunately, I found soon that quoting Voltaire in this situation will be an anticlimax.

    I realised that one was up against, not a conspiracy against freedom of speech/information, but plain ignorance and stupidity!!!

    But before we go to other things, a basic question:

    Can the GOI Legitimately Block Certain Websites?


    Apparently, it can.... through a chain of developments that unfolded over last 6 years:

  • The Information Technology Act was passed in 2000.

  • Under the provisions of Article 67 and 68 of the Act, in February 2003, the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) was set up to function under the Union Government's Department of Information Technology (DoT).

  • In July 2003, through an order GSR529(E), CERT-In was empowered to "take on the spot decision on whether the website is to be blocked or not." GSR529(E) permits blocking out of "websites promoting hate content, slander or defamation of others, promoting gambling, promoting racism, violence and terrorism and other such material, in addition to promoting pornography, including child pornography and violent sex."

  • Moreover, according to the Order, "Blocking of such websites may be equated to balanced flow of information and not censorship."

    Which, at the face of it, is fair enough. All countries that provide for freedom of speech also have laws to temper the freedom within limits - in the freest of countries one can't use "free speech" to put national security at stake, indulge in personal slander, or publicly incite people to murder (unless you happen to be Pat Robertson calling for assassination of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, or people of that ilk;0), etc.

    That same year in Sept 2003, CERT-In had used its prerogative, and asked the ISPs to block a yahoogroup, Kynhun, a Meghalaya-based group consisting of around 20 members (it was described as a "separatist movement"). Its sole "anti-national" activity was to bring out a newsletter "The Voice", which voiced its opinions on issues like mining in ecologically sensitive areas, or transfer of a government hosital to a trust owned by the present Chief Minister, etc...

    Since the ISPs could not block one single yahoogroups, the entire yahoogroups site was off-access for about 2 weeks, when access and sanity got restored.

    ... Quite clearly, CERT-In did not learn from its blunder, and so, we have another similar blanket blocking. Accordingg to reports, the GOI wanted to block 18-20 websites, but in one massive sweep, blogspot.com, typepad.com and geocities.com are off the net in India.

    So What Does/Did CERT-In Want To Ban/Block?



    I mean, which were these "websites promoting hate content, slander or defamation of others, promoting gambling, promoting racism, violence and terrorism and other such material, in addition to promoting pornography, including child pornography and violent sex"?

    Since the GOI's order is a hush-hush affair, the following partial list is compiled from news reports from media reports, e.g., The Financial Express, BBC, The Hindu, etc.

    It was fun - and insightful - going through these sites/blogs (if in India, use any of the proxy servers, listed later in the post, to visit these)...

    If this list is in any way indicative of the threats CERT-In takes seriously and responds to, then we sure have a huge problem in this country - not so much from violence and hatred, but from plain and simple stupidity...

    Here goes...

  • http://www.bloodspot.org - The URL opens to "Welcome to the Specialist Practitioners Of Transfusion website" - and I can assure you, they are not vampires

  • http://www.clickatell.com - The URL takes one to "the world's leading provider of Bulk SMS messaging services and SMS Gateway connectivity with reliable coverage to 569 networks in 183 countries worldwide."... etc.

    Across the various reports, there was some mix up about commonsense.blospot.com and commonfolks.blogspot.com, so I tried the combinations:

  • http://commonsense.blogspot.com - A blog with no entry, but just an introduction "I am a intelligent man, with an extreme sense of the common, the things that should be thought, or seen that just aren't. Although my content is good, my spelling usually does suck, i do not ask for corrections, but I do ask for people to read it, and send me back responces. Thank you"

  • http://common-sense.blogspot.com/ - which took me to a blog whose last entry was in June, 2003 - previous postings were on varied topics ranging from Saddam Hussein not being found to the Honda ad that took 606 takes to shoot.

  • http://commonfolks.blogspot.com - someone with a solo entry on how much s/he loves Scandinavia

  • http://commonfolkcommonsense.blogspot.com - a chinese blog in chinese script (Now, this site can perhaps be a threat to national security! ;0)

  • http://dalitstan.org - The site reads "The Dalitstan Organization is a Human Rights Organization working for the Upliftment of Dalits, the Black Untouchables of India. These form one of the most oppressed ethnic groups in the World, enduring the 2000-year Sudra Holocaust."... There are some critical articles/section that do highlight the oppression, Bahujan Samaj, etc., but nothing that meets the CERT-In's criteria of blocking a website.

  • http://exposingtheleft.blogspot.com - ah, finally here is a site that is critical: of Tony Snow, Hizbullah and Hamas, Iran, ban on same-sex mariage. Currently, its author was quite thrilled about being banned by GOI.

  • http://www.hinduunity.org - One more. This site is "Promoting and supporting the ideals of Bajrang Dal: VHP, Youth Wing."... It is critical of Islam, Pakistan, Pseudo-Secularism, communists, christians, Bangladeshis, caste system, Gandhi, family planning, etc., and blames all of them for the woes of the world and India. One may disagree with the content of the site (I do!), but nowhere it come near to inciting violence. One may perhaps even interpret some of the writings on the site as "promoting racism", but that will always be subject to once subjective interpretation.

  • http://www.hinduhumanrights.org - one more "pro-Hindu" site - this one is UK-based, which is critical of the victimisation of Hindus across the world. But again, nothing so objectionable/threatening/inciting in it to merit blocking it.

    Like with commonsense/commonfolks, for princesskimberley as well, I tried the following variations:

  • http://www.princesskimberley.com - the URL leads to "http://www.geocities.com/princess_leia_rebel_leader" but "page not found". Of course, if a site is named "Princess Leia Rebel Leader", then quite likely it would have contents about Star Wars!!!

  • http://princesskimberley.blogspot.com - a blog maintained/started by "Tony"; so far not a single entry

  • http://princesskimberly.blogspot.com - a blog with just two entries made in March, 2004. The first one talks about watching "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and the other starts with "My life is extremely boring"... Hardly the earth-shattering kind of matter that requires CERT-In intervention!!

  • http://pajamaeditors.blogspot.com - According to The Hindu, "Only two webblogs — pyjamaeditors.blogspot.com and exposingtheleft.blogspot.com — have been blocked," Gulshan Rai, head of cyber security agency Computer Emergency Response Team, told AFP.... So here is the culprit. The "editors in pajama" are currently quite kicked about being banned in India! - the previous post is about "intragalectic warning"...

  • http://www.rahulyadav.com - Rahul Yadav's resume says that he is "a student in the MIS (Masters in Information Science) program at the School of Library & Information Science, Indiana University Bloomington... currently enrolled in my 3rd semester of the MIS program and I expect to graduate this December."

    Rahul is clearly not very amused about being blocked: "The government of India has blocked my website for some unknown reason. I am guessing that it may have been due to the links to various political groups in the Links section of my website. These groups are the main opposition to the current Congress Party government. For this reason, I believe I am being blocked. India has no right to claim the title "world's largest democracy" if they are going to tell people what they can and can't view on the internet..."

    [Note: this adds to one more of my reasons why we live in a crazy world...]

    ...and, therefore, Thank You, GOI, CERT-In!

    ...
  • because, during these last few days, the blocking helped many bloggers to discover ways of circumventing the ban by using anonymous sufing sites, e.g.,
    http://www.boreproxy.com/
    http://www.secure-tunnel.com/
    http://www.anonymizer.com/
    http://www.the-cloak.com/
    http://proxify.com/
    http://www.shysurfer.com/
    Etc...

  • because, the Indian bloggers also discovered the pkblog - a happy irony that this is hosted by Pakistani bloggers
    http://www.pkblogs.com/

  • because many found (and helped each other to find) that if you use firefax as a browser, and then download and install Torpark 1.5 v, you can surf through any cyberblock

  • ...and more importantly, because they once again discovered each other, and became aware of being part of a community....

    UPDATE (July 21, 2006):
    Some friend sent me the scanned copy of the Ministry circular asking the ISPs to block the websites.

    It is also likely that the blanket blocking may be lifted in a couple of days. But the censoring of these selected websites/blogs will continue!!!

    However, it is still far from clear what security threats these websites pose to the country... and who decides, on what basis, that a certain website should be banned?

  • Monday, July 10, 2006

    India's "Real" & "Surreal" Estate Market Boom

    ...between Feel-Good and Feel-Numb...

    The real estate market in India is reported to be booming.

    The Feel-Good news is, for instance

  • According to IBEF (India Brand Equity Fund), India is on the radars of all international investors in this sector: American International Group Inc (AIG), High Point Rendel of the UK, Edaw-US, Japan's Kikken Sekkel, Lee Kim Tah Holdings, Dubai-based Emmar Properties and Cesma International from Singapore, Azorim Investment from Israel, etc. etc.

  • According to a PHDCCI study, the Indian construction industry will grow into a $180 billion sector by 2020 from its present size of 50 billion dollar.

  • According to a 2005 Business Week article (aptly titled, Indian Land Grab): "India's property markets are in a frenzy, driven largely by the rapid expansion of its information technology industry and the simultaneous growth of its middle class... In 2004 developers erected 18 million square feet of commercial buildings in India. This year 23 million sq. ft. of new space will come on the market, and by 2009 the number will rise to 50 million, according to global real estate services provider Cushman & Wakefield.", etc..

    etc. etc....

    Existing side-by-side to this boom - for want of better term, I call it "sur-real estate market" - which is not so much in the eyes of the feel-good media/ investors/ public... maybe, even government.

    In India, there are also many villages which have been put up for sale by their inhabitants.

    Some snapshots of Villages for sale:

  • Malsinghwala (Punjab): "The village, which owes whopping Rs 160 million ($ 3.7 million), is one of the largest cotton producing villages in the seven districts of Punjab, a major cotton producer in the country.... The village with a population of about 4,000 has 1,800 acres of cultivable land, out of which 750 acres remain barren due to the insufficient water for irrigation."

  • Dorli, Lehegaon and Shivni Rasulapur (Vidarbha region): "Farmers are no longer able to survive off the land. Every day, local newspapers report at least two cases of suicide by farmers. Since June 2005, 309 farmers have killed themselves, unable to bear the pressures of huge debts, grim poverty and loss of self-esteem (incidentally, in these villages one can also scout for "kidneys for sale")

  • Shivani Rekhailapur (Maharashtra): The banners read: "This village is ready to be auctioned. Permit us to commit mass suicides."

  • Seebkatte, Megaladoddi, Chikkarasanahalli, MG Palya and Putterasanadoddi: "There are no ‘For Sale’ signs around Seebkatte village. But that’s probably because the villagers don’t know the protocol for land sale. Still, the villagers’ intention to sell is clear. Earlier this month, five adjacently located villages... announced that they were going up for sale. The village heads are brainstorming to fix a price on the land... Stone quarrying and mining is a new-found industry in Bangalore’s rural district. “Stone quarrying started in this area five years ago. Already, there are over 70 mines in the district,.. Post-mining, village life is not the same as before,”... For one, the village folk don’t sleep to the sounds of owls and crickets any longer. Heavy-duty rock blasting begins after sunset...The villagers also claim the rock blasting is causing cracks in their houses.... About 25 houses in Seebkatte — whose total population comprises 48 families — have developed cracks.

    One can keep on compiling the list... eitherways...

    But it takes me back to my ealier Feel-Numb concern:

    Is There a "Suicide" in Our Food?

  • Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    Making a Difference: The Real-Life "Star-thowers"

    A couple of years back, I had blogged the "Starthrower" story by Lauren Eisley, which Yawar, a friend, had sent to me.

    It was about Making a Difference: here is a short version:

    "As the old man walked on the beach at dawn, he noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Finally catching up with the youth, he asked him why he was doing this. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. "But the beach goes on for miles and there are millions of starfish," countered the old man. "How can your effort make any difference?" The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves. "It makes a difference to this one," he said."

    ... It was a fine story, and also a story about finding one's own beach and one's own starfish... and make a difference

    But then, someone wrote to me that yes, the story is nice, and very inspiring, etc... but, where are the real life "star-thowers"?... realistically, what can one do to really make a difference... leave apart people like Gandhi, Baba Amte, etc.,

    ...which was a dampener of sorts. It was a valid point, even though it did not fit with my intuitive understanding...

    So today, thanks to Annie, it was good to find these two stories of the real-life "starthrowers":

    -----
    1. Old Man Digs Pond in 7 Years, Brings Water To His Village

    Manikpur (Barh), May 29: "This is the story of an old man and the pond... It took Kamleshwari Singh all of seven years to dig one in his village, 80 km from Patna. Being too weak and too old to use a spade, he used a trowel.

    People dismissed him as “demented” and children laughed and called him talabi baba.

    But now that the 62-year-old has actually dug the pond single-handed, people are streaming into the village to take a look at his handiwork.

    An impressed sub-divisional magistrate of Barh, Vandana Preyasi, said: “We will soon felicitate him and recommend his name for a state government award.”...

    ...Seven years ago, unknown assailants had gunned down Singh’s 26-year-old son Siyaram. Several false cases, claims the old man, were lodged against him, forcing him to sell much of his farmland.

    While the second son went off in search of work to Punjab, the old man was saddled with two women — his elder son’s widow and the younger son son’s wife — and their children.

    It was then that the crestfallen Singh woke up one midnight and resolved to “do something”. He went to his plot near the house and started digging with the help of a spade.

    His hands gave up after an hour. But Singh did not....

    ...The 60-foot-by-60-foot pond, with a depth of 25 feet, is “almost ready” though the scorching summer sun has forced the water level to recede to less than five feet. The rain, Singh hopes, will fill the pond again and provide a perennial source of irrigation to the village, which is barely 12 km away from the river but does not have even a single irrigation canal to water its land.

    The pond, lined by 40 trees bearing mangoes, jackfruit and black berries, and some teak trees, has become the favourite haunt of villagers who are now eager to lend a helping hand... Etc."

    ---------

    2. The Grit of a Man: Dasrath Manjhi

    NEW DELHI: "Dashrath Manjhi's claim to fame has been the herculean task of singlehandedly carving a 360-ft long, 25-ft high and 30-ft wide road by cutting a mountain for 22 years.

    But, today for this native of Gehlor (near Gaya in Bihar), there is a more daunting task at hand as he strives to get for his community, the Musahars, a respectable place in the society. Considered as social outcasts, Musahars are traditionally associated with various social stigmas such as eating rats and the belief that they are very liberal with drinking liquor. They are identified as people who survive on grains gathered from hideouts of field rats. As most of them are working as labourers, Musahars today account for the what can be called as the 'poorest of the poor' in the society.

    With a slender frame of a man in his late seventies, diminutive and dressed in simple white kurta and dhoti, Dashrath Manjhi hardly fits the stereotyped image of a superhuman. Agonized at the suffering of his wife, who broke her earthen pot and hurt herself while crossing the narrow pathway round the mountain, Manjhi started working on the road that reduced the distance between Atri and Vazirganj subdivisions from 50 kms to 10 kms.

    He is today considered as a living legend by his community. But for Dashrath Manjhi it was more than a daredevil action or an act of eccentricity. As he initiates another struggle to emancipate his people, Manjhi derives strength from his long, solitary life of 22 years that he spent in making the road."
    (PTI)

    B-School Ranking Survey gets "F" Grade

    The annual media ritual has started. Like earlier years, Business Today (July 16, 2006) has come out with the annual B-School Survey Ranking...

    It is called "perception survey" based on ACNielsen ORG-MARG BEI (Brand Equity Index) model.

    In 2003, when BT had decided to do away with facts and rely on perceptions - and had adapted this methodology, it had explained:

    "It is based on ACNielsen's trademarked Brand Equity Model, and it involves a perceptual survey of (list of dimensions)etc.... By not depending on questionable factual information, and focusing exclusively on subjective information, the BT survey ends up being most objective of them all."
    !!!?
    (Yes, you read it correctly)

    This year, the survey results come with a "word of caution". The survey, to quote, is

    "based on the perceptions of B-school stakeholders, comprising recruiters, functional heads, MBA wannabes, MBA students and young executives... the survey works like an exit poll - the B-school ranks reveal how our 526 respondents voted on each of the 30 schools. Unfortunately, that also means some high-decibel B-School advertisers end up garnering higher salience, while some others (better schools, but not as aggressive advertisers) rank lower on popular perception..."

    One surely appreciates this candidness, and the appeal to reader's rational caution.... Reminds one of the statutary warning on the cigarette packets.

    This warning about the validity of results is even more appreciated, since the shortlisted Top 30 "Best" B-Schools of India also include at least two "high decibel" advertisers:

  • 1. two campuses of a ponytail B-school, which carries out full-page ads (with a small print at the bottom mentioning that it is beyond the "purview of AICTE and UGC"... or something of that nature), meaning: its degree/diploma will not be accepted as a post-graduate qualification in India or abroad (and, perhaps also to get a work visa in some of the countries).

    &

  • 2. a certain B-School in the NCR region which advertises itself as the "No-1 Private B-School" on TV, whose accredition for its MBA course was revoked last year

    ... Which perhaps also reflects how the survey was conducted:

    SAMPLE:
    The section describing the methodology of the survey highlights that this year's survey is "more ambitious than the ones before" - which is good news (someone had commented on my last year's post that the ranking is an evolving process and one should bear)

    So how ambitious?

    To quote, in the same paragaph: "While our previous survey polled 449 respondents... across eight cities, this year's tapped into a larger universe of 526 respondents in 11 cities."

    That's great!! - an increase of 77 respondants!!

    ...to assess the "perceptions" about (quoting from the same issue of the magazine):

  • 1257 B-Schools!

    The break-up of the sample is as below:
    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    [Please note that the HR recruiters represented "a mix of managers from companies with annual revenues less than Rs 500 crore and more than Rs 500 crore"... I am sure this must be meaning something significant, but, frankly, "what?" escapes my comprehension]

    ...This will remain one of the unsolved mysteries of sampling techniques - i.e.,the perception these chosen 526 is supposed to reflect the views of a population consisting of:

  • 130,000 aspirants for CAT (and some 60,000 for XAT, and similar more thousands for MAT, etc.)!!!

    METHODOLOGY:
    About how the survey was conducted, the magazine describes:

    "In the first phase, we shortlisted the 30 B-schools that were to be ranked. How? By asking MBA wannabes and recruiters to list the B-schools they would consider applying to (in the case of former) and recruiting from (for the latter)."

    Hmm... er... Uh??

    Isn't there some circular logic here? - Or am I missing something?

    I mean, aren't these surveys meant to help the "MBA wannabes" to make a rational choice? And maybe even the "recruiters" to decide on the B-Schools to source from?

    But this survey asks them to list the B-Schools they would "consider applying to" or "recruiting from", so that it can tell them which B-Schools they should "consider applying to" or "recruiting from" !!!

    ...

    ...I guess, there is a time one should maintain a stoic calm, give up one's attempts to make sense out of glossy charts and bar-diagram... and feel grateful that in any decent B-School, such a survey will get an 'F' grade.

    To Read More:
  • "B-School Surveys" Misguide....Period!!!
  • Cont... Whither B-School Rankings!

  • Sunday, July 02, 2006

    Victims of Development..."For the Larger Good"

    In some of the pages of Narmada Dammed, Dilip D'Souza's makes an observation, which so very cogently captures what I have often felt about our model of 'development' and 'progress', that it is worth sharing.

    But first, let me quote him about the cost-benefit analysis of our socio-economic model of development:

  • "I suspect the reason is that many of us believe implicitly in a most appealing little equation. If the country is to 'progress' and 'develop', it goes, 'some people' will have to 'sacrifice'. 'Some people' must pay a price so that many others - many more others, we can presume - can 'benefit'."

    What goes along with this belief is an acceptance that a Prosperous India can only be built on the sacrifices/lives of some of its (apparently, dispencable) citizens... For the "larger good"!!

    (On the other hand, anyone questioning this implicit paradigm - this "trade-off" - of development, is discounted as "anti-development", "anti-India", "anti-nation-building", someone who wants to take India to stone-ages, "socialist", "JNU jhola-walla type" (take your pick), etc... )

    Though Dilip D'Souza's focus is specifically on Narmada Project and its dams, but the points are equally relevant for many other kinds of "developmental projects" which stipulate making a "sacrifice" a fait accompli for many of India's lesser citizens (for the larger good of a few), e.g.,

  • land-acquisition in tribal/rural areas for industrial development,
  • beautification of metropolitan cities requiring removal of slums,
  • building the super-highways (expressways) across the cities
  • agricultural produce becoming "non-competitive" due to India's getting "integrated" into global economy
  • mega-dams
    etc. etc...

    So what is the contradiction in logic?

    1. Somehow, all these grand plans to create benefit for the larger society never include a clause that ensures that the worst-affected by these plans will be the first beneficiaries of the benefits... This is perhaps because those who claim to represent the "larger society" (politicians, corporates, intelligentia) actually are not the ones who really are the "victims of development".

    2. Somehow, those who talk about the "need for some to sacrifice for the larger good" are not really those who actually sacrifice their lives/ homes/ livelihoods for the "development of the country"

    3. Somehow, those who are supposed to make this magnificant sacrifice for the sake of the country are the same set of people - and they do it time and again!!!...You lose your land because of an irrigation project/industrial development, and become a slum-dweller - and then you lose your slum because you are part of the urban squalor that needs to be removed, etc...

    4. Somehow, inspite of whatever the grand GDP says, we - i.e., all of us - have not really "developed" at the same pace... inspite (or because of) our concept of "development", e.g.,

    - though we have more number of millionnaires and billionnaires than ever before, we have also created as many people living in abject poverty (<$1) as was the population of India in 1947.

    - though we have more number of mega-malls in our cities, the average availability of grains is to the level of the 1943 Bengal famine

    - We have come a long way from being a country that used to survive on foreign food-aid. But, for a food-surplus country, we still have record of farmers' suicide @45/day (during 1998-03)

    ...the list can go on..

    Which raises a disturbing question:

    Is our concept of "Development" warped?... merely a kind of brand-without-a-product that appeals to (and suits the aspirations of) a certain segment of society, who have nothing to give or lose?

  • Saturday, July 01, 2006

    If Media is a "Business"...

    For a long time, I used to believe that media/press - specially the "news media" - is (or, at least, should be) a "social institution" which upholds and protects the basics of the society, it informs and alerts the populace, it provides an objective, balanced and multi-sided view on the issues, and is one of the key cornerstone of any democractic society.

    But then this forenoon, I got converted!...

    This happened while splitting a beer with a friend, who is almost an evangilist for the liberalised free-market economy.

    Over a couple of bottles of beer, he convinced me that I am suffering from archaic delusions from the pre-free-market, suppressive socialist era. "Be realistic," he said, "media is just another business, which takes care of its shareholders/owners by serving the most lucrative customer segment."

    "We should", he told me, "strive to ensure more privatisation and competition in this space, because it benefits the society by raising the awareness of people."

    "Look at how within just one month", he argued, "the public knows so much about the internal details of Pramod and Rahul Mahajan's family, political affiliations, blood pressure, urine, relationships, heart condition, excreta, temperament, etc. And this is because of the competition - each TV channel competes to give the viewers a more accurate and detailed information to increase its TRP rating... this could not have been possible in the state-control media days...But for the liberalisation of media, would you have known about the kiss that Mika Singh gave to Rakhi Sawant? Or that Aishwarya Roy broke her toe on a movie set? Or about the mistress of XYZ minister? etc. etc...."

    I conceded the point that in the earlier era, this kind of "information explosion" was just not possible...

    [Note: I think it was around this point, when - either due to my friend's rant, or due to beer - I went into a reverie...]

    ...and, I thought, if the news media - specially the electronic one - is a "business", then the media companies are doing an un-imaginative drab job, and not leveraging on the opportunities (and obligations) they have...

    For instance, if media is a business, then:

    • "news" can/should actually be treated like a consumable "information product". And like any other consumable item, business ethics/CSR demands that it must describe its ingradients (like on a bottle of coke - how much sugar, caffein, etc.). So before actually watching/reading the news, we, the consumers, should know percentage-wise ingradients - facts, opinions, deceptions, sensationalism, etc. - the "news capsule" contains.

    • the media companies can offer the customer (who, as we know, is the king/emperor... Reference to missing clothes, notwithstanding) a variety of choices, such as "low-facts/high-sensation" news or "customised-to-your-prejudices" news or "only-for-the-feeble-minded" news etc.

    • innovations are possible: there is no need to unnecessarily get constrained by factual details in generating the news (imagine the launch of a news media channel/newspaper: "Bringing To You, First Time In The World, "The Synthetic News"!!" - wow! what a breakthrough!!!)

    • the regulatory authorities (e.g., FCC and Prasar Bharti, etc.) can be pressured to devise laws to issue A/U/X certificates (as they do for the movies) to news, e.g., "not recommended for secular/ activists/ pro-reservations/ anti-reservations/ republicans/ democrats, etc." kind of certificate.

    • there can also be disclaimers to news such as: "This presentation by Collin Powell to the UN Security Council is based on "intelligence" supplied by CIA/ Pentagon - any resemblence to reality is purely coincidental" etc. In fact, there can even be Statutary Warnings: "Watching this News Item is Injurious to your Pre-Conceived Notions."

    • such liberalisation of the media will open up opportunities for more entreprepreurial and innovative companies to make and supply customised news. Depending on customer choice, like the toppings on the pizza or concoctions at Starbuck, e.g.,

      - if one wants Iraq "liberated", you get it; if you want it "invaded" that is also in the menu;)... and even WMDs can be made to be found, if that is what the customer wants!!!...
      or
      - you can see Karan Thapar interviewing Arjun Singh, and know how clueless the minister is... Or if you so desire, can also see Arjun Singh interviewing Karan Thapar and show how uneducated the latter is about the previous SC judgements on the issue (and of course, on demand, one can even change "the issue" and make it, say, a discussion about some shampoo-eliminating shampoo)
      or
      - it will be possible to cater to the segment who wants to know that India produced record cotton this year due to GM... and also to those who want to know about the cotton farmers in Vidarbha (and Punjab and elsewhere) who have created a recod of sort by committing suicide
      or
      - depending on one's preference, Sardar Sarovar Dam can be shown to be the "lifeline" to Gujarat (specially, to the regions of Kutch and Saurashtra)... a very small niche segment, who may actually get affected, the news can highlight that only 1.8% of cultivable land in Kutch and 9.24% in Saurashtra will be in the command area of the dam..

      etc. etc.... the possibilities to serve different markets of "news" are immense!

    • Other businesses (e.g., governments, corpoates, NGOs, etc.) will be able to sponsor the news (or even do co-branding). For instance, the whole world can be shown to survive only on Coke or Pepsi - Similarly, NGOs will need to sponsor (if they have money) the news that 2/3 of the mankind does not have drinking water... etc. etc. [the greatest advantage of this kind of arrangement will be that all these objections about the "integrity" of news media will become a non-issue;0)]

    • and just to complete the scenario, this whole thing can be facilitated by Ministry of Truth, which will give "1984 George Orwell Awards" to the most successful channels...


    I think, it was around this time, the effect of beer started running out, and the reality hit!

    Waking from my creative reveries, I realised my utter ignorance and stupidity. The free-market news media entrepreneurs had already mastered the market, and had rolled out what I thought were my unique insights....

    I realised, for example, that:

  • ...I was na├»ve (if I was not talking about myself, I would have said "ignorant and stupid") to believe that when I bought a newspaper/magazine or watched a news channel, I was the "customer" of the MSM (Main-Stream Media ), since I paid for it (even if nominally).

  • ...the media revenues come, not from subscriptions paid by people like me - its so-called "valued" customers - but from its "real" customers - the businesses who pay for the advertisements to keep the media running.

    So what - and to whom - does the media sell?

    Media sells me (and you) - its subscribers/ audience/ viewers/ readers - to its primary customers (the businesses/ governments/ corporates). It influences and molds my (and your) views and beliefs to fit a certain version of reality... and gets paid for that service!!!

  •