Sunday, December 30, 2007

Homage to Mr Common Sense

[Note: not entirely my own... customised/changed it from a mail which was going around]

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Mr. Common Sense. Mr. Sense had been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in history, and the hype of a globalised free world.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm and that life isn't always fair.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound and reliable life policies, e.g.,

  • don't spend more than you earn,
  • quality of life is more important than branded 'life-style',
  • "home" is more precious than the "address"
  • responsibility comes before rights,
  • sharing resources (ranging from ideas to car-pool) is the essence of sustainance of a society...

    His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but grossly mis-interpreted ideologies started proliferating the media and minds. Mr. Sense declined even further when:

  • parents started becoming the "career managers" of their off-springs, instead of letting them find their own calling,
  • brand labels started started appearing outside - and not inside - the products,
  • the concept of "economic growth" started replacing - contradicting - the reality of "economic development",
  • people started believing that "greater common good" actually emanates from "self-interest", and
  • the "international commuinity" accepted 'extraordinary rendition' as a norm of life on the planet...

    Finally, Common Sense lost the will to live as the "rights" became contraband, religion became businesses/politics, and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

    Common Sense was preceded in death
  • by his parents, Truth and Trust,
  • his wife, Discretion,
  • his daughter, Responsibility, and
  • his son, Reason.

    He is survived by two stepbrothers: "My Rights", and "I'm a Whiner".

    Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone...

  • Wednesday, December 26, 2007

    What is "Global" in "Globalization"?

    Pankaj Ghemawat's blog has some interesting - and revealing - statistics about Globalisation.
    (for those who are not in the know, Pankaj Ghemawat is a Prof at Harvard Business School, and currently on sabbatical with IESE, Barcelona)

    In one of his posts, Globalization Myth vs Reality, he mentions:

    "...most types of economic activity that could be carried out within or across national borders are actually still concentrated domestically... of all the capital being invested around the world, how much is foreign direct investment by companies outside of their home countries?... The fact is, the ratio is generally less than 10% and, while it may be pushed higher by merger waves, has never reached 20%."

    He goes one to put some statistics on key parameters of cross-border activities - telephone calls, long-term migration, university enrollment, stock investment, and trade as a fraction of gross domestic product (GDP) - look at the blue bars in the diagram below. "they fall much closer to 10% than the levels close to 100% that one would expect if one took the gurus of globaloney at their word."

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    and what are the figure shown by the green bars?

    "... 400 respondents to a poll about globalization levels on came up with the responses summarized in green in the chart... Note the systematic tendency to overestimate globalization levels, and by a wide margin: the responses (the green bars) averaged 30% versus real values (the blue bars) that averaged 10%. And to aggravate matters, respondents with more than 10 years’ experience actually are farther off the mark than ones with less experience!

    So perhaps, "Globalisation" is not so global, as the hype around it show.... Or as Pankaj Ghemawat puts it:

    "...managers assume the world to be more globalized than it actually is..."

    However,, there is one parameters, which Ghemawat seems to neglect in his analysis:

    The movement of the most unregulated commodity - currency/Forex - across borders

    Bank of International Settlements' Triennial Central Bank Survey of Foreign Exchange and Derivatives Market Activity in 2007

    Daily "turnover in traditional foreign exchange markets increased by 71% between April 2004 and April 2007 to reach $3.2 trillion."

    $3.2 trillions/day!!!

    ... Which is quite a global activity, considering that according to WTO's International Trade Statistics 2007:

  • the entire inter- and intra-regional annual merchandise trade in 2006 was $11.8 trillions (of this around $6.5 trillions was intra-regional trade - i.e., only $5.2 tillions of trade accounts for annual international merchandise trade)

  • add $2.8 trillions which is the value of world exports of commecial services

    ..and the value of entire annual world global trade in merchandise and commercial services turns out to be $9 trillion....

    Or in other words, global trade of Forex in 3 days exceeeds the annual global trade of goods and services!!

    A couple of years back, I had made a post on this global trade - Living in a Global Casino - and how it differs from other trade activities:

    "The FX market also differs from investments in goods and services, in that speculators make money from money alone. No jobs are created and no services provided. The losers are often those least able to pay the price - the poor and marginalised who are the victims of financial crises triggered by (a) "capital account convertibility", normally a condition for loans by the international financial institutions, and (b) the rapid withdrawal of funds from emerging economies by speculators."

  • Thursday, December 06, 2007

    Caste-Discrimination: From Subliminal to Sublimated

    Maybe we should have a taxonomy of caste-discrimination... I realised this when exposed to two very different expressions of caste discrimination through the news-items during last few days.

    One instance was the stray news items which occupied much media attention - and headlines - in the past week about the ban on the Hindi film Aaja Nachlein UP - and Punjab and Haryana.

    The reasons were these two lines in a song:

    "mohalle mein kaisa maramar hai,
    Bole mochi bhi khud ko sonar hai"

    [roughly translated: what turmoil is happening in the community; even the cobbler claims to be a goldsmith]

    Following a furore and the ban, these lines were removed from the song, and the Mayavati govt in UP lifted the ban... So did Punjab and Haryana (subsequently lifted). Depending where one is sociologically located, the furore was natural or exaggerated... But the indignation that some some/many felt was the implications hidden in these lyrics: that, if the mochi/cobbler (a Dalit/ untouchable occupation) tries to become like a sonar/goldsmith (who can be a schedule caste, a Devednya brahmin, or from the merchant class, sarraf, etc., but "above" the mochi in the caste hierarchy), this is a cause of social turmoil...

    In any case, the director of the film, Anil Mehta, clarified:

    "... We never meant any offense to anyone... When we were readying the lyrics, we had nothing derogatory in mind. If the idea had struck us, we would never have kept the line in the first place...If you look at the spirit of the film, it isn't about discrimination. It's about the participation of people from all walks of life."

    Most likely - at least, I am sure - he was being genuinely honest. These lines were not intended to hurt anyone's sensibilites and sentiments... They did!

    This is not the first time, I have experienced this subliminal force which blurs the boundaries between a conscious cultural expression and the unconscious discriminatory motif.

    I recall that Kolkata airport used to have an open "smoking zone/area" in the arrival lounge. Some months back they shifted it to en enclosed "smoking section" (even that does not exist now). Needless to say, the enclosure for smokers was like a gas chamber - claustrophobic, with an exhaust fan that would not work, and hot and humid. I overheard one of the smokers grumbling:

    "...we have no choice now. We have become schedule castes."


    ...which is both instructive and worth introspecting: about the innocuously subliminal nature of discrimination, about the innocent pervasiveness of caste-hierarchy (and barriers) in our popular imagery and language... about how it is so very easy for our conscious acts/words to get influenced by our historical-cultural programming... (which may go back to embedded childhood memories of being by friends and called a "bhangi" or a "chamaar", etc...

    The other instance reflected the other end of continuum - conscious, blatent, and one which sublimated caste-discrimination into a socially acceptable "spiritual" value.

    In a country, which banned "untouchability" in its constitution, and banned "manual scavenging" in 1993, the State Information Department of Gujarat publishes a book, written by the chief minister, Narendra Modi. Excerpts:

    "Scavenging must have been a spiritual experience for the Valmiki caste... At some point in time somebody must have got enlightenment in scavenging. They must have thought that it is their duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods."

    Or watch this video:

    To a somewhat lesser extent, one finds similar motif of sublimation in this TV ad:

    Behind such imageries and descriptions, however, lurks the living reality of the "Life Inside a Black Hole" (Tehelka Magazine, Issue 47(4), Dec 08, 2007), which can be too stark and unsettling for common human consciousness to live with - And thus, the attempts to mask it, discount it, trivialise it...

    Excerpts from the article:

    "What is the weather really like inside a manhole? What happens to the shit, piss and other waste flushed down by 18.02 percent of the billion- plus population?... At least 22,327 Dalits of a sub-community die doing sanitation work every year. Safai Kamgar Vikas Sangh, a body representing sanitation workers of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), sought data under the Right to Information Act in 2006, and found that 288 workers had died in 2004-05, 316 in 2003-04, and 320 in 2002-03, in just 14 of the 24 wards of the BMC. About 25 deaths every month. These figures do not include civic hospital workers, gutter cleaners or sanitation workers on contract....

    ...In Delhi, it is a humongous many-mouthed subterranean creature — a network of 5,600 km of sewers with about 1.5 lakh manholes,... which consumes 2,781 million litres of the sewage Delhi generates daily... It is indiscriminately fed a wide range of objects that causes clogs — condoms, sanitary pads, nondegradable thermocol, a variety of plastics, industrial sludge, kitchen waste, toilet cleaning acids, medical waste (syringes, blades, even placenta), glass shards, household gadgets, construction debris....

    ...Entering the narrow, dark drain, the worker pushes his only weapon, the khapchi — a spliced bamboo stick — to dislodge the block... It is then that a sudden blast of putrid sludge — besides methane, hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide — assaults the person. “Even if we manage not to swallow the toxic muck, it manages to enter our bodies.” Odourless and colourless, the carbon gases can cause suffocation. If the worker survives the initial ordeal, he crouches inside and loads the sludge into leaky metal buckets or wicker baskets for his team to haul out. Depending on the clog, the entire operation could take up to 48 hours. “We often work after midnight. When people sleep, the flow in the sew- ers is lesser, and our work does not disturb road-users,”...

    ...The CEC’s 2005 survey of 200 DJB manhole workers found that... 91.5 percent of them (were)from suffering injuries and 80 percent suffering eye infections. The survey found that diseases like leptospirosis, viral hepatitis and typhoid were common....

    ...Not surprisingly, most of the workers die before retirement. Owing to loss of appetite and inevitable alcoholism, many men shrink to half their size if they work 20 years. The average lifespan of a manhole worker is about 45. And if a worker does not die inside a manhole, the civic body does not offer any monetary compensation for illnesses/deaths owing to occupational hazards. In Delhi, permanent workers get a monthly “risk allowance” of Rs 50..."

    The CEC (Center for Education and Communication) also reported that among those who worked in the manholes:

  • Few workers in age group 50-59; most die before retirement

  • 35 percent illiteracy

  • Monthly wage for daily wagers Rs 2,950

  • More than 40 percent of workers are not permanent though more than 90 percent of them have been working for more than five years continuously

  • 60 percent of workers enter manholes more than 10 times a month

  • Acute illnesses:
    - eye irritation (79%),
    - upper respiratory tract irritation (57%),
    - difficulty in breathing (38%),
    - skin rash (60.5%),
    - cut and injury (91.5%).

  • Chronic illnesses:
    - fatigue (76%),
    - watering/burning of eyes (36%),
    - cough (72.5%),
    - skin irritation (41%),
    - skin roughness (36%),
    - skin rash (45.5%),
    - lower backache (27%)

    Hardly the life-conditions for "spiritual enlightenment" or experiencing the "yeh suhana mausam" (this lovely weather)!.... And if one wants to move out/up to the metaphorical state of a sonar, wouldn't that be natural?

    Maybe that is why we need to map caste-based discrimination on a contunuum of Subliminal to Sublimated...

  • Monday, December 03, 2007

    Let's Kidnap a British Citizen!...

    Of course, one knew about "Extraordinary Rendition" - or to quote from wikipedia, about:

    "Extraordinary rendition and irregular rendition are terms used to describe the kidnapping and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another, and the term torture by proxy is used by some critics to describe extraordinary rendition by the United States, with regard to the alleged transfer of suspected terrorists to countries known to employ harsh interrogation techniques that may rise to the level of torture."

    Or according to Amnesty International, it:

    "...refer to a variety of practices by the US authorities involving transfers of individuals from one country to another, without any form of judicial or administrative process such as extradition. These practices, usually carried out in secret, include transferring "war on terror" detainees into the custody of other states, assuming custody of individuals from foreign authorities and abducting suspects on foreign soil...

    ...Some victims of "rendition" have later turned up in official US detention centres, such as Guantánamo Bay. Others have simply "disappeared" after being arrested by US agents or turned over to US custody.

    It has been reported that the CIA, often using covert aircraft leased by front companies, has flown individuals to countries including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Most of the states to which the USA transfers these individuals are known to use torture and other ill-treatment in interrogations. It is alleged that states which are known to practise torture have been specifically selected to receive detainees for interrogation and that detainees have been threatened by US interrogators that they will be sent to such states.

    It has also been reported that victims of "rendition" transferred to US custody from other countries have been held in US-run secret detention centres outside US territory..."

    In fact, this June, BBC Channel 4 telecasted the documentary "Kidnapped to Order" made by Stephen Grey - among those kidnapped were also women and children (often from the family of a suspected terrorist). According to an interview with a CIA official in the documentary, of the 35,000-40,000 people who were kidnapped, at least 85% were innocent!!!
    (Click here to watch/download the film)

    All such "extraordinary measures" were/ are justified in the context of the "extraordinary time" in the post-911 era and "War on Terror"...

    But apparently, in the scheme of things, the "extraordinary measures" are actually ordinary acts of an Empire... And so last month:

    "America has told Britain that it can "kidnap" British citizens if they are wanted for crimes in the United States.

    A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it.

    The admission will alarm the British business community after the case of the so-called NatWest Three, bankers who were extradited to America on fraud charges. More than a dozen other British executives, including senior managers at British Airways and BAE Systems, are under investigation by the US authorities and could face criminal charges in America.

    Until now it was commonly assumed that US law permitted kidnapping only in the "extraordinary rendition" of terrorist suspects.

    The American government has for the first time made it clear in a British court that the law applies to anyone, British or otherwise, suspected of a crime by Washington..."

    This admission was made by Alun Jones QC, representing the US government in a British court:

    "The United States does have a view about procuring people to its own shores which is not shared... If you kidnap a person outside the United States and you bring him there, the court has no jurisdiction to refuse — it goes back to bounty hunting days in the 1860s.”
    (click here to know about bounty hunting

    Of course, this news item is apparently/perhaps (and hopefully not) only the tip of the iceberg!!!

    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    Iran, Venzuela, Warren Buffet, Taj Mahal & supermodels - and US$

    Of course, anyone following the global financial news will know that the 50-year old global romance with US$ is coming to an end... The signs were there since quite some time...

    What has changed is that what could be earlier explained as a geo-political or high-end financial investor pheonomenon, is now trickling down to mundane affairs.

    The snap-shots of this worn-out/wearing-out romance look like this:

    1. Earlier, it was the Communists/"Axis of Terror" countries, who started terminating the relationship

  • In Nov 2000, Iraq - with world's 2nd largest oil reserves - switched from US$ to Euro in its oil trade (and consequently, got liberated/invaded!)

  • In Nov 2004, Cuba banned trasactions in US$ and switched to Euro

  • In May 2006, the Russian Finance Minister, Alexei Kudrin, described US$ as an "unreliable as a reserve currency". Russia has been selling oil in Euros since last 4-5 years.

  • In Nov 2007, in the OPEC meeing Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that US$ has become a "worthless piece of paper"... Since 2003, in any case, Iran had started demanding to be paid in Euro for oil - and had thus became a part of "axis of evil" country>...

  • and of course Venezuela... along with Sudan, South Korea, China, etc.
    etc., etc..

    2. Then, the financially-savvy investors started moving away
  • Two years back, in the World Economic Forum, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates publicly dumped the US$: "I'm short the dollar... The ol' dollar, its gonna go down."

  • Warren Buffet echoed Bill Gates sentiments then, and again noted this year: "We still are negative on the dollar relative to most major currencies, so we bought stocks in companies that earn their money in other currencies".

  • Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital described: "The dollaris a basket case"

  • Investor Jim Rogers, a former partner of George Soros, of Rogers Holdings (formerly Beeland Interests Inc.) advised people to get out of dollar: "If you have dollars, I urge you to get out... That's not a currency to own." In fact, he is following his own advise by selling his property in dollars to buy Yuan, and expects that he will be able to get rid of all his dollar assets by next summer
    etc. etc...

    3. The friendly countries/allies start bidding farewells
    One can dismiss the above since countries like Cuba, Iran or Venezuela have a political point to make against US. And investors, at best, would be following their self-interest - they would move away from a weak dollar and come back once the dollar picks up.

    But more recently, even the friendly countries are getting disenchanted with US$
  • In May this year, Kuwait stopped pegging its currency, the dinar, to the US$. This was not out of any animosity against US; it was just two expensive for Kuwait to keep the dinar linked to the dollar.

  • In August, US Treasury showed outflows of $163bn from all forms of US investments. This was the first time since 1998 that on balance the foreigners sold the US Treasuries. Japan and China led a record withdrawl of foreign funds - followed by Taiwan.

  • In October this year, the Qatari and Vietnamese governments announced that they are rapidly divesting in dollar denominated securities. Qatari Prime Minister mentioned that the government-backed $50bn Qatari Investment Authority (QIA) now had less than 40 per cent of its investments in dollars, down from a high two years ago of 99 per cent.

  • In the recently concluded meeting of OPEC heads, a closed door meeting "accidentally" got telecasted to journalists. In response to pressure by Venezuela and Iran to replace US$ by a basket of currency for oil trade, Saud al-Faisal, foreign minister of U.S. ally Saudi Arabia said: "...the mere mention that the OPEC countries are studying the issue of the dollar is itself going to have an impact that endangers the interests of the countries..."... That's why, while the issue was discussed and debated, it did not find mention on the draft declaration.

  • More recently, last week, People's Bank of China vice-director Xu Jian declared the dollar was "losing its status as the world currency." With a dollar-denominted forex of more than a $trillion, this statement may have wider implications.

    4. And now these minor reverberations!
    Nearer home in India, two developments took place during last couple of months.

  • Five-star Hotels such as the Le Meridien, the Taj group and ITC Maurya have switched over to a rupee-tariff regime. The foreign guests are required to pay in INR, and not in US$. Accoriding to the COO of Le Meridien: "The dollar was falling every day for the last couple of months ... decision was taken to charge a single tariff from October"

  • Foreign tourists to about 120 of India's famous historical landmarks (including 27 World Heritage sites, Taj Mahal being one of them) will need to pay the entrance fee in Indian Rupee, and not in US dollar.

    And last but not the least, a news from Brazil:

  • Not that one needs to learn about currency markets from supermodels, but when the 27-year old Gisele Bundchen, the Brazilian supermodel, insisted that she wants to be paid in any other currency, but not US dollars for P&G's Pantene hair product ads, I guess the domino's effect is taking place...

    Related Posts:
  • April 17th, 2003: Gulf War-II: Saving the US$ against Euro
  • December 9th,2004: The Collapseof Dollar Economy??
  • February 3rd, 2005: US$ vs. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, George Soros, China
  • January 5th, 2007: The Collapse of U$D Economy?? - Part II
  • October 4th, 2007: Tipping Point for US$?

  • Saturday, November 10, 2007

    High-Price of the Low-Cost Cars

    Indian automobile industry is buzzing with the low-cost (read Rs.100,000/-) car. The Tatas announced this Rs.1lac car for the aspiring Indian middle-class. Other automobile makers (M&M, Maruti, TVS, etc.) have also hinted but are keeping their plans secret.

    So how low-cost is the low-cost car?

    Except for the small car project in Singur, the other ventures are still in the offing, and the details are not available in public space. So perhaps the Singur small car project provides the indication of the economics involved in the other small-car projects yet to come up.

    According to a LiveMint article:

    "At the recent Geneva Motor Show, Mr Ratan Tata admitted that the price of Rs 100,000 would be ex-factory, excluding taxes and that models with air-conditioning and other features would cost more."

    So how much are these "excluded" taxes - and who gets it?

    The same article informs that the additional taxes will be:

  • 16% in terms of excise duty
  • 40% in terms of MODVAT
  • 12% in terms of local sales tax levied by the states

    In real terms, this means that the much hyped Rs.1lac (Rs.100,000) car will actually cost Rs.1.68lac (Rs.168,000/-) car to the consumer (unless you want it "with air-conditioning and other features" - which will cost more).

    At an intial capacity of 250,000 units/annum of the proposed Singur plan, this translates into about Rs. 170 crores as taxes to the govt.

    In addition, the Singur plant will also provide a rent for the Rs.855 crores for the 1000 acres of leased land.

    If I were a "Socialist" (as I am often categorised by some... even though personally, between/beyond the socialist/capitalist continuum, I prefer to remain a non-ideoligical realist/pragmatist), I would say that that this 68% tax + rent (more than Rs.1000 crores) would help the govt. to do all the good things it is supposed to do for the common citizen, e.g., invest in public infrastructure and provide basic services (healthcare, education, sanitation, land-rights, etc.).

    Unfortunately, that is not the case...

    So who gets the benfits of these taxes?

    Somehow in this economic paradigm of growth, the benefits do not "trickle down".

    As the table below (The Telegraph, March 16, 2007), shows:

  • There is no requirement for upfront payment for the land by the promoters

  • The Singur plant promoters get a soft loan of Rs200 crores (at 1% interest) from the state govt. Rationale (as explained by the industry minister: "“Unless we give these concessions to the Tatas, other states will wean them away and that would be a big jolt to our efforts to effect a turnaround for Bengal."

  • VAT to be refunded as loan at 0.1% interest to the promoters

  • The rent for leased land will be paid at 1% (i.e., Rs9.5crores) over next 90 years!!

    ...And, in terms of social cost-and benefits, how many people get benefitted from this venture?

    7,500!!... and 11,000 families get displaced

    ....overall cost to society?

    Commenting on the above, Ashok Mitra wrote in an op-ed:

    "To persuade this fabulously rich group to start a modest-sized car factory here, the state government has already spent something around Rs 150 crore to acquire close to 1,000 acres of land... this entire tract of land on a ninety-year lease without any down payment at all. For the first five years of the lease, they will pay only one crore rupees; for the next twenty-five years, the payment will increase by 25 per cent at five-year intervals; for the next thirty years payment will be raised at five-year intervals by 33 per cent; for the final twenty years, the rent will be only Rs 20 crore per year.

    The discounted present value of what the Tatas have agreed to pay, any respectable accountant will vouchsafe, will hardly exceed Rs 50 crore. Equally necessary to take into account here are the historical trends in the rate of inflation and the likely explosion of real estate values through the decades...

    ... The state government is, in addition, offering... a loan worth Rs 200 crore carrying a nominal interest of only 1 per cent (as against the rate currently charged by the banks of at least 10 per cent); the principal, one suspects, is never intended to be returned. Finally, in terms of the lease agreement, the entire proceeds for the first ten years of the value-added tax on the sale of this precious car in West Bengal are proposed to be handed back to the Tatas, again at a nominal interest of only 1 per cent. If 40,000 cars are sold every year in West Bengal — not an unreconcilable assumption — with a value-added tax at 12.5 cent, this particular act of magnanimity on the part of the state would ensure an extra bonanza of more than Rs 500 core for the Tatas.

    All told, therefore, the group is being offered the allure of around Rs 850 crore by the state government, apart from their being spared the bother of acquiring the land through their own efforts."

    What this comment does not elucidate is that even though it the state government who is paying this Rs.850 crore, in reality this money ultimately comes from the taxes paid by the citizens.

    In additionthere are the costs, which are not calculated in the economics of growth of the "low-cost" car industry, e.g.,:

    - the cost of roads - and their maintenance - on which these "low-cost"(!!) cars will move

    - the cost of air pollution (and the healthcare costs)... though that will add to GDP - naturally!!

    - the cost of livelihoods which depend on the land they subsist on... etc.

    Pl do watch Aabad Bhumi:

    Other Related Posts can be accessed here

  • Tuesday, November 06, 2007

    India's National Income: Camel, Pigs, Betel Leaves, Kutcha Houses and all...

    I had blogged about the shifting basis of calculation of national income sometime last year. But frankly, I was ignorant about what all can go into making "India Shining" for the "Aam Aadmi"

    In that context, this piece by Ashok V Desai in today's Telegraph is just too good - and surreal - not to quote from (though I would recommend that one should read the full op-ed):

    "An event occurred unnoticed on January 31, 2006.... It is the change in the base year of national income estimates from the financial year 1993-94 to 1999-2000... (till) 1999-2000, our national income did not include the value of goat’s milk or camel milk, betel leaves produced in West Bengal and Assam, duck eggs, or salt made by evaporating seawater. Furthermore, it ignored the fact that like animals, trees also grow, and became more valuable as they grow.

    Gold and jewellery have been amongst our prize possessions for millennia; but it was only in 1999-2000 that their purchases were included... a special new rubric was created for them; they will be found under capital formation...

    If an enterprise made a loss, I would have thought that this was negative value added and should be subtracted from national income. But then,... the CSO now treats all losses of public enterprises as imputed subsidies. Would it equally treat losses of private companies as subsidies? I doubt it...

    We have developed a large industry to make software. It is of such recent origin that it was ignored in previous compilations. But by 1999-2000 its output was significant, and it had to be taken into account. Is software a consumer good or an investment good?... After due deliberation, the CSO classified it as investment... The CSO’s practice of treating all software as equipment leads to an overestimate of national income; but the alternative is perhaps too complex for a government organization.

    ...Foreign companies have subsidiaries in India. If they save their profits and reinvest them in the business, that increases the value of the business and adds to the foreign companies’ assets — which are, so to say, India’s liabilities to foreign investors. Those reinvested profits somehow went unnoticed all these years; now they are included in foreign inward investment.

    ...On the insistence of the Assam DES, the CSO included Rs 13.55 billion’s worth of betel leaves. The Andhra DES insisted on the inclusion of toddy, but had no clue about its value. So the CSO studied consumption data from the National Sample Survey and came to the figure of Rs 5.44 billion...

    ...The Socio-economic Research Centre had said that a camel gave 700 grams of hair a year if it had one hump, and 3 kilograms if it had two... However, the NRCC (National Research Centre on Camel in Bikaner) disowned these figures, and said that a single-humped camel gave 800 grams of hair. Just why a double-humped camel gives almost four times as much hair as one with a single hump is not known; but then, the NRCC is the expert on camels, and must be trusted. There is no National Research Centre on Pigs... So the CSO went to the Bhongaon Pig Fair in Mainpuri district and gave a haircut to a number of pigs. The average pig yielded 155 grams. Camels and pigs together accounted for Rs 180 million of hair.

    ... kutcha houses; the resources that go into their construction should be included in investment. This category has turned out to be very convenient for the CSO. It found that as tea shrubs, coffee creepers and rubber trees grew, they became more valuable. Not knowing where to put this value added, the CSO classified it as kutcha construction. This habit of treating trees as kutcha houses became an addiction; the CSO went on to define as kutcha value added by growing plants of seven kinds — mango, grape, coconut, arecanut, cashewnut, sapota, and citrus fruit. Then recently it found that many tall, sophisticated windmills had gone up in the country. Not knowing what to do with them, the CSO classified them too as kutcha houses...

    Even after including everything possible in kutcha houses, a number of services remained. These include sewage and refuse disposal, social work, unorganized hairdressing and beauty treatment, and funeral services. One could question whether the output of extraterritorial organizations such as embassies is a part of a country’s income at all. The CSO thinks it is; they too are dumped into other services together with rubbish dumps and cemeteries.

    If an animal gives milk, is hitched to a cart or plough or gives babies, it is treated as a capital asset. The change in the number of animals is termed investment, and the capital stock is depreciated. But pigs and chicken are not considered durable assets; change in their numbers is treated as a change in stocks, not as investment."

    Desai concludes:

    "...While the CSO has included the value of camels’ hair and pigs’ bristles, I am not sure it has included the value of the services of the artists who cut their hair. That exclusion leaves the figures for beauty treatment severely underestimated...."


    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    India: Between Hopes and Despair...

    As individuals, we all go through our own internal contradictions between the reality and the aspirations - so, apparently does a country...

    The following are some of the headlines I could pick up during last one month, showing the internal struggles/ contradictions of the contemporary India:

  • India’s GDP to cross trillion dollar mark in 07-08
    Speaking at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, Oslo on ‘India’s Socio Economic Agenda: Development with Democracy’, the Finance Minister P Chidambaram said that GDP at market prices has increased from US $20 billion in 1950-51 to US $912 billion in 2006-07 and is expected to cross the trillion dollar mark in the current year.... in terms of purchasing power parity, India’s GDP at US $4 trillion in 2006-07 accounted for 6.3 per cent of global GDP.

  • Global Hunger Index 2007: India ranks 94th in global list, trails behind China...
    Despite averaging over 8.5% growth since 2000, India has achieved less than half of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal targets in hunger and is 94th on the Global Hunger Index of 118 countries, a report released by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said.

  • Sensex hits 20,000
    After a three-day hiatus, FIIs became net buyers on Monday at Rs 688 crore... The Sensex surged above 20,000 for the first time on Monday in tune with other Asian markets, as traders priced in another rate cut by the US Federal Reserve this week.

  • World Toilet Summit lays down sanitation as a human right
    In 2007, 50 per cent (Indian) homes have access to a toilet.... Manual scavenging is banned in India but is still practised as large numbers of toilets, specially in semi-urban and rural areas, are not connected with sewage systems... An estimated 50,000 manual scavengers in India still clean toilets and toilet pits with their hands and carry the human excreta to dumping sites...

  • Mukesh Ambani is world's richest man
    Billionaire Mukesh Ambani today became the richest person in the world, surpassing American software czar Bill Gates, Mexican business tycoon Carlos Slim Helu and famous investment guru Warren Buffett, courtesy the bull run in the stock market.

  • Caste and faith first in companies, merit next
    Liberalisation and a free market economy have not changed traditional biases in companies.... A study conducted by American and Indian scholars... responded to 548 job advertisements in over 66 weeks and sent about 4,800 applications were sent.... The results were shocking: For every 100 upper-caste candidates who received calls for interviews, only 67 Dalit and 33 Muslim candidates were called. Upper-caste candidates who were not well qualified got better responses than Dalit applicants with higher degrees.

  • Tenth Fortune Global Forum begins in New Delhi

    Top CEOs, head of states, academics and leading thinkers are gathering here to discuss the most pressing issues facing global business at the 10th Fortune Global Forum.... This year’s Forum is centered on ‘Mastering the Global Economy,’ a theme in which leaders will discuss the market realities that companies face in the midst of global integration... Speakers at the Forum include Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; Chairman and CEO of Time Warner, Richard D. Parsons; Finance Minister P. Chidambaram; Chairman of Wipro Ltd, Azim H. Premji; Chairman and CEO of The Goldman Sachs Group, Lloyd Blankfein; Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems, John Chambers and Henry M. Paulson, Jr., Secretary of the Treasury, U.S. Treasury Department.

  • Recovering the lost plot
    While India saw unprecedented prosperity in the last 15 years, its foodgrain intake declined — millions more of its people now live in hunger.... A major source of the trouble in the countryside is the erosion of land rights. Traditional land rights of adivasis and small farmers are denied either in the name of development or through manipulations of the land mafia. More and more people are becoming landless.

  • India's high net worth population holds $350 billion in financial wealth
    The number of 'high net worth individuals' (HNWIs) in India at the end of 2006, grew by 20.5 per cent to 100,000... HNWIs are people with net financial assets of at least $1 million, excluding their primary residence and consumables... Indian HNWIs held a combined $350 billion in financial assets at the end of 2006.

  • Farm-led growth strongest weapon against poverty
    GDP growth originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth originating outside agriculture, according to the World Development Report 2008, which focuses on ‘Agriculture for Development’. It suggests that South Asian countries, with about 60 per cent of their labour force employed in agriculture, should place importance on agricultural growth to reduce poverty as “the transition of people out of agriculture and rural areas is not keeping pace with the restructuring of economies away from agriculture”.

    ... or as,in a different context, TS Elliot wrote (The Hollow Men):

    Between the desire
    And the spasm
    Between the potency
    And the existence
    Between the essence
    And the descent
    Falls the Shadow...

  • Saturday, October 27, 2007

    Ekalavya Applies for a Job!!

    Let's suppose the modern-day Ekalavya is able to convince the Dronacharyas, manages to get into a decent educational institution, does well in his/her study (or as well as the modern-day Pandavas)...

    Or alternatively, the Swaminomics' suggestion that "creating quality schools and colleges for dalits and tribals would be a far better form of affirmative action than job reservation in the private sector", gets implemented, and so Ekalavya goes through this special institution to prepare him/her to join the mainstream society with adequate "merit"...

    ...and then applies for a job!

    Chances are that s/he will find that the world has still not changed - not for him/her.

    These are the findings of a recent study, which was done by the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS) and Princeton University:

    "The researchers filed 4,808 applications for 548 jobs advertised in English newspapers over 66 weeks starting October 2005. Applications by equally-qualified males from higher upper castes, Dalits and Muslims were filed for each vacancy and the response from the corporate sector was shocking.

    While all higher upper caste candidates were called for interviews for a particular job vacancy, only 67% Dalits and 33% Muslims were contacted."

    The study, original paper published in The Economic & Political Weekly (Oct 13, 2007) mentions the methodology:

    "The research staff prepared sets of three matched application letters and résumés (in English) for each type of job. These applications had identical educational qualifications and experience. All the résumés and cover letters presented strong applicants for the job opening: they had suitable degrees from reputable universities...

    The only aspect of family background that was communicated in these applications was the applicant’s name, yet this was enough to generate a different pattern of responses to applications from Muslims and dalits, compared to high caste Hindu names. These were all highly-educated and appropriately qualified applicants attempting to enter the modern private sector, yet even in this sector, caste and religion proved influential in determining ones job chances...
    These discriminatory outcomes occurred at the very first stage of the process that Indian university graduates go through to apply for a job...."

    Another recent study by S Madheswaran and Paul Attwell - Cast Discrimination in Indian Urban Labour Market (Economic & Political Weekly, Oct 13 2007) - concluded:

    "...(a) discrimination causes 15 per cent lower wages for SC/STs as compared to equally qualified others; (b) SC/ST workers are discriminated against both in the public and private sectors, but the discrimination effect is much larger in the private sector; (c) discrimination accounts for a large part of the gross earnings difference between the two social groups in the regular salaried urban labour market, with occupational discrimination – unequal access to jobs – being considerably more important than wage discrimination – unequal pay in the same job..."

    So what is the future for Ekalavya?

    Pretty bleak, actually! - because even in the unlikely scenario of enforced job reservations in private sector, Swaminomics recommends the tactics for "Getting Around Job Quota", e.g.,:

    "Faced with job quotas, companies could stop outsourcing and resume in-house operations. They can hire dalits and tribals as sweepers, canteen workers, drivers, chowkidars and so on.... They can open holiday homes for officers in the hills, employing tribals. This will enable them to fulfil job quotas without affecting management or factory quality."

    This, perhaps, also represents the distorted definition of Enlightened Self-Interest in a divided society.

    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    Janadesh'07: India's Anti-Colonial March of 21st Century

    Lalit Vachani's BBC-documentary "In Search of Gandhi" ends with a stark statement:

    We won our freedom sixty years ago, but what has really changed? We proclaim an economic miracle, but the inequality and the violence still continues... there is a new colonialism in India, but we don't seem to care.... After all, we are the colonisers!"

    According to chairman of India's National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes, Balkrishna Renake: "There are 120 million people who have no rights in this country. They are still waiting in independent India for the right to vote, to have schools and teachers, and for their land."

    And so, this month marks perhaps the long march by India's very own colonised citizens - the landless, the tribals, the dalits, the marginal farmers, the displaced, the "project-affected people"... for their right to land - and to dignity.

    Unlike other earlier protest- (and solidarity-) rallies in the Indian Capital, these dispensable people are not coming by buses or trains... they are walking. All 350kms. Since October 2nd, when they started from Gwaliar. 25,000 of them from 13 states, including 11,000 women and about 250 foreign satyagrahis from countries which have similar concerns at the grass-root levels (Brazil, Kenya, France, Ireland, Canada Southeast Asia, etc.).

    The march, Janadesh 2007, organised by Bhopal-based Ekta Parishad is perhaps the first - and definitely the largest - non-violent satyagraha in the post Independence India.

    What do they want?

    “We want the government to set up a national land commission," says PV Rajgopal of Ekta Parishad, "Let the Centre and state governments decide once and for all what land is surplus land, wasteland, scrubland, forest, what’s for roads and railway lines and what’s for SEZs... Land promised under the Bhoodan movement is yet to reach people... (people) have been jailed and dubbed Naxalites for raising the issue of their ancestral lands that today fall either under the Forest Act or have been appropriated for railway lines, roads, dams and sezs. For the last 60 years, people have been either pushed out of their spaces or locked into interminable court cases, jailed or shunted around by laws made with no concern for them.

    But can a mere 25,000 people with no voice in the system, change the fate of the other 70%-plus of the population of this 1.13bn-strong country?

    Maybe!... and hopefully!!

    One remembers the words of Margaret Mead:

    “Never underestimate the power of a handful of individuals to change the world. After all, it’s the only thing that ever does.”

    For more information:

  • Janadesh2007 Global Website
  • Janadesh2007 on Wikipedia
  • Harvest of Dissent
  • Poor but Defiant, Thousands march...
  • India Tribals Begin Massive March
  • Many Feet One Step
  • Janadesh2007 on Google Video
    (Photo credit: various sources from the Net)

  • Sunday, October 21, 2007

    Economic Growth is an 8-Lane Expressway

    Long time back – in the mid ‘80s – I used to live in Delhi. Maruti factory had just come up in Gurgaon – DLF was still developing in a nascent stage - , and sometimes, I had to go there for some professional assignments. It used to take almost 3-4 hours then… A few months back, while visiting the NCR, I had a chance to ply on this yet to be completed expressway, and the experience was akin to a change in paradigm!

    The 28km long New Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway is both a symbol – and a metaphor – of India’s unfolding economic prowess and growth.

    The Symbol:

  • Built on an estimated cost of Rs.750 crores (and Rs.200 crores cost over-run, due to R&R issues), this expressway connects the Indian Capital to the satellite industrial township, Gurgaon.

  • It is also a part of India’s Golden Quadrangle project – a 5,846km of 4- to 6-lane expressways connecting Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. Once completes, this highway will connect this northern business hub with the western ports, as well bring the newly developed Delhi townships like Dwarka into the loop.

  • The Delhi-Gurgaon region has the highest density of vehicles in India, carrying 150,000 automobiles every day – and given that about 1000 automobiles get registered in Delhi everyday, this is likely to increase by over 7% per annum.

  • Once fully commissioned, this expressway will have 11 flyovers; the expressway has more than 22km of 8-lane road, and the rest is 6-lane road.

  • It will only allow vehicles capable of 80km/hr to 100km/hr speeds (local and slow moving traffic will have to use lanes running under the elevated sections); and it will reduce the travel time on the stretch from more than an hour to just 15 minutes.

    The Metaphor:
  • If you happens to be one without a car, this artifact of economic growth is likely to pass you by – in fact, may even impede your movement; though “planned”, there is not a single pedestrian crossing/over- or under-bridge across this 28km 8-lane expressway!!!

  • Thursday, October 04, 2007

    Tipping Point for US$?

    There is an interesting video discussion with the investment expert, Dr Martin D Weiss at "The Great Dollar Panic of 2007-2008" (Click to watch)

    Some excerpts from the transcript:

      "this credit crisis is many times larger.... Back in 1998, Greenspan was dealing with a small tumor in our financial system that could quickly be isolated and contained. Today, his successor, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, is dealing with a cancer that has already spread throughout the financial system...

      ...Back in 1998, Greenspan was dealing with a crisis that was isolated and easily contained. Now, in 2007, Bernanke is dealing with a crisis that is already spreading out of control to 20,000 cities and towns across America.

      In 1998, the epicenter of the crisis was small Asian markets. This time, the epicenter is right here in the United States, with financial markets that are at least a hundred times larger.

      In 1998, Greenspan was dealing with just one major hedge fund in trouble. He was able to sit down with the big banks. They were able to hash out a bailout. They were able to nip the crisis in the bud.

      Now, Bernanke is trying to cope with at least a thousand hedge funds in this sector. If even just one-tenth of them are entangled in this mess — and there's every indication they are — that alone is 100 times more than 1998. Plus, this time, we already have 140 mortgage companies in trouble, bankrupt or mortally wounded.

      Greenspan's 1998 crisis was a ripple. Bernanke's 2007 crisis is a tidal wave....

      ...It's already striking
      . Bernanke is facing a tidal wave of foreclosures in the $824 billion subprime mortgage market... the $722 billion Alt-A mortgage market... the $517 billion jumbo mortgage market... and, ultimately, in the entire $13.5 trillion mortgage market.... Not only the $13.5 trillion mortgage market, but also the $2.2 trillion U.S commercial paper market... the $2.4 trillion consumer credit market... the $10.1 trillion corporate bond market … and, biggest of all, the $144.8 trillion in derivatives held by U.S. banks alone.

    So apparently, this may be, for all you know, the history in making... the concluding part of a trend that was quite apparent in the long-cycle over last many decades:

    Tuesday, October 02, 2007

    A Slum vs. The International Hotel Complex

    When Yamuna Pushta - one of the largest and oldest slum in East Delhi - was demolished a couple of years back, and made way for an eight-lane highway, the Supreme Court ruled:

      "Poverty could not be an excuse for living in slums."

    The court was unimpressed that many of those evicted had been living on this "encroached" land for more than a generation, that they possessed ration cards issued on their addresses, and that they were paying a license fee of Rs. 7000/-p.a. to MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) for possession of their 12.5 sq.m. plot. The court went on to elaborate:
      "Desperation does not mean they will do something illegal by encroaching public land... In India, we have three weather conditions — heat, rain and winter. If we accept your argument, there will never be an appropriate time to demolish illegal structures standing on public land... Nobody forced you to come to Delhi. Is there a right to live in Delhi only? Stay where you can. If encroachments on public land are to be allowed, there will be anarchy."

    Last year,a similar story got repeated. The only difference this time was that the land was for the "International Hotel Complex" project in South Delhi, whose project cost ran into hundreds of crore of rupee, and would host 5-star hotels, shopping malls, recreational facilties, residential and institutional area, etc... and this time the "defaulters" to this 92 hectare ‘constraint area’ (nice term!!) included Maruti Udyog Limited, Ambience Developers Private Limited, Regency Park Management Services Private Limited, Beverly Park Maintenance Services Private Limited and Jasmine Project Private Limited.

    While the court acknowledged that:
      "DDA's advertisement (Hindu Dec 12, 2003 ) states: "purchaser would be required to obtain necessary clearance for the project from the EPCA and/or DPCC before submitting the plans for sanction to the Building Dept of DDA". There is no confirmation that this requirement was fulfilled by the allottees." went on to conclude that:
      "...Had such parties inkling of an idea that such clearances were not obtained by DDA, they would not have invested such huge sums of money. The stand that wherever constructions have been made unauthorisedly demolition is the only option cannot apply to the present cases, more particularly, when they unlike, where some private individuals or private limited companies or firms being allotted to have made contraventions, are corporate bodies and institutions and the question of their having indulged in any malpractices in getting the approval or sanction does not arise..."

    In case, one missed the last line in the quote: when they... are corporate bodies and institutions and the question of their having indulged in any malpractices in getting the approval or sanction does not arise!!!

    Just to complete the story, the SC did ask the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to take remedial measures and penalise the violators.... And the Environment Ministry subsequently cleared the projects by imposing a penalty of Rs. 1 lakh to each of the developer!!!

    Some months back, I was bemused - and depressed - looking at this sign board outside a property of a known-to-be benign corporate house:

    I guess, it says all about the "aam aadmi" (the common man)... our version of The Unauthorized Person!!!

    Saturday, September 22, 2007

    From "Indian Slum" to "Shining India"

    There are many paths from a Slum to the "Shining India". Here are two:

    This one is a short and quick... takes less than 2 minutes

    India Nude

    The other one is a longer route to dignity, more arduous path... yet, one which celebrates the human spirit... love, support, self-confidence...:

    Indian Slum Girl Makes it

    Surprisingly (again, not-really-surprisingly!), this piece of information came not from the star-struck Indian media, but from Al-Jazeera

    [On another note, it is nice to post this 251st post on Alternative Perspective on the eve of its 5th anniversary;0)]

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    Why IT does not "trickle down"?

    Earlier, the criticism/skepticism came from the left-of-center/leftist activists/academicians... then it was the politicians like Manmohan Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyer, who voiced their concern about the uneven social impacts of what goes in the guise of globalisations/free-trade, etc., ... or whatever

    and now this comes from one of the central stakeholders of the current zeitgeist, the Executive Director of Morgan Stanley, Chetan Ahya:

      "Globalisation and capitalism have been the two key drivers of India’s GDP growth acceleration over the past five years.... The business environment is changing, allowing entrepreneurial spirit to flourish. This trend is reflected in the divergence in corporate profit and wages relative to GDP. Over the past five years, retained corporate operating profits (gross of capital charges) to GDP have shot up to an estimated 9.1% in F2007 from 3.7% in F2002, while wages to GDP have declined to an estimated 28.7% from 31%.

      These two trends (globalisation and capitalism) have helped accelerate India’s GDP growth to an average of 7.6% over the past five years from 5.7% in the 1990s... The worrying aspect of the trend in globalisation and capitalism is the rising social challenges on account of increasing inequality. We believe the rise in inequality, when absolute poverty levels are still very high, poses a major political challenge.

      Although recent data are not available, the World Bank gauges that income/consumption inequality (as measured by the Gini Index) increased to 30.5% in 2004 from 27.7% in 1994 (the point from which growth started accelerating) in rural areas and to 37.6% in 2004 from 33.3% in 1994 in urban areas. We believe that this is likely to have increased further over the past three years.

      The inequality gap in wealth is even starker... our analysis indicates that India has witnessed an increase in wealth of over $1 trillion (over 100% of GDP) in the past four years — and that the bulk of this gain has been concentrated within a very small segment of the population."
    so why does this wealth not trickle down?

    Chetan Ahya offers 3 domains of wealth creation ("three key sources of wealth accretion have been the equity market, property and gold") and how/why the nature of wealth creation remains confined to the upper-end of the society:

    1. Equity Market:
    "Stock market capitalisation has increased from $120 billion as of March 2003 to $1 trillion as of May 2007. Adjusted for foreign and government ownership, the implied overall gain for domestic shareholders is $570 billion. As per the Securities Exchange Board of India, only 4-7% of the population own equities. Even within this group, the ownership is likely to be highly concentrated as almost $350 billion of the increase is accounted for by promoters (controlling stakeholders)."

    2. Property:
    "...household wealth creation through residential property will have been at least $300-500 billion. However, only an estimated 47% of the population own a ‘pucca’ house (a house wherein walls and roofs are made of stable construction materials). Even within this segment of ‘pucca’ housing, the higher-income classes own a large proportion of the area in terms of square feet."

    3. Gold:
    "On our estimates, the market value of India’s stock of gold has increased by approximately $200 billion since March 2003 to $370 billion currently. The gains under this asset class, though unequal, should have been more widely distributed than those related to equity and property. According to a survey of household assets conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation, as of June 2002, the top 34% of households (in terms of wealth) held 71% of the value of consumer durables (including gold and jewellery)."

    To me, this is actually somewhat simplistic analysis... but what this article does bring home is that somewhere in that sphere, there are - thankfuly - people who are also becoming skeptical about this whole issue of:

    "why it does not trickle down?"

    Wednesday, August 29, 2007

    The Man Who Moved the Mountain

    I had once written about him...

    A tribute to this man...he died last week.

    Outlook Magazine wrote wrote about him:

      "Every morning, for 22 long years, a frail, diminutive man, barefoot and clad in a loin cloth, would trudge two kilometres to a hillock of solid rock and chip away at it with a hammer and chisel. Bemused onlookers thought he had lost his mind, and he was an object of great fun for village urchins. But the women of the village, young and old, admired him, for his was a labour of love."
    It took him 22 years - from 1962 to 1984 - to chisel through a massive 360 feet long, 25 feet high and 30 feet wide sheer rock, and to carve out the shortest possible route between his village Gelaur, and the nearest town, Wazirganj.

    This was his memorial to his wife, who had died on her way to the Wazirganj hospital, because the road around the rock was 19km long, and took long time to traverse... a memorial

      "...that won't ever find a place in hallowed global must-visit lists, but can well be passed down from this generation to the next as a monument of love. A poor man's Taj, literally. Not for its aesthetics, but for the way it symbolises the human spirit's capacity to endure, its indomitability..."
    Dasrath Manjhi was the man who moved the mountain!

    Wednesday, August 22, 2007

    Floods in India??... Really??

    It is, sadly - but not surprisingly - true!!

    If you go to Google News and search "floods India", of the more than 5,000 links, only 4-5 are from Indian media. The figure is only indicative of the focus... even search on the websites of Indian MSM, the figures are telling...

    Apparently, the media - and people - around the world are more aware and concerned about the Indian flood situation - which according to UN has affected close to 35-40mn people, has damaged or destroyed 1.28mn homes across 260mn hectares in more than 200 flood-affected districts, and is one of the worst flood disaster in recent history. UP, Bihar, Assam and Orissa are the worst impacted accounting for almost 24mn affected people (including 3mn children).

    An article in New York Times reports:

      "The monsoon rains in India are a democratic force. When the skies open, the water pours on the homes of rich and poor alike. But after the deluge, the poor always suffer most.

      ....But for survivors, the real endurance test is just beginning. With crops destroyed and fields bloated with water, there will be no agricultural work for millions of landless laborers here for months, leaving them to rely on the sporadic support of aid agencies and government relief organizations.

      ...there are gradations within this poverty, and subclasses of richer and poorer.

      The flood waters began receding in mid-August, replaced by a stinking, stagnant sludge, but villages remained cut off, and many of those houses that have re-emerged are uninhabitable. Hundreds of thousands of people are sheltered beneath bed sheets along raised highways, just inches away from the traffic, which grinds past, splattering them with mud. Life cannot yet begin again for most.... those with the least to lose had lost the most...."
    And the coverage from Indian media?...
    ...the article goes on to say:

      "At a national level, the plight of these flood victims arouses little compassion. In early August, when the United Nations declared the floods the worst in living memory, the miserable condition of the 31 million people affected in India was covered internationally but was neither front-page news in New Delhi newspapers nor featured on national news channels. Instead, bulletins were dominated by the sentencing of a Bollywood star to jail.

      Such apathy is not unusual. Newspapers in India often neglect the suffering of the rural poor, more preoccupied with the triumphs of the emerging India than with the familiar stories of extreme hardship experienced by hundreds of millions of Indians living on the land."
    The statement "At a national level, the plight of these flood victims arouses little compassion" is apparently true... and not just for the MSM.

    In Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 15th August Independence Day speech, this was the only mention about "floods":

      "I urge states to look upon water as a national asset and work to resolve inter-state disputes over water sharing with an attitude of give and take. It is only through a cooperative approach that lasting solutions can be found to recurring problems, like floods and drought. We should work together to prevent the destruction caused by the ravages of nature, like floods."

    Needless to say that all the images in this post are not from India media!

    Sunday, August 12, 2007

    The World According to "Indian Ants"...

    Since this parable (it can be titled: "World According to Ants") has been doing rounds on the net (as chainmails, blog postings, etc.... and one of the avid - and disagreeing - reader of this blog, added this story to his comments on the last post :) - I thought it worth blogging about what this story (propaganda!!?) actually means - (at least to me!)...

    but first the story/parable
    (if you have already read it, skip it and go to the end of the post):


      The ant works hard in the withering heat all long building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away. Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed. The grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold.

      The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant's a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away. Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

      NDTV, BBC, CNN show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.
      The World is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be that this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? Arundhati Roy stages a demonstration in front of the ant's house. Medha Patkar goes on a fast along with other grasshoppers demanding that grasshoppers be relocated to warmer climates during winter. Amnesty International and Koffi Annan criticize the Indian Government for not upholding the fundamental rights of the grasshopper.

      The Internet is flooded with online petitions seeking support to the grasshopper (many promising Heaven and Everlasting Peace for prompt support as against the wrath of God for non-compliance). Opposition MP's stage a walkout. Left parties call for "Bharat Bandh" in West Bengal and Kerala demanding a Judicial Enquiry. CPM in Kerala immediately passes a law preventing Ants from working hard in the heat so as to bring about equality of poverty among ants and grasshoppers. Lalu Prasad allocates one free coach to Grasshoppers on all Indian Railway Trains, aptly named as the 'Grasshopper Rath'.

      Finally, the Judicial Committee drafts the "Prevention of Terrorism Against Grasshoppers Act [POTAGA]", with effect from the beginning of the winter. Arjun Singh makes Special Reservation for Grass Hopper in educational Institutions & in Govt offices.

      The ant is fined for failing to comply with POTAGA and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government and handed over to the grasshopper in a ceremony covered by NDTV.

      Arundhati Roy calls it "a triumph of justice". Lalu calls it 'Socialistic Justice'. CPM calls it the 'revolutionary resurgence of the downtrodden' Koffi Annan invites the grasshopper to address the UN General Assembly.

      Many years later... The ant has since migrated to the US and set up a multi billion dollar company in Silicon Valley. 100s of grasshoppers still die of starvation despite reservation somewhere in India...

      As a result losing lot of hard working ants and feeding the grasshoppers, India is still a developing country.....

      This modern urban-India parable says 2 things:

    • Ants are quite oblivious - and uneducated - about the contribution of the Grasshoppers to the economic ecology. For instance, apparently they have no idea that the Grasshoppers who "laugh & dance and play the summer away" actually contribute to - as mentioned in an earlier posting:

      - 60% of Net Domestic Product
      - 68% of income
      - 60% of savings
      - 31% of agricultural exports
      - 41% of manufactured exports

      (and, therefore, contribute just as much to the "number-driven Self-Esteem" of the "globally emergent"/"shining" Indian Ants :)

    • ... and it does not mention how the Ants "lay up supplies for the winters"!!...

      In nature/ real world, this is how it happens !!!

    • Tuesday, August 07, 2007

      Presidents "Robert Bush" vs "George W Mugabe"

      BBC (Aug 4, 2007) reports:
      Mugabe Approves Surveillance Law

        "Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has approved a new law allowing the security services to intercept postal, internet and telephone communications. The law also establishes a state-run communications monitoring centre.

        Officials say the new law is meant to provide security and prevent crime but critics say it is aimed at stifling opposition to Mr Mugabe.... Both houses of parliament approved the new law in June."
      Two days later, New York Times (Aug 6, 2007) echoed: Bush Signs Law to Widen Reach for Wiretapping

        "President Bush signed into law on Sunday legislation that broadly expanded the government’s authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants.

        ...the new law for the first time provided a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens."
      To many laymen like me, it will remain a mystery why these two gentlemen don't see eye-to-eye with each other! (*_^)

      Friday, August 03, 2007

      From "Mass Media" to "Mass Reality"

      The title of this post is plagiarised from an article by P Sainath, who, earlier this week, became another Indian to win Ramon Magsaysay Award. The award to this developmental jounalist was given for "passionate commitment as a journalist to restore the rural poor to India's consciousness, moving the nation to action."

      ...for reminding his audience that, in their ignorance, they may actually be becoming "Nero's Guests"

      Here are some quotes from his various writings, which give a glimpse into the mind that made this transition from "mass media" to "mass reality"

      • "By official estimates, over one lakh farmers have taken their lives in the last 10 years. Not a single person has been punished for it. There have been lots of relief packages, but more packaging than relief. What sort of human beings and reporters would we be to stay silent, throw in the towel?"

      • "As for the media, there is a great and urgent need for introspection. The failure of journalism was far more predictable than the poll results. For years now, the media have stopped talking to ordinary people. How on earth can they tell their readers and viewers what is going on? There are 400-plus journalists to cover Lakme India Fashion Week. Almost none to cover the agricultural crisis in any informed way. The labour and agriculture beats in newspapers are almost extinct. The media have decided that 70 per cent of the population does not make news. The electorate has decided otherwise."

      • "Embedded journalism is a state of the mind. You don’t have to be travelling with an army to be an embedded journalist. Between 1965 and 1975, there were 5,000 American journalists in Saigon, and they still didn’t get the story right. Not one of these unembedded guys managed to tell the true story of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident for about a decade. So ‘embeddedness’ is a state of mind, you can sit right next to your PC in your office in Oklahoma or wherever and be an embedded journalist.... that it is possible to have the world’s largest media and the world’s least informed public.

      • "In war, the hypocrisy of media sometimes stands naked, so we are all ready to condemn and criticize. However, the same media does that and much worse during peace as well. It does so when it covers the WTO, when it covers the disputes over economics, when it covers markets and market fundamentalism and neoliberal ideologies, when it covers so-called “success stories."

      • "...however much I might support... alternative media experiments, I am not willing to give up my space in the mainstream media. I think that has got to be liberated from the embedded hierarchies of neocolonialism. And to liberate the media from the embedded structures of the global conglomerates, we need public action. We need to assert that public space has to be respected in the private fora, we need to assert that public interest must prevail over private profit, I think we have to recover the public space that the conglomerates have taken over in the media. If you cannot stop the march of monopoly, you will find it very difficult to liberate yourself from embedded propaganda."

      • "...I can't be speaking in the voice of the masses, the people have their own voice. What I can do is talk to peasants and workers and let you know what those conversations are like, and ask if you want to listen. I'm looking at the human condition in this society and telling it the way I see it."

      P Sainath's Writing on India Together
      And if you can get hold of his book "Everybody Loves a Good Drought", don't miss it!

      Wednesday, July 18, 2007

      The More You Have, The More You Get...

      Even though I don't invest in stocks (not being part of the elite clan of 3-5% Indian population who do), I was/am still awed by the news items about the dividends declared by various companies... And the implied "wealth" they must have created for the "middle-class" investors...

      Given this personal context (ignorence?!), I found this report about the dividends paid by Indian companies in the Outlook Business (July 20th '07) quite interesting:

      • Between 01-02 and 06-07, the %age of profits that Indian companies paid as dividends dropped down from 12.85% to 10.71%

      • "In the list of 309 companies (of the BSE 500) only 27 paid out more than 30% of profits as dividends. Of these, 11 were the MNCs that have traditionally reptriated high dividends."

      • However, a look at the top dividend payers (in terms of %age of profits distributed) reveals an interesting finding - 15 of the top 20 dividend-payer companies had promoter holding of over 40%...
      Here is the data for 2006-07:

      Image and video hosting by TinyPic

      One must also note that in India, income from dividends is non-taxable....
      And who were the "Hand-Sum Takers" of promoters' dividend during last 5-years?:

      Asim Premji (Wipro)
      Rs 2,154.38 crores

      Shiv Nadar (HCL Group)
      Rs 1,569.03 crores

      BK Munjal (Hero Group)
      Rs 503.25 crores

      Rahul Bajaj (Bajaj Group)
      Rs 431.79 crores

      Anil Aggarwal (Sterlite)
      Rs 568.11 crores

      Dilip Sanghvi (Sun Pharma)
      Rs 253.25 crores

      ...which reminds me of an old Hindi saying "पैसा पैसे को खीचता है" (money attracts more money) - or in modern paralance, we live in a (self-created) system where "The More You Have, The More You Get"...

      Perhaps, that is why, the "trickle-down effect" does not happen...

      Friday, July 13, 2007

      Bihar I did not know about...

      Bihar, as one "knows" - courtsey, the Indian MSM - is the back of beyond in a global, competitive economy... beyond any hope... and as VS Naipaul described it, where "civilsation ends"... one of the most backward, flogged states in Northern India....

      Thanks to "Hat-Tips" (I guess that is what you say when you follow up from others' blogs) fromKrish and Cool Bihari, I could reach this news-report from BBC

      5 spaces where Bihar outpaces rest of India:

      Women Power
      Bihar is the only state in India to have 50% of places in local municipal bodies reserved for women.... Today half of the 262,000 elected councillors to local municipalities in the state are women.

      "The 50% reservation for women in civic bodies is not only empowering women but educating them to a great extent," says social scientist Dr Shaibal Gupta.

      Speedy Trials
      Fast track courts in Bihar have convicted and sentenced more criminals than courts in any other Indian state in the past 18 months.... Between January 2006 and May 2007, a total of 11,665 criminals were convicted through speedy trials and sent to prison... More than 2,500 were sentenced to life, and 21 others given the death penalty.

      Politicians across party lines have also been tried through speedy trials.

      Special Cops
      Bihar is the only state in India where retired soldiers are being hired as policemen to stem the crime wave.

      They mostly comprise the "special auxiliary police" force - about 5,000 retired soldiers were hired last year and sent to help police various districts.... The force has earned praise from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has asked other states to emulate the model.

      Cash Cow
      Bihar has a long and tortuous history of chronically unprofitable state-owned companies and their unpaid employees taking their lives.

      But Sudha, a dairy co-operative, is a shining exception and one of the most successful exercises of its kind in India.

      Launched in 1993, the co-operative's revenues from a range of milk and milk products has risen from $73.5m in 2001-2002 to $136m today. The co-operative has 6,000 outlets covering 84 towns in the state.... More than 260,000 milk farmers in the state are members of the co-operative, and a private bank has even launched a pension scheme for them.

      Now Sudha has begun "exporting" milk to other Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Delhi.

      Model Taxes
      Did you know that a simplified tax system conceived and launched in Bihar is now being emulated by Sri Lanka and various African countries and has been lauded by the United Nations?

      Introduced by the municipality of Patna, the state capital, in 1993, the tax system, locally known as the "Patna model of taxation" simplifies property tax rates on the basis of the local area and use of property.

      ...States like Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh have adopted the same property tax model.

      The UN was so impressed by the taxation model that it gave a $30,000 award to Bihar for introducing this method.

      Now, one wonders... why do these facts not get reported in the Indian MSM??