31-Jan-2008

Says Who?

From TOI (epaper link, the article is on page 10):
Correcting his father’s scandalous assessment made when he was prime minister that of every rupee spent on rural uplift and poverty alleviation only 16 paise reached the target recipients, Rahul Gandhi recently scaled that figure down to between five and six paise. A report has shown that the much-hyped rural employment guarantee scheme has managed to reach less than 4% of the households it is aimed at.
'A report'? Which report would that be? Small-sized sound bites like this, without any backing up from authoritative sources, chip away steadily at creditable government actions like the NREGA.

Brain Dead Cartoon

From TOI:



Update: Adding that ad hominem attacks don't cut it, and nor does deliberately missing the main point. Like those in this counter view. The main point is that kids and youngsters are the ones at most risk - not those who have minds of their own. True, there are other problems with health care, but accept it, this is also a biggish problem.

We Learn

At least, that's the message I take away from this news:
Hopes revive on pipeline deal
Sujay Mehdudia

NEW DELHI: In a major initiative that could culminate in the clinching of the 2,300 km. trans-border Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora is likely to visit Pakistan in February first week to sort out issues relating to the transit fee.

Highly placed sources on Tuesday said Pakistan’s Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Amanullah Khan Jadoon invited Mr. Deora to pay a visit for sorting out issues pertaining to the project during their meeting in London late last week.

The Pakistan Minister told Mr. Deora that Islamabad was ready for talks some time in the first week of February. Both discussed the possibility of settling the transit fee issue and also the price revision clause sought to be introduced in the contract by Iran.

In a related development, Iran has suggested February 12 or 13 as dates for holding talks with India and Pakistan in Tehran to settle the $7 billion deal.

The U.S. is pressuring India not to go ahead with the project.

Two Worlds

From Churumuri:
“Ironically, the era of the free market has led to the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in India—the secession of the middle and upper classes to a country of their own, somewhere up in the stratosphere where they merge with the rest of the world’s elite. This Kingdom in the Sky is a complete universe in itself, hermetically sealed from the rest of India.

“It has its own newspapers, films, television programmes, morality plays, transport systems, malls and intellectuals. And in case you are beginning to think it’s all joy-joy, you’re wrong.

“It also has its own tragedies, its own environmental issues (parking problems, urban air pollution); its own class struggles. An organisation called Youth for Equality, for example, has taken up the issue of Reservations, because it feels upper castes are discriminated against by India’s pulverised lower castes.

“It has its own people’s movements and candle-light vigils (Justice for Jessica, the model who was shot in a bar) and even its own People’s Car (the Wagon for the Volks launched by the Tata Group recently). It even has its own dreams that take the form of TV advertisements in which Indian CEOs (smeared with Fair & Lovely Face Cream, Men’s) buy over international corporations, including an imaginary East India Company.

“They are ushered into their plush new offices by fawning white women (who look as though they’re longing to be laid, the final prize of conquest) and applauding white men, ready to make way for the new kings. Meanwhile, the crowd in the stadium roars to its feet (with credit cards in its pockets) chanting ‘India! India!’”
That's Arundhati Roy describing one of the two worlds. Here's The Hindu (30 Jan 2008) describing part of the other (the entire page is missing from the online edition, so no link):
Cholera seems to have revisited the city with detection of five cases in a private hospital and 24 samples suspected for cholera sent to Public Health Institute (PHI) for confirmation. On Tuesday, 281 fresh cases of gastroenteritis were also reported, taking the total to 819 since the first case was reported in Bharathinagar on Sunday.
...
The BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply & Seweraage Board) release said: "Some contamination has been detected from 15 houses on Thimmaiah Road Cross. These houses had directly taken water supply connections from the public tap through a GI pipe across a manhole filled with sewage. The water supply to these households was contaminated as the GI pipe was corroded."
...
In many populated areas where roads are very narrow, sewage lines and drinking water pipelines have been laid side by side, which could lead to contamination, sources said.

"This is a repeated experience in Bangalore. Besides the issue of adjacent pipes leading to contamination, there is also that of open drainage. Most urban slum areas bordering storm water drains are contaminated with sewage which even seeps into the groud water," says Thelma Narayanan of Community Health Cell.
And this:
From Ground Zero: Neelsandra and Bharatinagar
As if scraping together a living were not enough, residents have to cope with medical expenses due to contaminated water
You can barely manage to fit in a two-wheeler on many roads in Neelsandra, hardly a couple of kilometres from the upmarket Koramangala. The other streets are hardly motorable, grappling as they do for space with mounds of black slush and bone-rattling potholes. The narrow roads mean that water and sanitary lines are placed close to each other, a situation pregnant with potential for disaster.

A disaster that has unravelled over the past three days as scores of people continue to fall ill afflicted with suspected gastroenteritis. Mohammed Hussain from R.K. Gardens laughs sardonically when you ask him why gastroenteritis has struck now if conditions in the area had always been so appalling. "We are in the news only now. But come here in the evening and you will see that the ones doing brisk business are private doctors who have long queues outside their clinics."
More:
'The poor are the worst victims'
"Drinking water is not safe for the poor in Bangalore. This is the fundamental issue and the outbreak of gastroenteritis at Bharathinagar is only the symptom of a larger malaise," says Isaac Arul Selva of Jan Sahayog, an organisation that works on urban infrastructure issues.

"Cases of cholera and gastroenteritis regularly occur in slums and lower-middle class localities. They become news only when the numbers are big," he says. Nayandanahalli, Badarayanapura, Koramangala Slum and Andhra Colony are areas where this is an "annual feature," he says.

Jan Sahayog did a study at 35 slums in Bangalore in 2005 that revealed that 75 per cent of water samples were not potable owing to chemical and biological contamination.

The Land Where No One Dies

Ramesh Ramanathan's latest in Mint (no link):
Elections and Voters’ Lists – the DNA of our Democracy

“It seems that nobody dies in Karnataka”, said N. Gopalaswami, Chief Election Commissioner of India. He had just completed a review of the electoral rolls – more commonly known as the voters’ list – in the state. There were an astonishing number of errors, leading the Election Commission (EC) to declare that they would be deleting over 34 lakh entries, and adding close to 10 lakh entries over the coming weeks, in an operation that looks more like a disaster relief activity than a maintenance job on a database – 30,000 government servants deployed at every polling booth, twelve senior level officers at the state level, and four observers from other states.

That’s a huge number. It’s a wake-up call to recognise that this isn’t about bureacratic neglect or administrative incompetence, it’s a fundamental long-running legacy problem. If we don’t address this the right way, we run the risk of putting band-aids when the patient has a deep disease. The disaster relief has to give way to systemic change.

In the short run, the EC’s public announcement has added another dimension to an already twisted political situation in the state. Karnataka is being run under President’s rule, after the tattered coalition government of the JDS-BJP collapsed under the weight of its own bickerings. Right now, all political parties are working furiously to estimate their share of the vote in a possible May election, which might even get postponed. Every caste and community configuration is being parsed – split into sub-castes and further subdivided so that electoral victory can be squeezed out.

This is acceptable electoral politics in India. But the troubling part is the role that weak voter rolls will play in determining political fortunes. Because elections these days hinge on small slivers of margins, which make the difference between fading into oblivion and being victorious.

In the last Karnataka elections, 170 of the 224 candidates – over 75% - won without getting a clear majority of the votes. 116 seats were won with a margin of victory of less than 10,000 votes, and 70 with less than 5,000 votes. If half these votes – less than 2,500 – had swung the other way, the results would have been different. Suddenly, the 35 lakh false entries assumes importance – an average of 15,000 names wrong in each constituency.

All political parties know these errors. There is a flourishing market for these fake names. Its easier to “buy” a fake voter than a real voter, whose loyalty is unpredictable, price is market-driven, and presence at the polling booth on election day is uncertain.

Unfortunately, little can be done to solve this problem, certainly not in the next few months. Contrary to public imagination, the Election Commission of India is a tiny organisation with a small handful of senior Commissioners and support staff. They depend heavily on state and local government machinery to manage their work. This army of grassroot soldiers is a motley group of teachers and revenue officers who double up for this unsavoury job. Ramaseshan, the Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka said, “There is a human dimension here that we overlook. Women teachers often have to visit voters’ houses late at night, after work hours when they are sure that people will be at home.” And the ripple effects in the major clean-up operation in Karnataka are massive: close to 10,000 teachers are double-timing during exam days, busy toiling away knocking on people’s doors, getting turned away like unwanted salespeople. The instructions are for teachers to do this after school hours, with no additional income. Boy, the price that democracy extracts!

The lessons go beyond Karnataka. The Election Commission is a credible Constitutional authority, and it needs support. It needs financial and human resources to undertake fundamental business process re-engineering in every aspect of electoral roll management: change the entire database of the voters list from a patchwork of excel sheets that resides only with vendors to a secure, single location; revamp roll management to a continuous process rather than a stop-and-start activity; create transparency and opportunities for citizens to engage at a neighbourhood level; use GIS to map polling station boundaries; pay for booth-level officers from the government and post-office machinery; and beef up the technical and administrative support for the EC. All this will cost no more than Rs 1,000 crore a year nationally. It’s peanuts compared to the hundreds of thousands of crores of public resources that corrupt politicians gain access to with the seal of legitimacy that elections confer upon them, dead voters included.
I'm not entirely sure it is just a legacy issue. One of the poor teachers turned up at my house two weeks ago. Sure my name was on the list. But so were the names of three people who I absolutely do not know. How could they be registered to vote from my house? I have never rented out the house ever, the house is just five years old, it was an empty site before that. Who put their names in? And the names were very plausible local names. It must've been deliberately done.

Of course, the larger issue of how the voter list is maintained is a huge problem too. The teachers who this have to be pitied. The poor lady who was 50+ had come once before and since no one was at home, she had come again. And it was pure coincidence that she caught me. All this on foot, and on top of other duties. That's not right at all.

Money Talks

Yeah:
Melbourne: Cricket Australia (CA) bore a scathing attack from its furious players and local media for bowing to the BCCI’s “money power” and letting Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh off the hook with minimal punishment.
...
“It shows how much power India has. The Aussie guys aren’t going to make it up. The players are frustrated because this shows how much influence India has, because of the wealth they generate. Money talks,” an unnamed Australian player was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald.

‘Cricket’s Day of Shame’ cried a headline in the paper and the report said the players were dismayed to hear “Harbhajan had avoided any meaningful punishment”.

The report also said that CA caved in to India’s muscle flexing as it was anxious to save the tri-series because it feared to be sued for a figure understood to be about $60 million if India quit the tour.
Hey, stop cribbing, that's what superpowers do. Yes, we are the superpower of cricket :
"World cricket authorities have caved in to the game's financial superpower, India, and Cricket Australia has incurred the wrath of its own test players by pressuring them to drop a racial slur charge against Harbhajan Singh," the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

"The Board of Control for Cricket in India had even chartered a plane to take its players home tomorrow if the Indian player's three-test suspension -- for calling Australia's Andrew Symonds a monkey during the Sydney test -- had not been overturned at yesterday's appeal in the Federal Court in Adelaide."

Former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck, writing in the same newspaper, said the Indian cricket board should be condemned for their abuse of power.

"If this is the way the Indian board intends to conduct its affairs hereafter, then God help cricket," Roebuck wrote.

"Brinkmanship or not, threatening to take their bat and ball home in the event of a resented verdict being allowed to stand was an abomination. It sets a dreadful precedent. What price justice now?" Peter Lalor, writing in the national broadsheet The Australian, said the decision was further proof of India's ability to wield their financial power to win events off the field.
And what about Roebuck's comment? His call for Ponting to be sacked and his 'pack of wild dogs' charge were widely reported. But this 'God help cricket' charge languishes in some hidden hole.

There has been a rebuttal by the Indian team:
The Indian cricket team today denied reports that they had chartered a plane to fly its players home on Thursday if bowler Harbhajan Singh was not cleared of racially taunting Australian player Andrew Symonds.

Arriving at Melbourne Airport this afternoon with the team in preparation for Friday's Twenty20 match with Australia at the MCG, the team's media spokesman Dr M.V. Sridhar said the team had not made any such plans.

''I don't know where that came from.There was no thinking like that at all. After what happened yesterday, we're going forward so that the game goes on,'' the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Sridhar, as saying.
A lie of course:
Mumbai: The Board of Control for Cricket in India on Monday reiterated its stand on the Harbhajan Singh ban issue and threatened to call of the remainder of the tour of Australia unless the alleged racial abuse charge against the Indian off-spinner was withdrawn in the two-day appeals hearing starting on Tuesday.

“Our stand remains the same as was the case earlier. We want the racial slur (against Harbhajan Singh) to be lifted. Otherwise the BCCI will recall the team from Australia,” said its Vice-President Lalit Modi on Monday.
My break with cricket is almost complete. Money power, the media circus, accusations of match fixing that keep surfacing, transformation of half-baked cricketers into national heroes overnight - who wants all of that? And of course, the Greg Chappell saga that started the downhill slide for me. I still follow results and the ever new controversies tepidly but indifferently move on to something else. And to think that not very long ago, I considered anyone who didn't watch and follow cricket a bit strange and exotic and a bit difficult to connect with.
Update: Human error led to Bhajji not being banned:
ICC appeals commissioner, New Zealand High Court judge John Hansen, blamed administrative error for the spinner escaping a possible ban.

Hansen said the ICC informed him of one prior offence of the spinner but discovered after handing down his verdict that Harbhajan had been penalised on four previous occasions.

"At the end of the day Mr Singh can feel himself fortunate that he has reaped the benefit of these database and human errors," he wrote in his judgment.

Speed said: "It is very unfortunate that human error led to Justice Hansen not having the full history of Harbhajan's previous Code of Conduct breaches and the ICC accepts responsibility for this mistake."
Human error. Yeah, tell it to the fricking birds.

25-Jan-2008

Gloom & Doom

Aplenty (registration required):
The US has already entered into a recession and this recession will be much uglier than the mild recessions of 1990-91 and 2001 as a shopped out, saving less and debt burdened consumer is on the ropes and faltering.

The world will not decouple from the US hard landing; there will be significant recoupling and a sharp global economic slowdown. When the US sneezes the rest of the world catches the cold; and today the US will not experience just a simple common cold but rather a protracted and severe case of pneumonia; thus, the real and financial contagion to other economies will be severe.

Whatever the Fed does now is too little too late; the Fed had a wrong diagnosis of the economy and was behind the curve for over a year. The Fed claimed that the housing slump would bottom out a year ago; instead we have the worst housing recession in US history still getting much worse now. The Fed claimed that the subprime would be a niche and contained problem; instead we have had massive contagion to the entire financial system as a credit bubble and excessive debt and leverage occurred throughout the economy and the financial system. The Fed claimed that the housing problems would not spread to the rest of the economy; instead we had had real and financial spillovers and now a fall of most components of aggregate demand: housing, capex spending, commerical real estate investment and now, ominously, private consumption that represents 70% of demand.

The US stock market is now entering in a seriously bearish territory and will fall much more sharply throughout the year as earnings sharply drop in the recession; the Bernanke put and the aggressive Fed easing will not rescue the stock market or the financial markets as a severe recession is unavoidable regardless of what the Fed does. Fed easing cannot resolve severe insolvency problems among consumers, mortgage lenders, home builders, highly leveraged financial institutions and, soon, enough among over indebted corporate firms.

Equity markets around the world are now plunging and will plunge much more as investors are realizing that a severe US recession will lead to a sharp global economic slowdown and a significant fall in profits across the world. In an integrated global economy both economic growth rates and markets are highly correlated.

Many risky assets will face downward pressure in 2008, not just US and global equities: junk bond yield spreads will widen as bankruptcies spread; corporations will default in great number; housing bubbles will pop in many countries and lead to falls in home prices; securitized products - in housing, real estate and otherwise, will experience further massive losses.

Losses in the financial system will be greater than $1 trillion; thus there is a serious risk of a systemic banking and financial crisis. The credit crunch will become much more severe as capital of financial institutions is eroded and reintermediation of financial flows into the banking system occurs.

Udayan Mukherjee a few days ago:
These may be tough days but it may well turn out to be the best buying opportunity of 2008. Do not panic, accumulate slowly, there is still a long bull market ahead of us. Maybe not in the US but in India for sure.

22-Jan-2008

The Chicks

Have come home to roost (via Atrios):
I don't think it's an exaggeration. It's an understatement. You've heard me say here I think we are facing the worst financial crunch and crisis since the Great Depression. You have the entire banking system now that is virtually frozen and there are not just the sub-prime mortgage thing. There are other things called credit default swaps where they're going to lose as much money, 250 billion dollars on. The banks are frozen. They're not making loans because they have such huge debts that they have to take onto their balance sheets and nobody knows how to deal with that because you had a dramatic...you had two bubbles that have burst at the same time. The housing bubble which has collapsed in this country. The first time since the Great Depression that housing values have gone down for a year since the depression and it's going to go down even more next year. The credit crunch, you've just exploded the whole credit system in this country. We were way over leveraged. The banking system was over-leveraged. People didn't even know about it. The bankers didn't know about it. They didn't access the risk. Now that risk is piling in and every body's going to pay the price. Uh it's going to stimulate nothing other, I mean it's going to destimulate the economy. Nobody has money to lend. They're saving all their money to pay off their debts. They're borrowing money or looking at uh the rest of the world to enhance their capital and it's still not going to solve their problems.
This too!

Update: And it's all related:
Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, hit by mortgage-related losses in the US, were aggressive sellers during the day.
I bet these sellers are not selling at a loss. A note to the India Rising folks: the foreign money pours in, and pours out, India Rising or not.

20-Jan-2008

Outsourcing To India

The President of Intel Russia:
“The policy we have at Intel is simple. If we can, we commit difficult problems to engineers in the U.S. If the task is very labour-intensive, we assign it to Indian specialists. If the problem cannot be solved, we offer it to Russians.”
That's not a very nice thing to say sir.

Leaders Bollywood Style

Nothing less, is what we'll get courtesy TOI. Santosh Desai in Tehelka:
...the TOI’s Lead India campaign is going strong. Among the eminent people who will judge the suitability of candidates for the onerous task of nation building in These Exciting Times are people who have toiled tirelessly for the downtrodden and showed us new ways of punching, kicking and riding motorcycles on screen. Yes, I am talking about Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgan, the intrepid reformers who we all owe so much to.

Nicholas Burns

Retires. He will take up a private job. Intriguingly he'll still be looking at the 'Indian file'. How so? Well, apparently:
"There are special provisions within the law that allow people for discrete periods or limited periods of time, not necessarily measured by the calendar year but by the number of days you spend doing something, that allow people who are not part of the government to work on specific functions."

Money Talks

And it may even sing and dance, in Britain:
LONDON: In a classic case of money speaking louder than merit, anyone with £1 million in the bank and willing to invest some of their “dosh” in Britain can now hope to literally buy their way into this country even if English language sounds Greek to them.

Under new immigration plans, ostensibly designed to ensure greater integration of prospective immigrants into British society, it will be compulsory for anyone who wants to come and live in Britain to pass an English language test even before their application is considered.

But an exception is proposed to be made in case of rich businessmen on grounds that the money they would bring into this country outweighs the little difficulty of their lack of sufficient knowledge of English.

Apparently, the move follows representations by foreign millionaires, notably Russians and Japanese, who are willing to invest pots of money in Britain but don’t know enough English and are reluctant to be lumped with lesser mortals on this issue.

18-Jan-2008

Anchors On CNBC

What's wrong with the anchors on CNBC? When the markets tank royally as they are doing now they go all gloomy faces and talk about 'It's been a very very bad day today' and so on. What the #&@! is so bad about the markets dropping like a rock? Conversely what is so good about the markets going up like a gas-filled balloon even when there are small and not so small warnings all around? Markets go up and down - that's what they do.

Questions, Questions

P Sainath:
How many upper caste men have had their eyes gouged out for marrying outside their caste? Ask young Chandrakant in Sategaon village of Nanded in Maharashtra why he thinks it happened to him last week. How many higher caste bastis have been torched and razed in land or other disputes? How many upper caste folk lose a limb or even their lives for daring to enter a temple? How many Brahmins or Thakurs get beaten up, even burnt alive, for drawing water from the village well? How many from those whose “privileges are dwindling” have to walk four kilometres to fetch water? How many upper caste groups are forced to live on the outskirts of the village, locked into an eternal form of indigenous apartheid? Now that’s discrimination.
How about 'none'?

17-Jan-2008

God's Gift

Now here's a fatwa for the times we live in:
Clerics at Deoband have come out with a new fatwa, dispelling notions that Islam is against family planning.

Contrary to the belief that contraceptives are not allowed in Islam, Deoband has ruled that their use is necessary.

Darull-Uloom says contraceptives are permissible under Islamic laws so that the children are properly nourished.

Another prominent Muslim body Jamia-Ulema-e-Hind has supported the Fatwa. However, the Islamic body called permanent methods of contraception like vasectomy or tubectomy haram (unlawful).

Several Muslim nations like Turkey and Iran encourage their citizen to adopt contraceptives, a move to check the growing population in those countries
.
It makes the Deoband clerics, Turkey and Iran more liberal in this very important respect than the Catholic church and the Pope:
Now we’re ready for the hard part of the evening: why does the Church forbid contraception? Artificial contraception is wrong because it violates the "gift of self" which ought to be at the center of every act of physical love. When you take the pill or use a foam, diaphragm, condom or whatever, you are, in effect, saying to your spouse, "In this, the most intimate act of our marriage, I am going to give myself to you, but only up to a point." Or, conversely, you are saying, "I want you in this act to make a total gift to me of yourself, except that part of you which so deeply defines you as a sexual being, your fertility." The body has its own deep language, and when we add chemicals or latex to the act of love, when we deliberately destroy its potential for making new life, we falsify the nuptial meaning of its actions. We hold back the full "gift of self" which during the wife’s fertile period must include an openness to new life.
I still remember a scathing documentary on BBC which examined the impact of this ban on extremely poor communities of Catholics in countries like Phillipines and many African countries. It was so hard to understand how this ban could continue in the face of all the suffering.

I'm expecting our media to swarm over the news of this fatwa once they are through with jallikattu and other pressing topics - it must be the die-hard optimist hidden in some corner of myself.

16-Jan-2008

More Nano Please

Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha/JNURM in Mint (no link):
The Nano Inspiration

I am inspired by the story of the Nano. Beyond its cute look or frugal engineering-driven price tag, I find it remarkable how Team Tata pulled it off in just four years.

I've watched and read the rumblings – on congestion, traffic, the environment. Confession: I own a car. This makes it hard for me to criticise the Nano: people-in-glass-houses constraint. There is an Indian equivalent of this – the "unreserved compartment syndrome". All those inside the compartment do everything to keep outsiders at bay; but once someone gets in - bravely beating the odds - he becomes an insider, repeating the same behaviour, so nothing changes. We need to understand the sentiments of the outsiders - how many people who don't own cars criticise the Nano on the grounds of traffic congestion and environmental concerns.

But the larger point is the inspirational lamp that the Nano story lights. There are hundreds of challenges in India where the lessons of the Nano can be applied – design innovation, scale efficiency, vendor networking and so on. I want to talk about three illustrative examples.

Healthcare

Dr Devi Shetty, one of the country's leading heart surgeons is also focused on bringing affordable health services to the poor. He talked of the need for innovation and scale in healthcare, based on our unique challenges in India .

Using the example of a CT scan, which costs Rs 5,000 - 10,000 per patient, he said, "We have a few hundred CT scan machines in India, each doing 3-4 scans a day, although the capacity is over 100/day. These machines are like planes that earn money only when they fly. We need to increase the flow of patients through these centres. But this is related to other issues like hospital bed capacity and inpatient/outpatient ratios. Today, most hospitals make their money from inpatients. We need to reverse this relationship where thousands of outpatients who each pay a few hundred rupees for tests can subsidize the operating costs of the hospital."

Imagine if we could get a CT scan cost down to Rs 500, offer a heart surgery for a few thousand rupees or a gall bladder surgery for under a thousand. This requires a fundamental redesign of all the parts of the healthcare delivery system - from re-engineering individual components like the CT scan, to embedding these into scaled health "cities" that can get a critical mass of 10,000 outpatients a day.

Housing

In urban India alone, we need to build over 26 million homes to meet projected demand until 2012, and over 95% of this is for the poor. If we ignore government subsidised programmes, and focus on market-driven solutions, we need to build homes with an all-in cost of Rs 2 - Rs 2.5 lakhs for land and building, so that the EMI is around Rs 2,500. Given current land costs and fsi/far ratios in urban India , this translates to a construction cost of about Rs 300- 400 per square foot for a 400 sft dwelling. Imagine the kind of demand that can open up if we can change the engineering specifications, reduce the cost-per-unit by scale economies, improve the construction process, and deliver a product that might not have marble floors, but doesn't compromise on quality.

Public transport

The Design Museum of London ( www.designmuseum.org) says this about the famous London double-decker bus, "Developed over nine years from 1947 to 1956 by a team led by industrial designer Douglas Scott, the Routemaster was designed with mass-production in mind. By constructing a bus from the maximum number of interchangeable parts, they cut the cost not only of the initial tooling and manufacturing, but of repairs and maintenance too. They also equipped it with the latest automotive engineering innovations such as power steering, an automatic gearbox, hydraulic brakes, independent springs and heating controls."

I think of the public bus system in our cities. If the experience is bad for passengers, it's worse for the bus drivers, having to navigate these Noah's arks through the narrow Indian streets. We need buses designed for Indian conditions: our roads, our traffic, our people. With environmental challenges thrown in, we are looking at a fundamental redesign of the Indian bus. Can we create an icon like the London Routemaster?

These challenges – and the hundreds more that India faces – would normally result in little more than wishful thinking or simplistic dead-end pilot projects. The Nano story inspires us to say, "Why not?" with a clear-headed acknowledgement of the complexities. To me, this itself is worth the applause it is receiving.

15-Jan-2008

Nuclear Deal

I see headlines like this everywhere today:
India, China pledge to strike N-dosti
India, China to cooperate in civil nuclear energy
But I thought the accepted wisdom was that China was trying to scuttle the nuclear deal and our nuclear ambitions and that the Left was acting more or less as an agent of China in opposing the deal.

13-Jan-2008

Imposing Progress

From The Hindu:
Survival International has just released its hard-hitting report, ‘Progress can kill.’ If you think the title is challenging, the contents are even more shocking: the report clearly shows that forcing our ideas of ‘progress’ on tribal peoples destroys their mental and physical health.

Even after working on the report for three years, I’m still shocked, choked and outraged by what it lays bare: ‘progress’ forced on tribal peoples leads to desperate suffering and, all too often, to the total destruction of whole tribes.

India’s Great Andamanese are one tragic example. The British brought ‘progress’ to them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by forcing them out of their forest and into a ‘home’ in Port Blair, where 150 babies were born and every single one of them died before their third birthday. Overall, 99% of the tribe died, leaving just 53 people alive today.
Relatedly, this. The move for forming CWHs seems to be nothing but a workaround to get around the Forest Rights Act.

12-Jan-2008

Children & Frogs

Juan Cole:
One of the arguments warmongers gave for overthrowing Saddam Hussein was that his regime was responsible for the violent deaths of some 300,000 civilians between 1968 and 2003. That estimate now appears exaggerated, since the number of bodies in mass graves has not borne it out. But what is tragic is that in 4 1/2 short years, a foreign military occupation has unleashed killing on a scale achieved by the murderous Saddam Hussein regime only over decades. Bush did not kill all those people directly, of course, but he did indirectly cause them to be killed, since these are excess deaths beyond what you would have expected if there had been no invasion and occupation.

I am often struck by how clueless the American public is to the vast destruction we have wrought on Iraq and its people, directly or indirectly. It strikes me as a bitter joke that 4 million are displaced, often facing hunger and disease, and the rightwing periodicals and presidential candidates are talking about how the "surge" has "turned things around." For whom? How many orphans have we created? How many widows? How many people who weep and cry every night while trying to fall asleep on straw mats? I estimate on the basis of a UN study of refugees in Syria that as many as 600,000 or 700,000 Baghdadis were ethnically cleansed from the capital under the nose of the American troops implementing the surge. There is an old Chinese proverb, "Children throw stones at frogs in jest, but the frogs die in earnest."

11-Jan-2008

The Nano & Congestion

And Ratan Tata's take on it:
We produce about 7 million two-wheelers a year. Today we must have 60-70 million two-and three-wheelers in the country. Last year we produced about 1.4 million cars and at some point we will exceed two million. Well, nobody says anything about that. It is only this car that is being targeted. You may say, 'Well, the two-wheeler takes less space.' Our car pollutes, if not less, then certainly not more than a two wheeler—not per passenger but as a vehicle. Our engine conforms to Euro IV and Bharat III—all two wheelers are Bharat II today. So, yes you may take a view that this small car will take less space than a large car. It will carry four people instead of the normal two on a scooter and therefore, instead of two scooters, you will have one car on the road.

That criticism also assumes that the small car will not replace a bigger car. You produce two million cars and you produce half a million small cars, so you produce 2.5 million cars. That's not how it is going to work. We will cannibalise some of the existing low-end cars and two-wheelers, and even some of our own cars. The Indica too is going to feel the effects. So it will not be that it will be on top of everything and there won't be a square inch of space on the road.

Second, we are looking at congestion in the top major cities. Have we got affordable family transport in the two tier and three tier cities? Is it their lot not to have a vehicle? The huge potential lies when India gets connected in the rural areas.
Let's wait and watch!

Recession, Recession Everywhere

At least, the UN & Goldman Sachs think so (via this comment thread). More on the Goldman report here.

10-Jan-2008

BJP And Gandhi

Time was when a sure-shot way to identify a closet BJP supporter was by his views on Gandhi. Negative? Most probably a BJP supporter. Positive? Mostly a non-BJP supporter. Alas, that may no longer hold if the leadership goes on like this.

Nanded's Shame

That's the headline on every TV channel and every newspaper that will shut out everything else for the next 24 hours and beyond, now that this has happened. Really. They will get round to it I'm sure, though they were still dealing with Mumbai's Shame, Racism in Golf, the OZs and other equally important things, when I checked just now .

Clinton, Obama... Does It Matter

While Ramesh Thakur goes all dreamy and idealistic here, Siddharth Varadarajan brings us down to earth:
Given the disasters the Bush administration has caused in Iraq and elsewhere, it is only natural that all candidates — Democrats and Republicans — feel obliged to declare they will bring about a substantive change in the way the U.S. deals with the world.

In reality, the change, when it comes, will at best be marginal.
And that's the truth.

PS: If anyone out there is wondering where Siddharth Varadarajan vanished after the nuclear deal fracas, he's here.

06-Jan-2008

Comparing Riots

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar pulls a fast one here. Ticking off various points proving that the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 were worse than Gujarat, he writes
So, on virtually every parameter you can measure, 1984 was worse than 2002. Why then is Modi called a fascist while the Congress is heralded as a secular saviour? Sitaram Yechury of the CPM points out that the Congress ultimately apologised for the 1984 killings, but the BJP has still not done so for 2002.

That is indeed a difference. Modi needs to make a similar gesture. But have the two Communist parties apologised for the millions murdered by their comrades globally?
What does the left parties apologising or not have to do with Gujarat & the anti-Sikh riots?! We're talking about the Congress and the 1984 riots here, aren't we? And why does the left have to apologise for what happened in other countries? As for Nandigram - there is no clear record on what happened there yet and in any case the government there is trying to find a way out and has apologised more than once as far as I can remember. And yes, a sorry makes a big difference.

He also forgets one point: the Gujarat riots are different from the anti-Sikh riots in this respect too: no one can call the Congress anti-Sikh, so the riots can be explained away as a madness of a few days. However, the BJP has always been and perceived to be anti-Muslim - how much ever they try to claim otherwise - hence Gujarat riots acquire a different meaning.

Nitish Kumar Gets A Pat

On the back here, for bringing in a lot of good changes in Bihar.

05-Jan-2008

Bloggers & Their Readers

From here:
now have to explain to my wife why I have had tears running down my cheeks all afternoon.

Try explaining it to coworkers. I have to keep dashing to the washroom to dab and check for blotchiness.


Wife: So, you’re real upset over this person you never actually met?

Me: Yeah.

W: Huh?

Me: Well, I still felt like I knew him. He was decent, and honest, and funny, and sometimes a real pain in the ass. You know, a real person?

W: But this was online? You never met him even once?

Me: Nope. Read him a while, argued with him a bit. Never met him…

W: Huh?

Me: Yeah…

W: So you have this whole other life online I know nothing about?

Me: Well, it’s not like a dating service or anything. It was a blog.

W: What?

Me: Later honey…

04-Jan-2008

More On Benazir Bhutto

More about Benazir Bhutto's policies during her rule, via Huffington Post
Benazir Bhutto was certainly a brave and secular-minded woman. But the obituaries painting her as dying to save democracy distort history. Instead, she was a natural autocrat who did little for human rights, a calculating politician who was complicit in Pakistan’s becoming the region’s principal jihadi paymaster while she also ramped up an insurgency in Kashmir that has brought two nuclear powers to the brink of war.

People Power

This sounds exactly like how it should be:
The government doesn’t hold much land. The land belongs to communities, and this Congress government will not go against the wishes of the people.

03-Jan-2008

Oil Prices Spikes

Crude touches $100 a barrel. Of course, Goldman Sachs had predicted this two years ago. Are they clairvoyant?
Update: Here's someone who was not clairvoyant:
Rupert Murdoch, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq: The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax cut in any country

Puzzled

That's what I am by a NY Times piece in The Hindu (link here via Churmuri). Growing craze for Indian eduction in Japan? Wow. But again, just "roughly" half a dozen Indian schools in the whole of this nation which is so crazy for it? Double wow!

Triumph of hype over reality? I don't know.

Stop The Goa SEZs

Please! Let Goa continue to be the beautiful place it is. Don't mess it up like you've done the rest of the country. And no, don't get all prim and legal about scrapping the ones that have started. Work on a way out of it.

Of Investigations

Scotland Yard to help with the investigation into the Bhutto death. No I will not call it assassination, murder, killing or any of those things. I'm sure it was a natural death. Just like Bob Woolmer's death, the investigation into which Scotland Yard helped too. Update: Scotland Yard was of course brought in 2 months after Woolmer's murder. And it is being brought in now, after the area where Bhutto was killed was hose-cleaned within hours of the murder, most probably destroying crucial evidence.

Also, interesting that the killing of a Rafiq Hariri, allegedly by anti-US Syria, gets an UN investigation and becomes a major international incident, but the death of Bhutto gets a mere Scotland Yard helping hand.