14-Sep-2010

Drug Money Saved Banks In Global Crisis

Says the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.
That money has been now effectively laundered, according to him.

27-Aug-2010

Flood-hit Farmers: Who Cares!

Not Mr Yeddyurappa for sure: Those who want to shift will go, says Yeddyurappa. Those who don't want to, won't.

This is about the houses constructed for the last year's flood-affected farmers in North Karnataka. They are reluctant to move in since the construction is substandard and the houses are not exactly as per their requirements. If one looks at the images of houses built under the Asare scheme, indeed, they look like cubby holes more than anything else.

For a guy who cries at the drop of a hat or the sight of a mike/TV camera, Yeddyurappa sure has a steely heart.

19-Aug-2010

Nuclear Deal/Bill And Our Natural Partnership

Brahma Chellaney in The Hindu:
Creating an artificial market with no-strings subsidies and electricity supply at state-supported rates is no prudent way to meet energy needs. The proposed arrangements actually seek to create a win-win situation for foreign vendors by ensuring there is no downside to their business. By rigging commercial terms in favour of select foreign suppliers, the arrangements, in effect, promote unfair business practices and cartelisation.
Manmohan Singh's dogged persistence in this whole nuclear deal/liability bill matter is mystifying. And the BJP support bought by opaque behind-the-scenes dealings: "Narendra Modi let off in barter for Bill".

And what is our natural partner and the object of Manmohan Singh's devotion up to? Making thinly-veiled threats: U.S. tries to armtwist India on Dow issue. From the email sent by the Deputy National Security Advisor to Montek Ahluwalia:
“We are aware of this issue and we will look into it. While I've got you, we are hearing a lot of noise about the Dow Chemical issue. I trust that you are monitoring it carefully. I am not familiar with all the details, but I think we want to avoid developments which put a chilling effect on our investment relationship.”
Natural partners in crime.

More Incredible India

From the Hindu: Those who society forgot live in horrendous conditions. Horrendous is exactly right. Why does the government run the rehabilitation centre if they can't provide even a clean place?

Yeddyurappa had visited the centre in 2009 and was so moved by their plight that he wanted to shift them to a faraway location. He had given a month's time for things to be improved and promised to monitor the situation there after that visit. Wonder what he will do now? 159 acres of prime land worth Rs 1000-crore. How many have their eye on that land?

In a gruesome juxtaposition, the Hindu carries the following headline just below the above article in the paper version: Ashok: trial run of Mercedes buses in Bangalore soon.

Update: Govt to grab beggars’ land. The CM visits the colony in May 2009. In July 2009 the government tries to take over the entire 161 acres. The State Law Ministry objects since the land was originally given solely for destitute rehabilitation it can't be now diverted to other uses. And now, it turns out that around the time of the recent tragic deaths, the government was busy issuing an order to acquire 123 acres of the 161 acres for 'development'. This single-minded devotion to land-deals is sickening. Are these democratically elected representatives of the people, or blood-sucking vampires?

PPP: Road To Nowhere?

It is mystifying to me where the advocates of PPP expect the private players to come up with money. S Balakrishnan in Business Line is a bit skeptical too:
Even a cursory analysis of every private sector power project financing would prove most of the debt funding is from public sector banks and equity is from the market. What we seem to be paying for is the ‘managerial' expertise of a businessmen with the right connections who is ‘packaging' a project that can be done more cheaply in the public sector.
So why not pay only for that expertise instead of setting up the private players with concessions and such things which work out costlier?

18-Aug-2010

Foresight In Land Acquisition For The Mittals

KIADB put out the notification for acquiring land fully four months before signing the MoU with the ArcelorMittal. Was everything fixed much before the GIM?

BJP: Virtual Opposition

There is really no difference between the BJP & the Congress as far as some things are concerned. And kow-towing to the US is one of them, as the deal on the nuclear liability bill shows:
A smooth passage in Parliament of the proposed nuclear civil liability Bill was ensured by the Union government on Tuesday after it took on board most of the suggestions made by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Among the changes agreed upon are trebling of the operator liability cap from Rs. 500 crore to Rs. 1,500 crore and specific exclusion of private operators in the nuclear sector.
Rs 1500 crore as compared to Rs 500 crore earlier? They must be joking. It is left to the Left to raise a dissenting voice:
The Left had raised four issues: India should not be part of any international convention, which, it felt, would limit the options to hold the suppliers liable; expand the scope of the proposed legislation to include non-civilian nuclear installations since in the case of an accident it might impact civilian population too; raise compensation cap to Rs.10,000 crore; and bring the supplier within the ambit of liability against the provision that mentions of such a clause in case of wilful problem in design.

17-Aug-2010

Farming: The Unasked Questions

Harsh Mander writing about a friend who took up a life of farming late in life:
In their new life in the village, Naren and Uma learnt about the plight of farmers in the most authentic way possible: by becoming farmers themselves. The questions for which they sought answers were: why are farmers continuing to commit suicide, even while our country is poised to record growth of nearly 10 per cent annually? And is it a historical inevitability that as we ‘ develop', our farming population will have to be reduced from 60 per cent to 15 to 2 per cent, as it has happened in ‘developed' countries? If so, where will they go, what will they do? What is the future of 600 million people engaged in farming?
Indeed. Where will the 600 million people go and what will they do?

Growth Of 'Agricultural' Credit

Has been good from 2000 onwards. Only, it is not agricultural in the sense that one would recognise.

12-Aug-2010

Targeting PDS

Another nice turn of phrase, this time from P Sainath: The NREGS is restricted. The PDS is targeted. Only exploitation is universal.

FDI In Retail: Who Will Do The Back-end?

Not Carrefour definitely. All they want is the front-end part.
The company, that is keen to enter India in front-end retailing, has pointed out that the clause seeking investments into agriculture infrastructure, if made into law, would limit foreign investments.

Government sources told Business Line that the world's second largest retailer was willing to comply with regulation on local hiring and sourcing out of the country. It had, however, raised its reservations on the proposal asking foreign investors to invest in agriculture infrastructure.

It may be recalled that the DIPP had sought stakeholders' views on foreign direct investments in multi-brand retail trading.

In the paper it had detailed mandatory investments in “improving post-harvest management, cold storage and improving crop processing, among others.”

Though Carrefour's Executive Director Growth Markets, Mr Thierry Garnier, had met Indian Government officials recently and welcomed the DIPP's discussion paper on opening the sector, the company does not seem keen on the mandatory clauses.
Investment in the back-end is one of the big reasons given by supporters of FDI in multi-brand retail. Carrefour, one of the big retailers who is interested, says it is reluctant.

11-Aug-2010

India: US' Natural Partner

That's right. India is the US' natural partner. No one else. The US loves India whom it has chosen from among the more than hundred fifty odd nations on earth in order to bestow on it this great primeval relationship! Of course, there is the teenie-weenie wish list that they expect us to fulfill. But the wish list is not related to the relationship in any way, no siree! We are naturals.
Maintaining that the U.S. viewed India as a “natural partner,” the Pentagon official indicated Washington's wish list. It includes purchasing more American-origin defence equipment, “realistic” joint exercises and stepped up visits by Indian armed forces officers.

09-Aug-2010

Billionaires Giving Half Of Their Wealth

Is good, but they could do better things, according to this piece in Guardian. Of course, giving half of their immense wealth, would still leave them much richer than most people on earth.

Looting The Common Wealth

Mohan Murti writes another impassioned article against corruption.
I think it is the crisis of values that denotes the Indian condition. Moral values of all kinds seem to have rapidly and irrevocably declined. The second, of course, is external control, which the Government can exercise to take care of law and order and make corruption a very dangerous exercise. As an Indian, I am concerned with the second part.

The fact that a lot of our citizens intentionally disobey the laws of the land — which if enforced, as they should be in a typical society, will give us a better and more organised country — is a reflection of the insanity and breakdown of law and order.

By this I mean in its totality — not just motorists, highway and railway dacoits, armed robbers and militants, Naxalites and extremists but also corrupt officials in Government, industry and specially the arrogance in those bestowed with sudden affluence.
...
Looking at our systems in India today, corruption is encouraged by the following reasons: There continues to be immense red tape and bureaucratic delay. There is a lack of transparency from the governments.

Our judicial system cannot guarantee justice, fairness and equality. The police cannot protect. The lawmakers break the laws. Casteism and nepotism thrive among the corrupt to protect each other, as with the idiom “thick as thieves”.

Most kleptomaniac cream of the crop, bureaucrats and politicians lack empathy and are psychopaths, therefore they rarely feel compunction, regret, or fear the consequences of their misdeeds. This only makes them more culpable and perilous.

Again, examples abound currently with those indicted or arrested pulling strings to get rid of evidence, getting anti-corruption chiefs removed or even resorting to “eliminating” witnesses.
I think he has covered most of it. B S Raghavan notes that we have got used to the big numbers associated with corruption scandals. Bofors was Rs 64 crores. Nowadays, no self-respecting person would want to be associated with a scam involving anything less than a few hundred crores. I mean, what would people think of him?

Transparency On Bank NPAs

The Finance Minister seems to believe that disclosing the names of corporate borrowers who have defaulted on their loans is not desirable. His reasoning:
The disclosure of their names in a public forum (such as Parliament) will make the banking industry more sick, Mr Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha on Friday. He also highlighted the aspect of confidentiality clauses (in loan agreements) coming in the way of releasing the names of defaulters.
“If this (disclosing names) is done, a person will be declared insolvent even before the Court declares them (defaulters) as insolvent. And whatever possibility of recovering money from them will go. It will be depositors' money that will be lost (if we disclose)”, he said.
There must be some stage in the default process when the bank writes off a loan. Why not disclose the names along with the defaulted amount at that point? As for the confidentiality agreement - why is it there in the first place?

The gross NPA numbers are quite large: NPA write-off by new private banks up four-fold. Approximately Rs 75,000 crores, private and public banks taken together.

Diplomacy - Why Even Bother?

According to the Hindu, Zardari, Cameron speak of unbreakable bond. According to the report, they even vowed to 'deepen strategic partnership in fighting terror'. But, just a week or so ago, we read this headline: Cameron angers Pakistan with terror comments. Cameron was accusing Pakistan of 'exporting terror' in then. This is par for the course. The Americans do it much more blatantly.

So, why do newspapers even bother printing the routine blah-speak that erupts during high-profile visits to our neighborhood? The visiting dignitaries/leaders/smooth-talkers are only trying to be good guests and good salesmen for their businesses/establishments. Why waste paper on their statements?

06-Aug-2010

Paid News: Press Council Ducks

P Sainath writes a powerful piece on how the Press Council of India hid the inconvenient report of the sub-committee that looked into the paid news scam. First the background:
No scandal has rocked the Indian media more in recent decades than that of paid news. Most of all when it emerged during the last Lok Sabha and subsequent Maharashtra polls that hundreds of crores of rupees had been spent to buy “news” in large dailies and television channels. Major parties and candidates overshot poll spending limits many times over on this one expense alone. It was and remains a nauseating form of corruption.

Outrage grew over the idea of the media acting as extortionists — the very term that many a candidate used to describe the practice of “paid news” during the last Lok Sabha polls. Indeed, a few top politicians complained of it in those terms. The political class did not, as some imagine, go out and “seduce” the media. The media went out and sought “package deals” with them whereby they forked out huge sums of money — or were simply blanked out of the coverage of the paper or channel. The “selling” points were: this way, you can spend as much as you like and not get caught by the Election Commission of India for mocking the spending limit. This way, you are able to take your campaign to millions of voters — for millions of rupees. You can also have your opponent blanked out — or trashed, if you pay that little extra. And neither you nor we attract the taxman's knock on this all-cash transaction.
So the Press Council of India set up a sub-committee to look into the matter.
Acting promptly at the time, the Press Council of India suo moto set up a sub-committee to probe the phenomenon of paid news. The two-member sub-committee of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy produced a devastating report (see The Hindu April 22, 2010). One that observed all the norms and ethics you could demand of such an exercise. It did not carry a single allegation without full attribution. It took no recourse to “sting” journalism, going for a thorough inquiry instead. It spared no effort to obtain the responses of the groups accused of playing the paid news game. Laying the charges squarely before them, it gave them ample right of — and space to — reply. It recorded depositions from scores of individuals. In one instance, a media organisation apologised for what it had done. In another, a candidate from Andhra Pradesh placed on record the results of his own “sting” operation against a major media group. Some of these depositions were in the form of affidavits.
What did they do with the sub-committee's report? They made it disappear completely!
The sub-committee finds passing mention in the “final” report. Its outstanding effort stands reduced to a footnote (yes, a footnote) in that report. The footnote says the sub-committee's report “may remain on the record of the Council as a reference document.” That's right. It goes to the archive. There is no sign of this “reference document” on the website of the Press Council. This is the standard the PCI sets for the Indian media?
Why did they do that?
Over the months since the scandal hit the fan, some members of the PCI — mainly those representing media owners — worked to scuttle the explosive original report. They had two basic issues with it. First: Why name names? Why get into the ugliness of that? Fascinating, at a time when the media are baying for names and blood on the corruption in the Commonwealth Games scam. So firstly, we now have a double standard: exposure for corruption in the Games, privacy for it within the media. Secondly, they fiercely opposed any reference to the Working Journalists Act. In this, they acted as owners and employers. Not as members of the PCI guarding the integrity of the press and its standards.
That's the kind of fourth estate our country needs, indeed.

Update: The draft report of the sub-commitee is here.

30-Jul-2010

Exclusive Growth

From The Hindu: The banking woes of an “excluded” community.  
Banks have designated red zones where the vast majority of Muslim clusters fall. This fact is confirmed by the rash of banking-related complaints received by the National Commission for Minorities.

A little over a year ago, Ali Arshad, a resident of Okhla in Delhi, went to a well-known private sector bank to open a bank account. He thought his case would be fast-tracked because he had a banking background, he worked with a well-known investment and brokerage company and he had the necessary documents: A passport, a pan card and a house rent agreement notorised on stamp paper.

He still has not heard from the bank...

...The sense of “exclusion” among Mr. Shuja and others has only heightened with recent reports that in Andhra Pradesh alone as many as 90,000 Muslims students were unable to open bank accounts to deposit their scholarship cheques.

Well done banks.  

Relatedly, this piece from B S Raghavan in Business Line.  I'm not sure why he brings it up at all and why he thinks the trends he notes bear watching.  If he was trying to shoot down the Kerala CM's claim that in 20 years, India and Kerala would become Muslim dominated region, then he could have just noted that the facts don't support the CM's claim and left it at that.  

29-Jul-2010

Is Anyone Normal?

That's the question that pops into the mind while going through this article from Reuters: 
Leading mental health experts gave a briefing on Tuesday to warn that a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is being revised now for publication in 2013, could devalue the seriousness of mental illness and label almost everyone as having some kind of disorder.

Citing examples of new additions like "mild anxiety depression," "psychosis risk syndrome," and "temper dysregulation disorder," they said many people previously seen as perfectly healthy could in future be told they are ill.

"It's leaking into normality. It is shrinking the pool of what is normal to a puddle," said Til Wykes of the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London.

The new DSM has it right.  Who on earth is normal?  No one I know is.  I have so many neuroses, it is pointless to list them all.  Road rage, extreme holier-than-thou attitude, a deep dislike for TV anchors and TV programs, allergy to Times of India, fetish for fitness, the list can go on and on.  And these are just the mild ones.  

I would say, give the puddle a name - say, So Normal that It Looks Fishy Syndrome - and be done with it. 

But should all the disorders have medicines prescribed for them?  I don't think so.

Private Schools: Pigheaded On RTE

These schools have got it all wrong:
Taking a strong stand against the RTE provision reserving 25 per cent of admissions for children from the neighbourhood, the schools now try to garner support from parents saying admitting such children could dilute the discipline and finesse with which privileged kids are being groomed.

In a circular to parents, the schools said: “Once this Act is enforced, a child could beat up your child, smoke on the campus, misbehave with a girl or a teacher and the school will have to watch helplessly.”
Crap.  I remember a neighbourhood doctor pointing out a teenager sitting outside in the waiting area.  The girl was from one of the 'elite' schools.  Apparently she was sitting there to get away from her peers waiting outside who wanted her to come to a party where there would be drugs.  The girl had confided in the family doctor and the pressure on her was evident in her face.  And we all know the various MMS scams that happened not too long ago - all from 'elite' schools.  And all kids have the tendency to hit out, not just 'neighbourhood' kids.

The schools are overreacting.  Maybe they are worried about losing the premium they charge parents.  They should know that a exposure to a wider set of kids will only help their students.  Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

28-Jul-2010

Wikileaks Remembered

Wikileaks is in the news big time and I remembered that I'd posted on it in 2008.  This is what I wrote:

Another story which I saw on cnet.com reinforces that the Internet has made so many things possible. And a lot of them are a force for the good. Like exposing Swiss Banks that apparently help launder money among other shady activities.

I definitely got that one right.  Wikileaks is a force for the good, exposing Swiss Banks or exposing hubristic war-mongers.

27-Jul-2010

Singing Police Officers And The BJP

Rasheeda Bhagat turns a nice phrase:

As the BJP continued its attacks on the CBI and its acts of commission and omission, the investigating agency got a respite on Monday with the Gujarat police officer Mr N.K. Amin, one of the main accused in the encounter, offering to turn approver. This should worry the BJP, because when a police officer sings, one never knows what his refrain will be.

Well done!

Broadband To The Villages

Not sure what to make of this: Special purpose vehicle planned for broadband push.  

Nothing's Trickling Down

Alok Ray, former professor of economics at IIM, Calcutta, writes in DH: Where is inclusiveness?.  He notes India's growth is not all that inclusive.  We lag behind in adult literacy, life expectancy, malnutrition, number of people below the international poverty line, to take just a few indicators.  Job growth seems to have slowed down post-liberalisation:  

One area of major concern is that post-liberalisation, job creation which is a major mechanism of inclusion of more people in economic prosperity, has been slowing down. Employment growth fell sharply in the post-reform years, from 2.6 per cent per annum over 1983-1993 to 1.2 per cent over 1993-2000.

The fall in employment growth rate was specially concentrated in organised sectors (particularly in the public sector). This trend has been reversed to some extent as the latest available National Sample Survey (NSS) data show employment growth during the period 2000-05 was 2.7 per cent per annum. But, then again, the growth in jobs has been mostly concentrated (about 87 per cent) in the unorganised sector.

In terms of equality we seem to be doing well, which is quite surprising.  It does look like inequality is rising (see the graph in this wikipedia article).  And then there is this factoid: The total value of the assets of the country's five billionaires equalled those of the bottom 300 million people (link).  C P Chandrasekhar sums it up concisely, as he writes about a well-ignored recent study of Indian poverty, in The Hindu:
Finally, it has been known that once we went beyond pure income measures of poverty and looked at other indicators of deprivation, not only was the incidence of deprivation substantial in terms of indicators varying from literacy to child malnutrition, but the progress in alleviating certain forms of deprivation had slowed during the high growth years. The problem is not just that India has significantly underperformed when addressing poverty and deprivation over 60-plus years of post-Independence development, but that progress has slowed in precisely those years when the surpluses available to tackle this problem has increased substantially. The problem is not inadequate growth, but one of institutional inadequacy. It is also one of an increasing reluctance of the elite to address those inadequacies and, therefore, of the failure of what is undisputedly one of the most remarkable experiments with parliamentary democracy.
Relatedly : Inclusive Growth, Lip Service Only

No Such Thing As Free Advice?

I posted How Rigged Is The Indian Stock Market? back in June.  Relatedly, though not on insider trading/front-running as that post was, is this bit of advice from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs: 'Beware of investment advice on TV'.  An excerpt:

"Beware of the media, especially the stock-specific advice on electronic media. Too many saints in the capital market offering free advice!.. In reality, many of these advisors have vested interests," the guide said....

Do not blindly take decisions based on accounts just because these are audited, the guide cautions, "high incidence of fraudulent accounts and mis-advertising of financial results. Satyam case is a wake-up call."

Not giving too much of credence to 'free' advice is ok, even though that is what our 'business' channels are filled with the entire day.  But we can't even trust the company accounts?!  On what basis does one actually make investment decisions?  Is this one more way to drive money to mutual funds etc?

On the same day comes this from Business Line: Media toys around with markets.
“They” provide us a running commentary from morning till late evening. “The morning session is crucial,” they say. And if you thought that was a cricket commentator talking about the first hour of play, you are mistaken.

These are market commentators. “The middle session is crucial” and subsequently “the final hour of trade is crucial.” Repeated use of the word “crucial” is aimed at turning on the viewer and making him believe that something big is happening.

This live relay is further followed by expert analysis till late into the night. If you thought “they” were merely commentators, you are possibly wrong. “They” have a deeper and a far more complex agenda — of influencing the minds of the viewers.

Talking up share prices or talking them down is part of the strategy of these “anchor investors”. Thanks to the silence of the market regulator, SEBI, all these have now come to be characterised as acceptable.

21-Jul-2010

Inflation: Fixing The Base

Still talking about inflation, in today's papers Pranab Mukherjee predicts inflation will moderate by end-August:
Addressing a press conference here after a meeting of the Southern Chief Ministers, the Finance Minister said the assessment of inflation is dependent on what is taken as a base. The inflation during the year is about 5.5 per cent. While the food inflation was coming down, the recent fuel price hike has added to this.
Does Pranabda have an ace up his sleeve?  Looks like it, for close to the above article, we have this: New inflation index likely next month: DIPP Secretary.  
The Government is set to introduce a new inflation index, which would add around 250 more items, from next month.

“We are ready with the new index now. Most probably from next month we will start,” said Mr R P. Singh, Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).

The present monthly inflation measurement based on the wholesale price index has 435 commodities but this figure would go up to 670 under the new index. The base year of the new index would also be changed from 1993-94 to 2004-05. The new index is expected to give a more realistic picture of the price rise and its impact on people.
By far the best way to fix inflation!  Will we see that inflation after all is not so high and that the impact on the people is minimal by August then? Can't wait to find out.

No Will, No Way

Devinder Sharma in DH today:
There can be nothing more disappointing. After 63 years of Independence, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) has also expressed its helplessness in feeding the country’s hungry.

The hungry must live in hunger. That’s the clear verdict.  For a country which has the largest population of hungry in the world, and given that half of all children in India is under-nourished according to the National Family Health Survey III (2005-06), I was expecting Sonia Gandhi to spell out a time-bound programme to make hunger history. But from what we read in newspapers, the NAC recommendations will not make any significant difference to the life of millions of hungry and malnourished.
What about China, they aren't doing too well are they?
Let us look at China. Its population is approximately 200 million more than that of India. Against India’s foodgrain production of 230 million tonnes, China produces 500 million tonnes of foodgrains. Even with more than double food production, it imports huge quantities every year to meet the domestic needs. Unlike India, which exports foodgrains and other agricultural commodities by keeping its own people hungry, China has emerged as a major importer of food and agricultural products primarily to feed its teeming millions.

In India, the average per capita availability of food grains is less than 500 gm a day. On the other hand, China provides six times more at 3 kg per day.
Sad.

Where Is The Shine Here?

From DH: Protesting Dalits smear themselves with human excreta.
For the past 70 years, four families of the Bhangi community, who work as night soil workers, have been living in huts built on land belonging to the Savanur Town Municipal Council (TMC).

At a meeting some time ago, the TMC decided to evict the families and build a commercial complex in its place. Ever since, the TMC has employed various devious ways to force the families out of their homes.

Starting with an oral directive, the TMC has resorted to cutting water connection to the families, dumping waste in front of their homes, barging into their homes, insulting their women and threatening them.

Instead of these devious ways, why not use the most straightfoward way to evict them: give them an alternative place to stay?  As the article asks: 

What can be said of a system that forces a community to inflict upon themselves the lowest form of humiliation, just so they are allowed to live in their own homes?

And the other question is: Why, when manual scavenging is constitutionally illegal in India, are people still being employed to do it?  Don't they deserve better?

18-Jul-2010

Talking Down Inflation!

Interesting timeline of pronouncements on inflation, from Business Line:

We can safely say that it is completely under control.  Nothing to worry!

Shining India, New Labour

Both superficial.  Collen Todhunter in DH : A shining India can’t mask its poverty worse than Africa’s

From a land of elephants, poverty and beggars, a shiny new image of India emerged in the West. Farmers drinking pesticide, 800 million or so on less than two dollars a day, increasing food prices and state-corporate grabs for land and minerals — that was all conveniently brushed aside. It didn’t fit the agenda of India as the new chic.

A similar process was also occurring in the UK. The spit and polish was applied in an attempt to gloss over those parts that were not shining. It started a little earlier there — in 1997 to be precise, when Tony Blair and New Labour came to power.

Tony was hip, Tony was cool. He was tuned in and turned on to the meaningless ‘cool Britannia’ soundbite manufactured by the media at that time. Brits were told that it was cool to be British and to bask in their achievements in music, industry and youthful endeavour.

Suddenly, from a country still reeling from the destruction of manufacturing industry, coupled with rising crime and community erosion, the UK was transformed overnight to a ‘can-do’ place of individual endeavour. Whatever happened to the permanent class of wageless labour and the legacy of 11years of Thatcherite rule?

Children growing up in the UK were on the road to suffering greater deprivation, worse relationships with their parents and exposure to more risks from alcohol, drugs and unsafe sex than those in any other wealthy country in the world. That too was neatly brushed aside by the spin doctors and a compliant mainstream media.

In both the UK and India, it was the creamy layer that was shining. Millionaires and billionaires were on the increase. Even over the last year, in a period of crisis and recession, the richest portion of UK society increased its wealth by around $120 billion — that’s almost half the public debt that ordinary working people are having to pay for via public sector cutbacks.

So when prime minister Cameron and the rich bankers and financiers who hold the key positions in his government tell us in the UK that we are all in it (the hardships) together, some of us are a heck of a lot more ‘in it’ than others.

A new index for poverty now indicates that eight Indian states account for more poor people than in the 26 poorest African countries combined. According to this measure, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have 421 million poor people. This is more than the 410 million poor in the poorest African countries.

There's a bit more at the link.  

Bihar: Scams Redux

HC orders CBI probe into scam involving Bihar CM:
The Patna High Court on Thursday asked the CBI to investigate the ‘fraudulent withdrawal’ of Rs 11,412 crore from the State exchequer, in which Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, Health Minister Nand Kishore Yadav and 44 others have been named accused....The CBI probe ordered today by the High Court is a grim reminder of the Rs 950-cr fodder scam in which the Patna High Court had asked the CBI in 1996 to investigate the case involving the then chief minister Lalu Prasad and others.
Politics or is it for real?

Cashless Medical Treatment Bleeds Insurers

Medical insurers stop cashless facility.  What took them so long to wake up?
These 18 insurance companies had so far been providing cashless services at over 3,000 hospitals pan-India. But a recent study carried out by the TPAs found that only 350 of them or roughly 11% were consuming more than 80% of the total claims. 

It was also found that customers were overcharged for each hospitalization, irrespective of the treatment, and were left with very little funds for their next treatment.

Revolving Door Between BSNL, Private Telcoms

I asked last month if the aim of the people in charge was to ruin BSNL to the advantage of private telcoms.  That post was about how BSNL was being made to pay hiked spectrum charges as well as higher licence fees too, while the private players were exempted.  Last week, DoT rejected BSNL's plea to level the playing field: Licence fee: DoT rejects BSNL plea for level field.

Related is this : Union fears nexus between BSNL officers, telcos; seeks probe.  The famous revolving-door problem.  

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd's employees' union has sought a probe into the possibility of a nexus between some officers with private telecom operators to stall the PSU's roll-out plans. This comes after the Government last month hauled up two former BSNL officers for taking up a job with a private telecom company post-retirement without taking approvals.

In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary, the Sanchar Nigam Executive Association (SNEA) said that one of the main reasons for the present state of serious crisis in BSNL is that a good number of officers belonging to top level management and closely involved in taking strategic and critical policy decisions have been on the pay rolls of service providers and vendors. “The modus operandi of such an unholy and unscrupulous nexus is carefully calibrated and the mechanism of its detection is so feeble that hardly anyone is brought to book. But, the fact of the matter remains that a large numbers of officers of top management of BSNL, particularly at the board/CGM level, develop a very close nexus with service providers, while in active job, and, immediately, after their retirement, joins them as consultants,” said Mr G.L. Jogi, General Secretary, SNEA.

Recently, the Government issued an order against Mr Satya Pal Kalsi, former Chief General Manager, BSNL (UP east) and Mr Shabbir Ahmed, former Director BSNL, for undertaking commercial employment with Reliance post their retirement in 2003 without obtaining permission.

Searching For The One

A clinical psychologist writes on Relationships: mistaking love for lust.  Why do people keep looking for someone who will make them happy?  One is mistaking love for lust.  The other two are the advertising mantras of 'you deserve better' and 'there's a whole world out there, just waiting for you'.  Of course yes. Beautiful faces, carefree smiles, spotless skin, shining cars,  cherubic infants, wide open spaces, dream homes...   

She ends up with some advise:

A better way to live, I believe, is to stop searching outside of the self for someone who can “make” you happy. Happiness, satisfaction, contentment — call it what you will — isn't something you'll find “out there.” Instead, it's something that you'll create when you decide to work with what you already have. Of course, there will be circumstances in which you will have tried everything you can think of, and you've done so repeatedly, and still things aren't working out. But in the vast majority of cases, a change of attitude is all that would be necessary to alleviate the great weight of dissatisfaction so many of us feel. The key to contentment has nothing to do with what you do or don't have. It's all about what you decide to do with what is already yours.

Karnataka: Left Hand, Meet Mr. Right Hand

On Thursday: BBMP to take stern action against building bylaw violators :
Bangalore: The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) plans to get tough with building owners who have violated the building bylaws and constructed their structures.

Following a directive from the High Court of Karnataka on June 24, BBMP Commissioner Siddaiah recently issued circular warning officials who have failed to check unauthorised construction and bylaw violations of stringent action.

On Friday: Bills passed sans debate:
Bangalore, July 15, DHNS:  The State’s lawmakers passed as many as nine pieces of legislation, including the Sakrama Bill, which would facilitate regularising unauthorised construction and sites, and the controversial bill on banning cow slaughter, in the two Houses of the Legislature here on Thursday.
The ball now is in the Governor's court.  He's returned the Akrama-Sakrama bill thrice before this. Let's see what he does now. As for the implications of the bill, they are clear

“It sends a wrong message to the people that you can violate law with impunity as there is no punishment. It is a reward to the law-breakers and punishes those who rely on the system and build their houses as per law,” he said.

People are already losing faith in the system and law and such a step would further discourage them, Santosh Hedge felt.

He opined that there should have been a meaningful discussion in the House.An office bearer of Civic Bangalore, Kathyayini Chamaraj said, “We are opposed to any kind of regularisation. It penalises law-abiding people and rewards the people who broke the law. You happily violate law and get it regularised. The whole ethics of governance is turned on its head. Its a sign of the time, evil triumph over truth.”

On the topic of breaking the law with impunity, the second councillor to be caught taking bribes is unfazed: Trapped corporator refuses to resign:
“Why should I resign? Have the ‘gani dhanis’ (mining lords) and Sampangi resigned from the Assembly? Ask them first to resign, I will surely follow them,” Govindaraju remarked.
Sampangi was the first councillor to be caught.

15-Jul-2010

Government For Sale!

And it is not in the 3rd World.  This is the US we're talking about.  Time's July 12th Edition's headlines say it all.  Government for Sale: How Lobbyists Shaped the Financial Reform Bill.  The online edition doesn't have the full article, just the teaser. 

13-Jul-2010

Metro Alone May Not Be Enough

From today's The Hindu (link) :
Traffic engineering expert M.N. Sreehari points out that Namma Metro can decongest city roads only by just 25 per cent, and that too along its corridor. Only when this corridor is networked with other modes of public transport can visible change occur on Bangalore's roads, Prof. Sreehari said.

Prof. Sreehari pointed out that Namma Metro Phase 1 and Phase 2 will not be sufficient to cater to the growing demand for public transport in Bangalore. Along with other modes, more Metro lines should criss-cross the city as early as possible to reduce the pressure on roads.

25% of traffic along its corridor.  And the corridor is pretty narrow.

So those London dreams won't come true it appears (from Times Of India 2003 - Will Metro solve city's transport woes):
Bangalore city is looking for a mass transportation system that can claim to be swift, ease pollution and congestion. The best answer to the city's various traffic woes appears to be the Metro Rail.

The London Metro, which spans the entire city, connects all important spots and even the airport. But travel is comfortable and takes just a few minutes, enhancing the quality of life. A majority live in the suburbs,where housing is inexpensive. For them, the Metro is the lifeline. Driving through London takes hours, which is also true of Paris, New York, Washington and other major cities, point out experts. 

ToI omitted the fact that the London Metro is actually called 'London Underground'.

We were sold a defective good.  And now there will be a clamour for more - mono rail, high speed rail etc... - feeder services for a stupid metro system.

'Facilitators' To 'Help' Ministries

From DH:
The department of performance management has created a pool of about 30 experts drawn from different fields and recently conducted a workshop for them on their functions. These experts are available for the ministries, depending on their area of work, for consultation. The facilitators include eminent professors from the Indian Institutes of Management, Ahmedabad and Bangalore and other reputable Indian consultants working abroad.

The pool was drawn up by Prajapati Trivedi, secretary, department of performance evaluation, cabinet secretariat and Arun Meira, member, Planning Commission.Amongst the facilitators include A Arindam Bhattacharya, managing director of Boston Consulting Group, business strategy advisor Ramesh C Jain, strategy expert Shankar Venkateshan and Jagdeep Chhokar, former dean and director-in charge of IIM, Ahm-edabad.

More here.

Update:  The main worry I have about this development is this: the revolving door phenomenon.  It has caused considerable problems of governance in the US where it is prevalent.  Will it do the same here?  Would the Boston Consulting Group MD be a impartial dispenser of advice?  Or will his day-job influence his government recommendations? 

Rs 1 Lakh Crores Spent on Urban Areas

In the last four years. JnNURM has contributed half of that. The infrastructure companies should be happy. Link.

10-Jul-2010

Inclusive Growth, Lip Service Only

A commission setup to 'review the status of the unorganised/informal sector in India' submits its report.  The report paints a bleak picture of the current situation - "77% of the population in 2004-05 had to make do, on an average, with no more than Rs 20 perday per capita" -  and makes some recommendations.  And the commission winds up after submitting the report.  In April 2009.  End of story.  

Inclusive growth indeed.  Link to EPW article on it: India's Social Question in a State of Denial (PDF).  The actual report is here (PDF).

Yeddyurappa Explains How They Done It

The CM admits what everyone already knew: CM admits illegal mining in State. But why does he retain some of the responsible mining kingpins in his cabinet? That is the question that he should be answering.  While we wait for that, he also explains how the looting happened: How 30 million tonnes of iron ore was looted from State.  Yawn.  I think we knew that too:

Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa on Friday told the Legislative Assembly that illegal iron ore export had been going on for the last seven years and a whopping 30 million tonnes of ore had been illegally exported from the State.

In his 21-page reply to a weeklong debate on the resignation of the Karnataka Lokayukta and illegal mining in the State, Mr. Yeddyurappa said political parties that formed governments had given mining permits to their party men and relatives and were allowed to “loot” the ore illegally.
He also provides details on the amount of illegal ore exported:
He said illegal export of iron ore was 20,49,961 tonnes in 2003-04; 52,39,528 tonnes in 2004-05; 21,71,492 tonnes in 2005-06; 47,44,645 tonnes in 2006-07; 57,61,048 tonnes in 2007-08; 33,96,126 tonnes in 2008-09 and 71,27,937 tonnes in 2009-10.
Interesting that the all time high was achieved under the BJP government.  Yet, only the small fry will get caught and the bigshots will be protected:  I got only half of what I wanted: Santosh Hegde.  

Speaking of getting something, here is one more big fish that will get away: Nagaraj accuses Mantri Developers of fraud.

09-Jul-2010

Universalise PDS

Persuasive argument for it by Jean Dreze. About the cost which will be the objection, he writes:
This is not likely to come cheap. Tentative calculations suggest that a comprehensive Food Security Act may cost something like one lakh crore rupees a year. This may sound like a mind-boggling price tag, but it is not. For one thing, in a country where half the children are undernourished, there is no quick fix — any serious attempt to deal with mass undernourishment is bound to be expensive. For another, one lakh crore rupees is just about 1.5 per cent of India's Gross Domestic Product. Is that an excessive price to pay to protect everyone from hunger?

Incidentally, India already spends more than that sum on things that are rather trivial compared with the right to food. I am not just thinking of military expenditure, which could do with some pruning, especially when it is being used also for internal repression. The fertilizer subsidy is in the range of one lakh crore rupees a year, with doubtful social benefits, not to speak of the environmental damage. And the annual “revenue foregone” on account of tax exemptions is more than five lakh crore rupees, according to the Finance Minister's own “Foregone Revenue Statement.” This includes about Rs. 80,000 crore of corporate income tax foregone (some of it “on account of contributions to political parties”) and nearly Rs. 40,000 crore of foregone customs duties on “vegetables, fruits, cereals and edible oils.”

28-Jun-2010

Mission Accomplished : BJP Is No Different

Sometime ago, a state BJP leader had bemoaned the fact that the party workers were of the view that the BJP had ceased to be a party with a difference: Erasing the difference.

Now, the parent organisation bemoans the  same fact: BJP is no different: RSS.  

“The dream of Rama Rajya is crumbling. We (in the RSS) are pained that our party could not show the difference. The Chief Minster (B.S. Yeddyurappa) is in a dilemma. Money and corruption have taken deep root in the party, even among sections of the core group which comes from the RSS,” [RSS leader M.B. Puranik] said.

Farmer's Son Yeddyurappa

And this is what he said during the 2nd year celebrations:
No sooner had the tears dried up than Yeddyurappa said he was “prepared to write out in his blood” that his government would not betray the trust of the people, especially the farmers whose land he sought to usher in greater investments in the infrastructure sector.

He repeatedly reminded the audience that he was a farmer’s son and would never ignore the welfare of the farming community. “Farmers do not get two meals even after working hard through the day. I have made it compulsory the rendering of Raitha Geete, penned by Kuvempu, during all programmes,” he said.
And today we read this: Police thrash agitating farmers:
The police on Sunday evening brutally caned farmers at Hemmigepura near here and even thrashed one farmer with an iron rod when they were agitating against the arrest of their leaders near the Chief Minister's home office, ‘Krishna', in the city for protesting against keeping them out of a crucial meeting related to the controversial Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) project.

...

The police, led by Deputy Superintendent of Police Devaraj, resorted to merciless caning. The video footage captured by a private television channel showed an agitator collapsing soon after he was assaulted by a senior police officer with the iron rod.

24-Jun-2010

Mining The Depths Of Corruption In Karnataka

That's what the 'Party With A Difference' seems to be doing: Lokayukta indicts BSY govt, quits. One of the major complaints of the Lokayukta is the suspension of the DCF of Karwar who, acting on his behalf, seized unaccounted iron ore . Of course, the BJP has made a virtue out of a necessity. Newspaper advertisements for the Global Investors Meet had the smiling faces of Janardhana Reddy (the mining kingpin) and Yeddyurappa alongside each other. After all, Yeddyurappa is still the CM courtesy the Bellary brothers.

Interesting data on the scale of the illegal ore exports, from DH. Total ore exported in just five months upto Feb 2010 from two ports (Karwar and Belekeri) is 57,17,370 metric tonnes. Permits issued for 21,85,452 metric tonnes. So 171% more ore being exported than permitted by the government.

23-Jun-2010

How Rigged Is The Indian Stock Market?

Quite. From Business Line:
The call to tighten the norms relating to personal transactions comes in the wake of the SEBI penalising an employee of HDFC AMC for tipping off his close associates about the substantial buying and selling pattern of the AMC so that they could place their orders ahead of the AMC. These associates could square off their positions within the same trading session even as the AMC's orders were coming, thereby making huge profits.

In 2007, a dealer from UTI securities was found guilty of customised front-running in the Ballarpur Industries stock in collusion with employees of two other brokerages and a select group of clients.

...

The market is rife with cases of front-running thanks to the magnitude of inside information that participants possess and wish to cash-in on.

Not very surprised. I know inside tips emanate outwards from Mumbai. Just learnt last night from my friendly adviser that a stock recommended by her was a heavily manipulated one and that was the reason she suggested it to me :-)

Mamata's Ascendancy : Mum's The Word?

Singur and Nandigram seem to have been a turning point in Mamata Banerjee's political ascendancy in West Bengal. Both were basically against the pro-industry and anti-people stance of the Left. How many media outlets have discussed this angle? Not surprisingly, given the general pro-industry slant of the media, not many if Google is anything to go by. With one exception. Rasheeda Bhagat in Business Line:
The question, then, is how Trinamool managed to break the Left's winning streak in West Bengal. Surely, the principal reason is the growing disenchantment of the voter with the Left, and a definitive turning point was the manner in which Didi took up the cause of the farmers and the peasants who were set to lose their land in both Singur and Nandigram, to make way for industrial projects.

As she took on Mr Ratan Tata's Nano project in Singur, and eventually forced its exit to Sanand, Gujarat, the elite and educated Indians, as well as mainstream media, were clearly on the side of India's most admired and trusted corporate icon that Mr Tata certainly is. Some pretty unsavoury stuff was written about how Mamata was stalling the industrial development of West Bengal.

But then came Nandigram, and we saw the unleashing of ugly violence on the protestors who refused to part with the land which either belonged to them or over which they had enjoyed rights for several years. With charges of the Left workers getting into the act, along with the police, to “punish” the protestors, beat up the TMC workers supporting them, and wreak vengeance and violence on the women and children, it no longer seemed right to endorse the government's stand.

After Nandigram, Mamata clearly emerged the definitive political leader who had the spunk to take up the cause of the deprived and the downtrodden, even as the Left leaders continued to be arrogant and indifferent to the real public mood. Suddenly the leader sans frills, who lives an austere lifestyle in a single-storeyed house in Kolkata — here is she as different from Mayawati and Jayalalithaa as cheese from chalk — had become the darling of the Bengali masses and intellectuals alike.

Nuclear Liability: Accidents Happen

So why ignore that fact? From The Hindu:
The ongoing disaster of the petroleum volcano caused by blowout of the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico should provide a sobering object lesson. Thinking that does not consider high-consequence but low-probability events borders on folly. BP also considered an uncontrolled blowout to be very low probability. As it turns out, BP, as one of the world's largest corporations, can provide the tens of billions of dollars of damages. But no nuclear company in the United States has the financial muscle to compensate a significant fraction of the maximum officially estimated damages.
Makes sense.

16-Jun-2010

Nuclear Liability: Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Siddarth Varadarajan writes in The Hindu:
The irony is that even as it has pushed the regime of legal channelling on the rest of the world, the U.S. system of economic channelling of liability allows tort claims as well as an unrestricted right of recourse for the operator. That is how, for example, Metropolitan Edison, the operator of the Three Mile Island reactor, sued its supplier, Babcock & Wilcox, after the 1979 accident.
What is it that makes the U.S. so hypocritical?

He also considers some alternatives that India could consider in terms of making a liability law:
In a recent article, Evelyne Ameye has confronted the flawed logic of channelling, making a safety-cum-engineering argument in favour of suppliers remaining liable for accidents their products may cause. (“Channelling of nuclear third party liability towards the operator,” European Energy and Environmental Law Review, 2010). This can be done in two ways. Liability for an accident can still be channelled on to the operator but his right of recourse in the event of supplier negligence is left unrestricted. The Russian Federal Act on Atomic Energy, for example, does not impose a limit upon the operator's right of recourse. (Alexander Matveev, “The Russian approach to nuclear liability,” International Journal of Nuclear Law, 2006). South Korea's liability legislation also allows operators to recover damages from suppliers in the event of negligence. A second way would be to allow victims to sue suppliers for fault-liability under tort law so as to win damages over and above what the operator pays through strict liability. Thus Germany, a party to the Vienna Convention on nuclear liability, entered a reservation stressing its right, under national law, to hold persons other than the operator liable for nuclear damage. Besides, several conventions on environmental damage — such as the 2003 Kiev Protocol on industrial accidents in transboundary waters — now explicitly provide for strict as well as fault-liability to run side by side.

India: America's Strategic Partner?

Speaking at a press conference here Rajan Bharti Mittal, President of the FICCI, said, “It is a little unfortunate that when we have the first Indo-U.S. strategic dialogue on the one side, and then you have, with your own strategic partner you defined, dual technology denials, or entities which are on a list or watched.”

Mr. Mittal added that while the U.S. was, on the one hand, discussing collaboration on space with India, on the other it was preventing the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) from using U.S. space technology by keeping it on the Entities List.

Also, he said, “While you talk about the most [joint] defence exercises being done between India and the U.S. … you [however] have the Defence Research and Development Organisation… on their banned list.”

Thus there was a need to look at the Indo-U.S. strategic relationship, “in a very different way,” he said.

The Americans I'm sure already look at the relationship in a different way. India, rather than being a partner, is just a market for their industry to sell defence equipment, nuclear power equipment, and so on.

Bhopal: Just A Legacy Legal Issue

From a letter the Chairman of Dow Chemicals wrote to the Indian Ambassador after their meeting as part of the India-US CEO forum (link to Business Line article here ):
In yet another letter to the Indian Ambassador after the meeting of the Forum on September 14 2005, Mr. Liveris said “to facilitate the Indan-U.S. strategic partnership and to help chart a path forward, the following proposal is designed to help resolve a specific legacy legal issue — the Bhopal matter.”

Mr. Liveris in the letter goes on to outline as the first step of the proposal, “The GoI will implement a consistent, government-wide position that does not promote continued GoI litigation efforts against non-Indian companies over the Bhopal tragedy.” He added that “identified companies” should be invited to discuss their views directly with the relevant ministries of the GoI at the request of the latter. Linking this request for a softer approach to foreign companies facing liabilities to the broader issue of U.S.-India business ties, Mr. Liveris said, “One of the top areas cited as a barrier to mutual business success was legacy legal issues within India. Several companies face such issues, and all agree that legal matters which are unpredictable and changeable are a barrier for any company to feel certainty in the investment climate.”
And why was the Indian Government stating that "Dow is not responsible for Bhopal and will not be pursued by the Government of India" when the case was in the courts? This goes beyond any particular government. Any other government would have done the same. Capital wins over people any day.

BSNL: On Unlevel Playing Field

NEW DELHI: Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., which is already reeling under severe financial crisis, is being forced to pay hiked spectrum charges, while private mobile companies have been given temporary exemption.

BSNL, which is likely to report loss for the first time in its history for the last fiscal (2009-10), will have to bear financial implications worth over Rs.700-800 crore every year. All pleas by BSNL Chairman and Managing Director Kuldeep Goyal to Telecom Secretary P.J. Thomas, seeking exemption from paying hiked spectrum usage charges till the matter is finally settled has so far gone unheard.

In February, the Department of Telecom (DoT) decided to hike the spectrum usage charges for all mobile players (GSM and CDMA) as per the spectrum being held by them. The hike was in the range of 1-2 per cent and supposed to come into force from April 1.

However, private players immediately moved the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). It stayed the order and asked the DoT to continue taking the existing charges till the mater is resolved. All the companies that approached the TDSAT got the relief; but being a government-owned firm, BSNL did not approach the TDSAT. Since then, BSNL has been paying more spectrum usage charges.

Telecom operators are required to pay between 6 and 10 per cent of their annual revenues to the Government as licence fees. However, private operators pay the revenue share only on income earned from telecom services based on a judgment given by the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). But since BSNL was not part of the petition filed by the private players it is continuing to pay licence fee on the total revenue, including income from non-telecom activities.

In a letter to DoT, Mr Kuldeep Goyal, Chairman, BSNL, said, “It transpires that private operators are now paying the licence fee on the basis of the TDSAT judgment while BSNL has been instructed to pay licence fee without taking the benefit of the TDSAT judgment. I would request you that BSNL may be permitted to account for the payments of licence fee on the basis of TDSAT judgment.”

Is the aim to ruin BSNL? No points for guessing who will benefit the most from that: the private players.

14-Jun-2010

Polluter Pays? Hardly.

From The Hindu:

He pointed out that in the wake of the Bhopal gas disaster when many affected people and voluntary organisations approached the court of law, the government woke up to the situation and at the intervention of the courts, tried to enforce measures for the treatment of effluents before discharging them in the public places.

But under pressure from the industries, the “polluter pays” theory was given the go-by and in most of the cases the industrial units discharging pollutants were made to pay only 20 per cent of the cost with the remaining 80 per cent coming from the general tax payers, the State and Central government funds and the financial institutions.

The industrial houses did not even bother to maintain the treatment plants or expand its capacity when the load increased. The GPCB kept on issuing notices, but no one ever bothered about violation of its norms and the Board remained a silent spectator doing nothing to make the industrial houses bend.

Pollution by industry is a hidden subsidy to the polluting industries. Do they really pass on this subsidy to consumers - may be, may be not. Of course, this is not specific to India:
In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment.

[The NY Times ]research shows that an estimated one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals or fails to meet a federal health benchmark in other ways.

... stretched resources [at the regulators] are only part of the reason polluters escape punishment. The Times’s investigation shows that in West Virginia and other states, powerful industries have often successfully lobbied to undermine effective regulation.

12-Jun-2010

Lobbying In The US

From Washington Post:
Even for Washington, the revolving door between government and Wall Street spins at a dizzying pace. More than 1,400 former members of Congress, Capitol Hill staffers or federal employees registered as lobbyists on behalf of the financial services sector since the start of 2009, according to an exhaustive new study issued Thursday.
...
"Companies pay a premium for lobbyists who've spun through the revolving door because it can be a small price to pay relative to the huge payoff if they can shape legislation," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "These lobbyists tap insider knowledge and personal relationships, knowing that their old friends and former co-workers won't want to let them down."
But of course the lobbyists will be devoted to doing what is right for the people. To think otherwise is unwarranted.

08-Jun-2010

The Moist Problem: An Issue of Social Justice

Tehelka has a hard-hitting interview with a former chief of BSF. He minces no words and states that it is first and foremost an issue of social justice. The interview is worth reading in full.
It is not about development. It is about rights. This government has to understand — how is it that land ceiling was implemented in Kerala? Why is there no Maoist movement there? You know what happened there? Under EMS Namboodiripad, the law was so strong that anyone who was a tenant farmer for 12 years, the ownership of the land passed to him without compensation to the owner. We are now in 2010, but in most parts of the country, we are behaving as though we are in 1610 or something. Do you know in Australia and the US now, they say that if any minerals or oil is found in the Reservation areas, that resource belongs to the Aborigines and Native Americans. In India also, the first thing that should be declared is that if minerals are found in the forest, it belongs to the people of that forest. The MOUs should be signed by all the people of that village with that company. After that, give them legal guidance and see that the profit comes to their accounts. Is the government in Delhi prepared to do that? Why should they? Every MOU has a Swiss Bank account attached.
Will he be invited on TV shows? Unlikely. All they seem to want is an eye for an eye, bullet for bullet and strafing the forests from the air. But the Maoists/Naxals don't seem to be in it for the money and are hence more dangerous. And the tribals have nothing to lose and all to gain.

Bhopal's Affected: Second Time Unlucky

DH brings home the horrible truth:
Twenty-six years after thousands of people died in a cloud of toxic gas in the world’s worst industrial disaster, tragedy struck Bhopal a second time on Monday when a court here sentenced eight persons to relatively light punishment, including fine, and then granted them bail.
A lawyer weighs in, in The Hindu:
Eminent lawyer K.T.S. Tulsi agreed with the activists, saying that the investigating agencies as well as prosecutors “mishandled” the case. “It is the sheer incompetence of investigators as well as prosecutors. They must share the blame. In a trial like this, the judges ought to have made up the deficiency, directed further investigation and ought not to have become merely recording machines.”

“In every case, where rich and powerful are involved, there is an attempt to cover-up. The question is why did it happen so conveniently? Why was the press not so vigilant?” he said, adding that justice had not been done in this case.

“It is the obligation of the judiciary that people get justice. Unfortunately, in this case they have not got justice.”

Truly, some human lives are always worth less than others in our country.

07-Jun-2010

The Demographic Edge

Interesting numbers:
According to its own estimates, over 77 per cent of Indians lived on an expenditure of Rs 20 or below per capita per day, certainly higher than the official Below the Poverty Line estimate of Rs 12 but not much better.

Statistically, it could be claimed that the number of BPL families in extreme poverty had declined but as the committee pointed out, that still left a large section, 77 per cent, “poor and vulnerable”.

In the words of the committee, “Most of the population of this group were also either illiterate or without even primary education, and also suffer from malnutrition.

These groups emerge as a sort of a coalition of socially discriminated, educationally deprived and economically destitute, whereas less than one fourth of our population only was enjoying a high rate of growth or their purchasing power.”
An interesting thought:
“Europeans believe that Indian leaders in politics and business are so blissfully blinded by the new, sometimes, ill-gotten wealth … that they are living in defiance, insolence and denial to comprehend that the day will come, sooner than later, when the have-nots would hit the streets…In a way, it has already started with the monstrous and grotesque acts of Maoists.

The drumbeats of these rebellions are going to get louder and louder (leading) to a revolution …And when that occurs, not one political turn coat will escape being lynched”.
Hope someone is putting one and one together and coming up with the right answer.

Gilchrist Hears Whispers and Suggestions

About fixing in IPL. From DH:
"It's been discussed among players in the IPL - more wondering whether it goes on. There's a strong thought that we'd be naive to think it's not happening, because it's a pretty easy target. There's a lot of accessibility to players and it's early in its governance," Gilchrist, who is here to play for county side Middlesex, said.

The retired wicketkeeper-batsman said corruption in cricket can only be stopped by heightened vigilance."I've been made more aware of it since getting here, seeing some of those comments from players who have been approached," Gilchrist told 'The Daily Telegraph'.
Of course, the one of the 'players who have been approached' is a English county cricketer who was approached by an Indian businessman. Link here.

01-Jun-2010

Where's The Difference?

Ramakrishna Upadhyaya writes about the BJP completing 2 years and concludes : Little to celebrate. He mainly touches on the flood and subsequent rehabilitation:
It was nearly eight months ago in the first week of October last year that unprecedented rains and floods ravaged over 1,500 villages in 14 districts of north Karnataka. Raichur, Bellary, Bijapur, Koppal and Bagalkot were among the worst hit and nearly 2 lakh families were rendered homeless.

Around the same time, the Yeddyurappa government was also in turmoil as, unmindful of the people’s suffering on such a large scale, the Reddy brothers had raised a banner of revolt and spirited away about 40 MLAs to Hyderabad and created a deep political crisis for the chief minister.
I would have thought the floods would have been a showcase for the BJP to put its "efficiency" on full display. Apparently not.

US Fingers In All Our Pies

It is so touching that the US wants to put its fingers into all our pies. Defence, nuclear technology, and now broadband. Look at this: US to work with India on National Broadband Plan:
The US has said that it would collaborate with India in evolving a National Broadband Plan.

“We have initiated talks through the ICT joint working group last week in New Delhi. We have fixed a time-bound schedule to discuss things. The two sides will soon identify points of contacts for one-to-one interactions,” Mr Philip L. Verveer, Ambassador (US Coordinator for International Communication and Information Policy), said.

So sweet of them. Of course, if it results in a few dollars flowing to their business, nothing like it:

The [ICT] group comprised top Government executives and representatives from businesses.

Messing Up The Present For The Future

Commodity futures are supposed to help producers (e.g., farmers) and consumers of commodities to hedge against price changes. But of course that is not how it is working. From Business Line:
An official probe by the US Senate found “substantial and persuasive evidence” that non-commercial traders pushed up futures prices, disrupted convergence between futures and cash prices and increased costs for farmers, the grain industry and consumers.
And:
A study by Christopher Gilbert (‘Speculative influences on commodity futures 2006-08', UNCTAD Discussion Paper No 197, Geneva) has found that index traders amplified price volatility to the extent of 30 per cent in oil and metals prices and around 15 per cent in foodgrains prices.

25-May-2010

Regulators in the US

Unbelievable!
WASHINGTON — Federal regulators responsible for oversight of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico allowed industry officials several years ago to fill in their own inspection reports in pencil — and then turned them over to the regulators, who traced over them in pen before submitting the reports to the agency, according to an inspector general’s report to be released this week.

The report, which describes inappropriate behavior by the staff at the Minerals Management Service from 2005 to 2007, also found that inspectors had accepted meals, tickets to sporting events and gifts from at least one oil company while they were overseeing the industry.
(via Atrios).

This coming after the senior employees of the Securities and Exchange Commision (the finance industry regulator/watch dog) were caught watching porn in the office. Not good days for the regulators in the US!

23-May-2010

India Unable To Investigate Crash On Its Own

I found this on Deccan Herald:
A team of top US transportation experts along with officials from Boeing is set to join Indian aviation authorities in probing the Air India Express flight crash in Mangalore that killed 158 people.According to sources, the team,which will assist Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in investigation into Saturday's plane crash, is scheduled to reach Mangalore on Tuesday morning.
They're coming as the result of a request from India.

Right. Incredible India. The next world Superpower. Ready to take over the world soon. And we don't know how to determine what happened when a plane crashes? Mind you, this wasn't a crash in mid-flight over sea or some remote mountain range. This is right next to the landing strip. The CVR and FDR have been found. And we're inviting the company that manufactured the damn plane to help us find out what happened? What are the chances that the report will find that the plane was just fine?

Relatedly, this is probably what Condaleeza Rice meant when she said the USA would help India become a major world power. Yup. Step by baby step.

21-May-2010

When The State Gets Coercive

A letter to the Editor :
I would like the readers whose passions are running high in the wake of Dantewada II to go through Chapter IV of a 2009 draft report authored by Sub Group IV of the Committee on State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms, set up by the Union Ministry of Rural Development, besides offering their suggestions to wipe out the Maoists. While addressing the question of large-scale acquisition of tribal lands in the mineral-rich area, the Report talks of the forcible evacuation of entire villages and herding the populace into camps, from which those who escape are branded as Maoists and wiped out. The Salwa Judum, which organised the evacuation, according to the report, was “created and encouraged by the [State] government and supported with the firepower and organisation of the central forces.”

S.V. Rajadurai,

Kotagiri

The report is here. An article from Outlook quotes a small paragraph:
This open, declared war will go down as the biggest land grab ever.... Tata Steel and Essar Steel...wanted seven villages or thereabouts...to mine the richest lode of iron ore available in India. (After) initial resistance from the tribals...the state withdrew its plans. A new approach was necessary.... (It) came about with the Salwa Judum...headed by the Murias, some of them erstwhile (Maoist) cadres. Behind them are traders, contractors and miners.... The first financiers of the Salwa Judum were Tata and Essar...640 villages...were laid bare, burnt to the ground and emptied with the force of the gun and the blessings of the state. (Some) 3,50,000 tribals, half the total population of Dantewada district, are displaced, their womenfolk raped, their daughters killed and their youth maimed. Those who could not escape into the jungle were herded together into refugee camps run and managed by the Salwa Judum...640 villages are empty. Villages sitting on tons of iron ore are effectively de-peopled and available for the highest bidder. The latest information being circulated is that both Essar Steel and Tata Steel are willing to take over the empty landscape and manage the mines.”
The Outlook reporter calls it 'devastatingly frank'. That it is without a doubt, though it's from a committee set up by the government and not by a group of some wild-eyed Maoist-sympathisers.