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.