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.”