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.