Friday, December 16, 2011

Wattakka Kalu Pol - Pumpkin Curry Sri Lankan style

Well, it is always fun to cook for me. I would in fact say that it is akin to meditation for me, as it gives me immense peace of mind. I had tried a new recipe recently from the gourmet's paradise Sri Lanka, and though it is slightly different from the original, the end result tends to be the same.
This time around, I tried cooking pumpkin a bit differently. The need to cook it differently arose from the problem that the cold weather poses - tamarind tends to spoil throats, and everyone is already fighting sore throats and sniffing noses. I recalled something I had seen on television aeons ago, and thought I's try. The end result was wonderful. Wattakka Kalu Pol roughly translates to Pumpkin Curry in Coconut Milk, and the recipe is a must try for it gives you an option of eating pumpkin with rice, something unheard of before. So here goes the recipe. Hope you guys enjoy it. This recipe is for 2-3 people, so just adjust if you want to make it for more people.

INGREDIENTS
250 gm pumpkin, chopped into thin square pieces. You need not remove the skin.
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 twigs of curry leaves
1 green chilli, chopped
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp coriander powder
2 tbsp mustard oil
1 cup coconut milk
salt to taste
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder (short grain rice roasted to brown and then ground)

PREPARATION
After you have cut the pumpkin, put in all the spices with the salt into a bowl and mix well.



In a wok, put in the oil and heat it up. Throw in the fenugreek and mustard seeds and as they crackle, put in the chilli and curry leaves and let the whole thing crackle up really nicely.
Now, throw in the pumpkin mix and let it cook on simmer till the pumpkin cooks up. Follow it up with the coconut milk with the curry powder, and let it all boil till the milk reduces to a thick base. Your wattakka kalu pol is ready. Serve it hot with rice.

Happy eating people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Death, You Have Been an Experience

I was driving the car. Having just dropped my mother and brother, I was turning around a sharp bend when a car came around and hit me hard. It jolted me out of my senses, and I was stunned by its impact.
I got out of the car at that moment to see the rear totally mangled, looking like a piece of waste metal that is of no use to the smelting workshops and gets discarded. Anger boiled over as I walked in search of the person responsible for it. There were minor bruises on my forehead luckily, and just thenI saw the man, standing there, inspecting the wreck of the car.
"You! How dare you do this to me and my car!" I shouted at the driver, running towards him lest he ran away.
He looked at me, surprised, as if he had seen a ghost. "I'm sorry madam, but its not my fault. Believe me, I was just sitting by the side and eating some chocolate cookies."
He was scarred on the forehead with a big gash, and yet the man had the gumption to pretend that he wasn't responsible. I was not gonna let him get away so easily, and before long we were both in a police station, with the police officer looking at us nonchalantly.
"Why are you not arresting him? He nearly killed the both of us due to his rash driving," I spoke, as a few relatives of the man streamed in.
"But sir, I had been eating and not driving. It was someone else. Wait, let me show you," he said, while he fished into the purse of one of his female relations, and brought out a gold foil mess. "See, I told you so," he said, "I had just handed it over when it happened sir."
"Why are you letting the dead tell you what to do sir?" he screamed.
"Dead? Who's dead?"
"You are madam. Its been more than a year now, and you turn up at the police station every night," spoke the constable quietly.
The world just swam in my eyes, as I tried to bear the shock. Am I really dead, I thought, when all of a sudden, a faint voice started calling me towards itself.
******************************************************************************
"She's opening her eyes," someone said in a distant sort of way.
"Thank God."
I opened my eyes, and all of a sudden immense pain surrounded me. I was in a hospital, bedridden. The doctor was checking on me, and was smiling when I recognized everyone around me.
"You are quite a remarkable person. You were dead for about a minute just now," he said.
******************************************************************************
Its been a year since then. I taught myself that life needs to be enjoyed fully, as if there will never be a tomorrow. It suits none to crib about what you do not have. Instead, rejoice over what you have, and remember, the thing that matters the most is your family, I once remarked to a set of friends with whom I was drinking wine.
*******************************************************************************
"Get up you oaf. Will you never end your sleep?"
I got up, shocked. So it was just a dream. Or was it my life at another plane of existence? I will never be able to answer that, even as the sun blinded me teasingly with its bright rays of light.

(P.S. This was a dream I just had in the morning. I wonder what it means.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Intellectual Bankruptcy of India - When Will It Stop????

Today the Delhi based newspaper Hindustan Times reported the news that Nobel laureate Har Gobind Khurana, the man who decoded the RNA sequence, died on Wednesday at the age of 86. His story is little known to today's Indians, and perhaps life prior to the Nobel Prize is forgotten in India. I am raking up a dead man's past because I want to point out  certain things that happened in his life that continue to happen even today, and we should stop and think for a moment what we have 'achieved'.

Har Gobind Khurana's story was like any successful Indian emigrant's story with the typically filmy twist. Very few people would know the fact that he had applied for the post of lecturer with both the Delhi University and Punjab University, Jalandhar. As every successful emigrant's story goes, his application was rejected just because he did not have any political affiliation. My point is that the reason we today suffer intellectual bankruptcy in India even today has been the fact that true intellectuals were conveniently pushed for out of our 'system' and replaced by sycophants and yes men who always were searching for post retirement benefits. C.V. Raman had left the Indian Institute of Science in absolute disgust for these very reasons and had set up the Raman Research Institute, which has also since seen a decline due to non-support.

The intellectual bankruptcy that India faces today needs to be arrested fast, for we have already lost genuine intellectuals, and today's intellectuals is symptomatic of what is precisely wrong with our country. This attitude of booting out people if they do not suit your 'political affiliation' needs to be done away with at all costs, and Indian universities must take a leaf out of Harvard's staunch defense of Subramanian Swamy after an inflammatory article. It is surprising that in a country as democratic as ours, the education system (or whatever is left of it today, thanks to our actions) is so Communist in its nature. If we cannot deal with it, God save our nation from becoming a nation of idiots.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Inflation and the Manipulation Behind It

It has been some time now that we have had high inflation rates, and this has been pushed to the extent that for the first time in India we have a situation where housing loans now would perhaps pass on to the children of the lenders post their retirement because of ballooning interest rates spiraling out of control. It does not surprise anyone that this situation of super inflation (as I would call it) does not come under control. There are multiple reasons behind it. I shall talk about a couple of them, and hope others pick the signals up as well.

Food prices have gone up across the world. Continuous monitoring by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has shown that prices have risen five times since 2007, when food was treated as a commodity and future trading was allowed with the blessing of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and big agricultural giants like Cargill, Dow and Monsanto. This has already created havoc across the world which frighteningly led to food riots in many countries in the past four years, notably Egypt, Jordan and Mozambique (these are ones that I can recall). Why are we allowing this to happen when even today people are not able to buy food due to the impossibly high prices and in contrast we never produced more food ever in our recorded history? Contrast this with the fact that we have touched the million farmer suicide mark in India (read here as brought out by the great journalist P. Sainath).

Another major reason that we have seen such great growth is that foreign investments have increased and our export sector is recording ever increasing sales. All this has led to a surplus of cash floating in the economy while also putting stress on our financial sector for money. How is this possible in the face of a shrinking world economy? Obviously, this has implications that there is a major problem of illicit money floating around, with people mostly bringing in their illegally earned wealth, also pointed out by a recent Kotak Securities report (read here) and has been continuously noted by people like Subramanian Swamy (yes the man). Instead of investigating these issues, the government in turn shot back by saying that all these are nothing but lies, making you question the intent of the government of the day.

There are a lot more issue to talk about. I will dwell in them over a period of time. Suffice to say that there are a lot of things going wrong with the way the economy is getting disconnected from the people who make it up in the first place.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Alahda

हर्फ़ ब हर्फ़ किस्सा लिखा था जो तुमने
मैं आज उसे मिटाने आया हूँ
तसव्वुफ़ के दरीचों में जो बसर किया था तुमने
मैं आज उससे अलहदा करने आया हूँ
ताउम्र साथ चलने का वादा जो किया था तुमने
उसकी रेशमी डोर को आज मैं तोड़ने आया हूँ
मेरी बातें मेरे किस्से मेरी यादें जो चुराईं थीं तुमने
मैं उसका सर्मायी चुकता करने आया हूँ
जो अंदाज़े बयाँ से कायल किया था तुमने
वो अलफ़ाज़ तुम्हें आज लौटाने आया हूँ
तुम्हारा वजूद मेरे लिए मायने नहीं रखता अब
बस इतना ज़हन कराने तेरे शहर आया हूँ
 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sweet Potato Curry

So I was looking for new recipes to cook the other day, since vegetarian food across India has many many variations and ingredients used in making them. One of the recipes pointed out Sweet Potatoes. Now the four of you may start giggling after reading sweet potato. A humble poor man's snack as a main course dish? Yes of course. In fact, follow the way I made it, and you'd like it a lot. There are many options in the way you can cook it. And now, this is a recipe for three. Hope you guys try it out and like it.

INGREDIENTS

2 big sweet potatoes 
2 big onions
four cloves of garlic
one-and-half inch piece of ginger
3 green chillies
3 medium tomatoes
3 sticks curry leaves
1 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
1 tsp coriander (dhania) powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder (preferably Kashmiri chillies)
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil (mustard/olive/canola)
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup water

PREPARATION

The way to use the sweet potatoes is up to you. You may wish to either boil the potatoes and cut them into cubes. Alternatively, you could just cut them and later use a pressure cooker to cook (I prefer the latter though. The starch releases to thicken the curry wonderfully).

Cut the ginger, garlic and onions and chillies, and grind them into a paste. Similarly, prepare the tomatoes into a paste as well.

Now, in the pressure cooker heat up the oil (preferably use mustard, as it brings out a zing), and when it smokes, throw in the methi seeds and let it crackle. Then throw in the curry leaves, with the stick as well so that flavor is released even more. Now toss in the ginger garlic onion and chilli paste and move it about so that the onions are a bit golden brown.

Throw in the tomato puree and mix it well. Let it cook till it dries out to make a thick paste. Next, put in the coriander powder, turmeric and red chilli powder and cook well. Add in the salt as well.

Now toss in the sweet potatoes into the cooker. Mix the whole thing well and cook for about 3-5 minutes. Add in the coconut milk and mix well. Cook it for another minute and mix in water. Close the cooker. After the first whistle, let it cook on simmer for 10-15 minutes. Serve hot with rice (not basmati rice, but preferably golden sella rice or any of the non-basmati varieties). (Photo for Rajshree Das on request)

Have a great meal!!!!!!!!!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pehchaan

आज 
मन दर्पण में जो झाँका तो पाया
के मेरी पहचान धुंधली हो चली है
वो धुंधली आकृति कहीं
प्रतिबिम्ब के कोने में उदास दुखी बैठी है 
न जाने क्यों ऐसा है के वो कुछ बोलती ही नहीं है
बस टकटकी लगाए द्वार की ओर देखती रहती है 
न जाने किसकी प्रतीक्षा है मेरी पहचान को
शायद
मेरे अस्तित्व की    

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Safar

चलते चलते जो आवाज़ लगाई मेरे माज़ी, मेरी तन्हाई ने 
मुड़कर देखा तोह पाया के मील के पत्थर पर दोनों आराम पसर कर रहे थे 
हैरां परेशां सा हुआ मैं, पुछा मैंने
"क्यों पीछा कर रहे हो?"
तन्हाई हंसकर बोली "मुझसे दामन कैसे छुडाओगे?"
"तन्हाई तो सखी थी मेरी, पर अब नहीं" कहा मैंने 
"जो साथ न चाहूँ तोह क्यों संग चलती हो?"
माज़ी ने मेरे मुस्कुराकर कहा मुझसे
"मैं तुम्हारा ही माज़ी हूँ, तन्हाई की रूह हूँ
जो मुझसे दामन न छुड़ा सको तो तन्हाई से क्या पीछा छुडाओगे?"
"है तू मेरा माज़ी, मगर मेरे दिल में तेरे लिए नहीं है कोई जगह
नहीं चाहता काँटों का बिछौना 
नहीं चाहता आँसूं भरी रात"
बस इतना कहा और मैं चलता बना

कुछ दिनों बाद खबर आई थी
मेरा माज़ी और मेरी तन्हाई वहीँ खड़े हैं 
वहीँ, उस मील के पत्थर पर, इंतज़ार कर रहे हैं
यादों के उसी रास्ते पर मेरे लौटने की  


Friday, September 23, 2011

2G - Paryavaran Bhavan Holds the Key

It has taken a while to come out, but the 2G spectrum scam has just cast a wider net. Puzzled as the four of us who read this blog may be about what has Paryavaran Bhavan, the office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) got to do with the 2G spectrum scandal, the truth is far deeper than most of us, including even those fighting cases for getting top ministers investigated (pointed reference Subramanian Swamy) have perhaps imagined.

The whole scam actually started with Mr. Andimuthu Raja becoming Minister of Environment in 2004. The period between 2004-2007 should be marked as one of the darkest chapters in the history of environmental governance in India. A lot of companies got clearances in ways that could make Somalia look like it adheres to law and order. Cronyism was at its peak. Clearances, officers, project reports - name any item, and it was bought and sold. Most of the controversial mining that has since been brought to the public notice obtained clearances during this period (see here to get an idea of what I mean).

So what does this have to do with the 2G spectrum, you may ask. Well, it was during this period of time that certain companies namely Reliance, DB Realty, Unitech, DLF, Indiabulls Real Estate, Omaxe, Parsvnath, Essar and many others came in touch with Mr. Raja. Gaining clearances for various kinds of projects was reduced to a mere passing reference, and a lot of these projects certainly deserve to be scrutinized again, and would certainly not stand even a casual scrutiny, given the flimsiness of their grounds for clearances. When Mr. Raja was 'promoted' to the position of Telecom and IT minister, he intimated his 'friends' so that benefits could be given out. This was brought to notice months ago by former Telecom Minister Mr. Arun Shourie (read here to know more), but curiously, no one has paid any attention yet.

Truth of the matter is that the money trails and the shenanigans have a much longer trail than is being made out right now. There is a convenient hush-hush, and accusations often fly about the deliberate attacking of this 'amazing growth story' of India. But a growth story that ignores the very builders of it, and that relies on putting at risk people at large, financially, physically and emotionally, is not any growth that I desire. I would rather be a poor country with honest people. Why is this government not trying to investigate these allegations, nor has the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) done anything about it? Is it not their duty to examine these issues in greater detail? Perhaps, fact of the matter is that the ramifications of all this are so large no one in the corridors of power has the guts to face the truth and take corrective measures.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kashmiri Cookbook by Shyam Rani Kilam and S S Kaul Kilam

I love Kashmiri food. That is an open secret to all those who know me well. Heck, I love food in any style from India, period. In my quest to teach myself cooking new styles of cooking, I came across this wonderful book put across by S S Kaul Kilam and Shyam Rani Kilam called the Kashmiri Cookbook.

The Kilams are Kashmiri Pandits settled in the United States for some time now, and they came out with this book a few years ago. They were in fact gracious enough to share this book with the world by putting it up online on this website and just demand reference in turn. Food secrets should be shared with the world. I strongly endorse this line of thought and ask people to go across this book, for it wonderfully details the nitty gritty of Kashmiri food and also lists out the differences in both the Pandit style and the Muslim style of cooking. I encourage everyone to cherish this treasure as long as you can, and read the book as well. This recipe today is shared from the book and is called Nadeir Yakhean. Nadeir or nadru is Kashmiri for lotus stems, which are a staple in Kashmiri Pandit food. High in vitamins and iron, it also is an interesting vegetable in terms of taste and texture, and reminds many of raw bananas.

INGREDIENTS
1. Lotus Roots, of above 1" diameter 1 kg
2. Mustard oil 1 cup
3. Curd 1 kg
4. Milk 1 cup
5. Cloves 3 nos
6. Cumin Seeds 1 tsp
7. Asafoetida a pinch
8. Ginger Powder 1 tsp
9. Aniseed Powder 2 tsps
10. Black Pepper Powder 1 tsp
11. Black Cardamom Powder 1/2 tsp
12. Cinnamon Powder 1/2 tsp
13. Caraway seeds 1/2 tsp
14. 'Garam Masala' 1 tsp
15. Salt about 1 tsp
16. Sugar 1/2 tsp
17. Green Cardamoms a few


PREPARATION

1. In an earthenware pot, or in a steel or tinned copper or brass, boil, for half an hour, the prepared Lotus Root pieces, in enough water to keep these immersed wholly during boiling. To save time, only 5 to 10 minutes of pressure cooking is enough. Take out with a perforated ladle or strain through a colander, the boiled pieces, and retain the Soup in a steel bowl, and let it cool.

2. Add to the Soup the Curd, Milk, Aniseed and Ginger Powders, Sugar and Salt, and blend the ingredients, by churning with a small churn--stick (or an egg beater) to a Curdy Sauce.

3. Now, in the cooking vessel, heat the oil on a medium flame, till foam disappears. Add the Cloves, Cumin Seeds and Asafoetida. Stir with a steel ladle, and add immediately the prepared Sauce. Continue stirring with the steel ladle, so that Curd does not crack, till the Sauce comes to a boil.
 
4. Add boiled Lotus Root pieces, and let these cook on a low heat, for another 15 to 20 minutes, turning these now and then with the ladle. When the Curdy Gravy thickens, add Caraway Seeds and Cardamom, Cinnamon and Black Pepper Powders, along with the Garam Masala. Mix the Spices by stirring with the ladle. A few crushed Green Cardamoms may be added. Nadier Yakhean is ready for serving



I hope you guys like it. Refer to the book for more recipes. Happy Cooking everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Paneer Curry

So I love cooking as well, as some of my friends have figured out by now. I keep experimenting with styles of cooking to see what can we come up with. In the course, I certainly have come up with a recipe that is inspired by Kashmiri cooking. I hope you people try it and like it, though for people in India, it is advisable to cook the same during the bitter winters as the ingredients used are heat generating as per our traditional medicine system. I do not have a name for it, but I am searching for suggestions, so please be generous.

INGREDIENTS:

Paneer(cottage cheese)400 - 500 gm cut into small cubes
Milk 2 glasses
Onion 1 whole, paste
Garlic 2 cloves, paste
Turmeric 1 tsp
Red chilli powder 1 tsp
Dry ginger powder 1 tsp (alternatively, you can use fresh ginger)
Fennel seeds powder 1 tsp
Brown cardamom 1
Cloves 3-4
Salt 1 tsp
Sugar 1/4 tsp (optional)
Mustard oil 3-6 tbsp (depending on the wok or the pan you use)
Garam masala for taste
PREPARATION:

Most people do not understand how to use paneer, and simply thrust it into dishes. The key to a delicious paneer is that you fry it beforehand. This is particularly true of Kashmiri food, where most ingredients including paneer are fried first-up. This ensures that the paneer will not crumble while cooking, and also allows flavors to seep into it. So, in a pan/wok heat the mustard oil and wait for the foam to disappear. Once the foam disappears, fry the paneer till its golden brown, and keep it aside.

Now, in the same oil, throw in the garlic and onion paste, and fry it till the onions are a tad bit golden in colour. (Throw in a half-inch piece of ginger grated to shreds if you did not find dry ginger powder.) Throw in the fried paneer into it, as well as turmeric, chilli powder and salt into it. Cook it for a couple of minutes only! It is preferable if Kashmiri chilli powder can be used - its less on heat and gives a brilliant color to your dishes.

Now gently pour in the milk into the mix and stir well. You will notice that the milk did not split. This is due to the fact that onions and garlic do not let that happen. Now, put in the cardamom and cloves after breaking them roughly and mix well and let the mix boil for about five minutes.

The final stage involves using the ingredients dry ginger and fennel powder (if you do not find it, just roast a teaspoon fennel and grind it). Putting in these ingredients is also typical of Kashmiri cooking. Interestingly, these ingredients are put towards the end. Mix the whole thing well, and let it cook for about ten minutes. Before you serve it, just mix a pinch of garam masala, and serve it with the Indian breads, particularly naans or tandoori rotis or even the humble chapati.


I hope you guys liked it. Give me your feedback. I shall put up more recipes from my crazy rasoi or kitchen, as we call it in Hindi. And yes, I need a better name as well. So suggestions please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lokpal For Dummies Like You and Me

Is Lok Pal is necessary to fight corruption?
Yes we need one. That the conduct of a large number of officials as per our Constitution is not governed by anyone at all, especially the elected government is appalling in itself. Every democratic set up has to ensure its people transparency in the governance process. The example of free economies with less government is fraught with serious flaws of thinking. The United States is perhaps the freest economy, and yet on the Transparency International's index why does it not sit on the top? To think that this country does not deserve what our founding fathers promised (remember Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1960s) is fallacy. Moreover, our Constitution, when it gave powers to a host of elected representatives, did not define the scope of their conduct and what would be considered Unparliamentary. Current criminal laws already allow investigations; however, they require sanction of prosecution. The requirement thus is of a body that can investigate and at least recommend action of serving officials, if not prosecute them. Parliament owes us this law as it was promised from the floor of the Parliament.

Will Reform 2.0 Work?
This argument has been bandied about by the people who support greater liberalization of the Indian economy, citing how that is the only way corruption can go away. No free economy has been able to do away with corruption. In fact, the so-called liberalization is being rolled back in most countries as the effects of these 'reforms' have been felt strongly on the economy (think Greece). Reforms does not imply the reform of governance process in any way. Policy framing in telecom, the so-called 'success' story of India is for all to see. The kind of yo-yoing and the kind of parody that has played out subsequently is nothing less than a farce. Take the case of the cable TV phenomenon. Who controls most of the media in Tamil Nadu? Answering that question reveals just what is wrong with the idea of reforms as is proposed by armchair intellectuals. Instead of governance reforms we talk about economic reforms to just create more avenues of crony capitalistic ideals to spread over, where only a certain set of people set to benefit, while the masses set to suffer.

Doesn’t Anna Hazare have the right to fast until death?
This country allows anyone to fast and hold protests as long as they are not disruptive and seditious in nature. For people who keep advocating free speech of the 'secessionists' and others who challenge the idea of India, here is a man who has raised an issue that unites India and brought it to the forefront. Why then is there any scope for not allowing this to happen. It is the paralysis of governance in India that has led to this situation, where unless someone fasts or someone picks up a stone or fires a gun the State does not listen to people.

Am I saying Anna Hazare's Bill is right?
Of course I am not saying that the bill is right. But then the government did not leave any scope to discuss the merits or demerits for anyone to discuss. Eventually it was 'my way or the highway' that the government position enunciated. Instead of creating such a big machinery, smaller set of authorities in addition to strengthening of existing authorities may be the answer, but for greater discussion, the government has to present the appropriate bill, as anyone who sees Parliamentary debates recently would vouch. If the government could be put to stake for a Nuclear Bill that has done nothing for us, why not for a stronger ombudsman?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lamha

इंतज़ार का तो बस लम्हा  भर ही गुज़रा  है
न जाने क्यों लगता है सदियाँ  गुज़र गयी हैं
मिटटी के तिनके धीरे धीरे मेज़ पर तशरीफ़ टिका रहे हैं
और सूरज की नर्म रौशनी सेंक रहे हैं
वो कागजों और किताबों से भरा बुक शेल्फ टकटकी लगाए बैठा है
न जाने क्या सोचता है बैठ यूं गुमसुम तन्हाई में
बाहर खिड़की के पार दरख्तों में फूलों का इंतज़ार है
कोई गुलशन होने का मौसम इन्हें भी नसीब करा दे
यूं मुरझाये से पड़े हैं वो इंतज़ार में
बैठ खामोश देखता हूँ सरसराते पत्तों को
हवा के तेज़ झोंके से लहरा उठे जो
हौले से, दबे पाँव आ खड़ी मेरे पास वो
कह गयी न जाने क्या, समझ न आया मुझको
लम्हा भर गुज़र गया यूं ही, देखता रहा मैं खिड़की की ओर
राह देखता रहा आने वाले लम्हे की
पर न आने की आहात उसकी, न करता वो शोर





Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Relevance of Corporate Sustainability for Indian Enterprises

Corporate sustainability is a paradigm that has been evolving rapidly and continuously. It never has a fixed definition; rather there is fluidity in its limits, and keeps expanding in all directions just like the universe does. The definition of sustainability, which was earlier defined by the Triple Bottom Line of John Elkington of environment, economics and society has been broadened and translated into other critical areas such as respect for human rights, corporate governance, fair trade ethics and stakeholder engagement, all of which do not in any way take away anything from the original components; instead, they can be considered to be a revised definition of the triple bottom line to match the need of the hour, as subsets of the original three sets laid out by Mr. Elkington about two decades ago. Today, corporate sustainability is an engagement process. It is a dialogue between companies and corporations with their customers, with their shareholders, with their employees, and with the governmental and non-governmental agencies. It is a continuous demonstration of commitment towards the wellbeing of all, be it the natural, ambient or human environment that constitutes ‘our home’, and in this day and age of increasing cynicism of people at large over the actions of companies, corporations and even governments, it is a window for one and all to demonstrate transparency in functions and actions of organizations.
India has had a tradition of its business classes engaging in social causes and philanthropic measures. The Tatas, Birlas and Bajajs of our country can be said to have a glorious past behind them when it comes to not only contributing to India’s development economically, but also socially by setting up schools, colleges, hospitals and many charitable institutions. In this age of the flattening world, it is even more important for companies, especially the medium scale enterprises that are the real chunk of the Indian industrial set up, to be engaged with their stakeholders more than ever, as people, even if appreciative of the rapid growth of the Indian economy, are skeptical about the attitudes of businessmen towards society at large. Indian industrial sectors have been plagued by scandals, which sectors such as textile are all too familiar with. The allegations of child labour have time and again caused considerable losses to this sector along with loss of credibility in the international market.
Corruption scandals hitting headlines has only made the trust deficit wider, and even old-time employees find it difficult to associate with their employers, trying to understand what their company really stands for. This in turn has resulted in a massive churning of employees, with attrition rates in India on the rise. Moreover, industries are unable to tap into the quality productivity potential of Indian employees, which could have immense bearings on the quality of our goods and services, especially those meant for exports as well as increasingly for quality-conscious Indian customers. Even if one were to look at the rise in foreign direct investment in India from Multinational corporations (MNCs) coming in from abroad, lack of transparency results in lack of confidence in Indian industries and corporations, a strong negative that hurts the Indian interests in the long run.
In recent times, Indian corporate sector has also been accused of discrimination on the basis of caste and gender. While the Indian corporate set-up vehemently denies the same, the lack of action to demonstrate otherwise over these allegations has only dented the image further, with people believing that ‘affirmative action are just two more fancy words being bandied about by these industrialists whose only motive is to fill their pockets as much as possible’. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs is bringing in an amendment in the Companies Act 1954 which shall make it mandatory for all companies to spend at least 2% of their book record profits on CSR activities and report on the same as well. Moreover, in this amendment, it is proposed that every company having net worth of ` 5 billion or more (close to US$ 110 million), or turnover of ` 10 billion (close to US$ 220 million) or more, or a net profit of ` 50 million (close to US$ 1 million) or more during a year shall be required to formulate a CSR Policy. Consequently, the Government of India also has its own voluntary reporting guidelines on corporate social responsibility (CSR) measures (it is mandatory to all public sector enterprises and government owned companies and banks) that came out in 2009.
In a world where trust deficit seems to be increasing with each passing day, all of us have to take the step together for increasing confidence amongst each other over our words and our deeds. While the leading big companies, which are in every sense global leaders too, actively engage in this process, and report on it, up and coming medium level enterprises are only just beginning to understand the importance of this composite dialogue. The textiles industry has enough examples from their contemporaries in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh on the multiple advantages that engaging in corporate sustainability brings in, with increasing employee productivity, lower attrition rates and also inviting foreign investment and preferred vendor status from leading apparel chains. Other sectors like banking too can see global examples of such institutions like Standard Chartered, HSBC and ANZ Bank to see the goodwill that they have been generating globally in the financial world for using their resources for sustainable development. All leading companies across the world are also conveying this information through the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) standards of disclosure that rate you according to the level of disclosure that the company engages in and these are globally recognized as well.
Corporate sustainability is an exercise in continuity. It is a dialogue, as I have repeatedly stated, between various parties involved, and it is just another step towards the evolution of a company for tomorrow. If one were to rephrase John F. Kennedy’s famous words, it is time to not ask what this earth can do for us; rather it is time to ask of ourselves what we can do to make this world a better place to live in for each one of us.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Land Acquisition in India and the Debate Going On

In the hoopla associated with the land acquisition, including attempted padyatras thaat have been capturing more than necessary headlines, considering the ruling disposition's double standards over the same (people forget that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who had revoked the Fundamental Right to Property when the tribal people had started to invoke it in courts against mining projects) a closer scrutiny is certainly required over the oh-so-controversial Land Acquistion Act of 1894 and the subsequent amendment that governments have been searching for more than a decade now.

A major flaw associated with the Land Acquisition Act has been the lack of any proper rehabilitation package being promised under the original Act. Under the Act, there were provisions for compensation, but this was not linked to the market price of land, and is to be distributed through the local district magistrate's office in the form of actual handouts, a perfect system of this money disappearing. Moreover, the provision of royalty from these projects is not at all present unlike the mining projects, which in itself is a joke considering iron ore royalty is INR 26/tonne when it is sold at at least USD 1000/tonne. Considering the kind of freehand the government has given these companies, a step back would not be problematic for anyone in spite of all the grumbling one may hear from the industrial sectors. Moreover, the government can certainly design specific compensation packages based on market rates of land that do not lead to money being given all at once - rather stagger the flow of money in the form of a monthly stipend through the banks using direct cash transfers.

A flaw of gigantic proportions has been involving the wording used for the grounds on which land is to be acquired. In the Act, the term 'public purpose' is used liberally, though the same is defined nowhere. Even in the new Act, the term's definition eludes the reader's eyes, and makes the new version of the Act just as draconian as the old one. This leaves the Act and the people to be affected subject to the ruling disposition's mercy who can at any time notify land use and displace people. The Act also does not give any provisions for public hearings on the matter, eventually taking the matter completely out of the people who originally owned the land. Unless this provision comes out, there is no point in even amending the Act. Land acquisition has to be made a conciliatory process and not the disruptive process that it is in its current avatar. People need to be asked the terms and conditions on which they will part with their land, and they should also be made stakeholders in the industry not only through jobs but through shareholding in the project so that they do not feel alienated from the project.

Monday, July 4, 2011

REC Mechanism in India - What is Wrong With It

I had attended a workshop on REC mechanism on June 17, 2011 in Delhi organized by the National Load Despatch Centre, which is supposed to be the nodal agency for this mechanism. Having started in 2010, it was indeed a unique learning experience to hear first hand from people involved in the process including people AB Power Infrastructure, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission and National Board of Irrigation and Power as well as the representatives of Indian Power Exchanges (yes, we have two of those as well!) talk about the policy, the teething issues and listening to people clear their doubts and give their suggestions, which were duly noted.

Any typical trade mechanism in the world is based on Coasian economics, about which I had discussed briefly here. In the case of the REC mechanism, the tradeable property or externality identified is the environmental credential associated with green energy, and it is a trade in this benefit which is surplus in some states while non-existent in others that is being encouraged to overcome issues of glut power, non-availability of resources in some states as well as meeting Renewable Purchase of distribution agencies and power generators. The difference that we have seen so far in this mechanism from those in the world, especially in UK, Australia and many states in USA are two-fold

1. There is no secondary trading allowed in the mechanism so far.
2. Solar energy certificated are treated differently from other renewable energy certificates in terms of price, but they are counted the same.

Among suggestions and loud thinking, two proposals seemed to be coming out very strongly - allow secondary trading on the lines of carbon credits and value certificates for solar energy on an equivalency basis (i.e. one solar REC > one non-solar REC). These voices were particularly strong from the end of power trading companies as well as power producing companies who as of now found both the floor and forbearance prices set for the two kinds of mechanism to be unfavourable. One thought that I had all along was the fact that this mechanism needs to account for the future as well, since India is aggressively trying to move towards Smart Grids where energy demands would be met through spot generation as well as rely on banked energy, and seeing the absence of that link is a bit worrisome, since the government has put in so much money into the Accelerated Power Reforms Development Program (APDRP), the second phase of power reforms that are subsequently seeing the third stage of evolution coming in as well, with Bengaluru (BESCOM) and Delhi (NDPL) shifting towards two way metering and greater grid visibility, right down to the household level (this visibility stands at 33 kV line only, and that too is present in very few places). Another thing that I wondered about was how there was not only no secondary trading but there was no power supply guarantee assured for REC in the light of what was happening in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra (deliberate load shedding to avoid payments to power producers). Moreover, for solar power, there is not much incentive except for the price, especially if you look at the fact that it costs INR 10-12 crore/MW to establish plants, and that electricity generation is not throughout the day like wind resources.

All is not lost, as the mechanism is still being worked upon, and hopefully things will improve. But as of now, as it stands, based on my discussions with many people at a personal level at the conference, this mechanism may be reduced to just another white elephant of the government.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Incentivization, Externality Pricing and Coasian Economics

Debate over the method to tackle environmental issues has been under debate since the eighteenth century, when Adam Smith came out with the Bible of Capitalism "The Wealth of Nations" whereby he argued an absolute free hand to markets with the firm belief that the markets will find the solution to every problem. This can be argued to be a novel position with respect to environmental issues, as till then laws were passed in England for curbing pollution (or at least the visual aspects of it). Though Marx and Engels did believe in the absolute control of the State, a middle path alternative to incentives and State control really turned up in the nineteen twenties, with A.L. Pigou coming out with arguably the Socialis't Holy Book, "The Economics of Welfare". He argued consistently for both aspects, saying that while it is okay for enterprises to make profits, to tackle problems arising due to industrial activities, profits must be taxed and the monies turned around to health welfare and pollution clean up activities. While the argument has been supported strongly by influential thinkers like Amory Lovins and Paul Hawken, and has seen considerable success in the case of Denmark's energy policy on the carbon tax front (I talked about it here) there are adequate concerns of breeding corruption and nepotism that tend to arise due to such arrangements as well as the reluctance to cut down on profits while inviting too much 'interference' from the government.

A position that heavily relied on the Adam Smith argument of market being the best way was put forward by Ronald Coase as an alternative to Pigou's taxation ideas in the nineteen thirties, and said that if trade in an externality is possible and there are no transaction costs, bargaining will lead to an efficient outcome regardless of the initial allocation of property rights. This argument clearly supported by people like Milton Friedman in recent times, believes that incentives come out of the market's own operations if the externalities that arise are tradeable in nature. This has been the foundation for most cap-and-trade scheme that ultimately pose faith in the market's ability to rectify its shortcomings, particularly the Emissions Trading schemes for acid rain gases and the greenhouse gases. While the idea does appeal to business heads and corporate honchos as it gives them an incentive in reducing their externalities by helping them benefit from actions that are 'good', there are numerous cases where such benefits go to people who do not need it at all. A classic case is that of the HCFC gas flaring being a project eligible for carbon credits, even though it was well known that these gases would in any case have to be phased out under the Montreal Protocol's provisions.

Another example of incentivizing actions has been through direct financial benefits being offered by the government. Under this scheme, the government doles out financial incentives to industries to undertake corrective mechanism, but then has been considerable debate whether such incentives work or not. There are an equal number of success and horror stories on either side of the debate that can confound people into saying - What the hell is going on? A recent example of the incentive scheme having gone horribly wrong is the case of female infanticide in Rajasthan, where the government's idea of encouraging child birth in hospitals through cash dole outs has become a cruel joke on the girl child (more on that here).

Neither mechanism is perfect is well understood. However to think that none of them is needed is also taking a ridiculously negative stance. The way ahead is to actually find ways wherein we see a gradual shift in policy making towards solving environmental problems. The path has to be a mix of voluntary Coasian mechanisms, followed by direct financing and eventual hardening of laws with taxation of externalities. This not only sees short term benefits of the Coasian mechanism being achieved, it also helps in the long run raise money for clean up activities through funds gained from taxation. A definitive timeline of less than 20 years is the suitable path in my opinion for undergoing such an evolution, and no budging or extensions is the correct approach for tackling environmental issues, as it also brings seriousness into the issue over a period of time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What Should be India's Energy Policy?

What should India's energy policy look like? There has been endless debate and countless number of posturings people on every corner of this quadrilateral have adopted. However, we all fail to miss the woods for the trees. History is a great teacher, and we should certainly look back at world history to look at the curious case of Denmark to understand where it succeeded while others failed.

I remember sitting in class when Mr. Benjamin Sovacool was passionately discussing Denmark's conscious shift towards renewable energy that started way back in 1973 after the oil shock caught them with their pants down. I confess to not having thought too much of it then. Since then, however, a lot of water has flown under the bridge, and looking at things as they stand now, Mr. Sovacool stands vindicated. One should look at the Denmark model of energy self reliance and how they consciously moved their national grid from being dependent on fossil fuels towards being one dominated by renewable energy resources generating energy.

Way back in March 2008, Monica Prasad had written an article in the run up to the Copenhagen Summit (memorable for all the wrong reasons)in which she had written the following about Denmark (the whole article can be viewed here

"The one country in which carbon taxes have led to a large decrease in emissions is Denmark, whose per capita carbon dioxide emissions were nearly 15 percent lower in 2005 than in 1990. And Denmark accomplished this while posting a remarkably strong economic record and without relying on nuclear power.

What did Denmark do right? There are many elements to its success, but taken together, the insight they provide is that if reducing emissions is the goal, then a carbon tax is a tax you want to impose but never collect.

This is a hard lesson to learn. The very thought of new tax revenue has a way of changing the priorities of the most hard-headed politicians... But if we want lower emissions, the goal of a carbon tax is to prompt producers to change their behavior, not to allow them to continue polluting while handing over cash to the government.

How do you get them to change? First, you prevent policy makers from turning the tax into a cash cow. Carbon tax discussions always seem to devolve into gleeful suggestions for ways to spend the revenue. ...

Denmark avoids the temptation to maximize the tax revenue by giving the proceeds back to industry, earmarking much of it to subsidize environmental innovation. Danish firms are pushed away from carbon and pulled into environmental innovation, and the country’s economy isn’t put at a competitive disadvantage. So this is lesson No. 1 from Denmark.

The second lesson is that the carbon tax worked ... because it was easy for Danish firms to switch to cleaner fuels. Danish policy makers made huge investments in renewable energy and subsidized environmental innovation. ...[T]he tax gave companies a reason to leave coal and the investments in renewable energy gave them an easy way to do so... The key was providing easy substitutes. ...

[A] carbon tax has been promoted almost as a panacea — just pop in the economic incentives and watch them work their magic. But unless steps are taken to lock the tax revenue away from policymakers and invest in substitutes, a carbon tax could lead to more revenue rather than to less pollution.

An increase in gasoline taxes ... would likewise be the wrong policy for the United States. Higher gas taxes would raise revenue but do little to curb pollution.

Instead, if we want to reduce carbon emissions, then we should follow Denmark’s example: tax the industrial emission of carbon and return the revenue to industry through subsidies for research and investment in alternative energy sources, cleaner-burning fuel, carbon-capture technologies and other environmental innovations."


In the field of energy policy there are two paths, as Amory Lovins had put forward - The Hard Energy Path and the Soft Energy Path. The Hard Energy Path, consisting of the conventional fossil fuel based resources and nuclear energy is made for a scenario where energy demands increase exponentially, and this path will eventually lead to a collapse. On the other hand, the soft energy path is predominated by renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, and in the long run looks towards decreasing the load on our grid. Its a pity that even today we have per unit of production industrial energy demands three times that of USA and five times that of Japan. Nuclear energy is not the answer, because even if the whole world were to shift towards nuclear energy, we would consume our nuclear energy resources within 30 years, forget the waste management fiasco that shall follow.

This clearly underscores the need to a) invest even more in energy efficiency both in the form of laws and technical and financial support, something started with the Electricity Act 2003 and the Energy Conservation Act 2001; and b)Invest big time for local development of renewable energy technology as it is expensive to buy gear boxes for turbines, high grade silicon for solar cells and turbines from Chinese and American companies, when our own research institutions and industrial capability can easily do the same at much lower costs of production.

Moreover, incentives for industries to power themselves through renewable energy should be pushed beyond the tax breaks followed by mandating about 10% of their demand through renewables to reduce consumption of diesel and heavy fuel oil by industry. There is great business sense in doing so, as shown by Bajaj Auto and several textile mills in Tirupur and Coimbatore.


Lastly, we should be working actively in promoting amongst our own people the spirit of energy conservation by reviving the good traditional values of saving resources and not blindly follow the west and indulge in wasteful behaviour. In a world looking for answers, India can certainly be the solution provider and thus truly achieve the greatness it really deserves.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I am a Fool

I am a fool for believing that people should care about each other. Truth is, we always were a selfish lot of creatures, and will always be. Helping each other is of no use, as we all look for ways to benefit from each other and go our separate ways. Being an idiot to believe that people can be good to each other, can come forward to help each other is just loads of bullshit.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What is the Idea of India?

What is the idea of India? I have been struggling with the idea for a few years now. I talked to people who think on these lines, who themselves, being of the same age group, have been grappling with the idea of India, and what it means to us, to them and to me. And yet, none of us have been able to find a definitive answer to it. It is almost like the Hindu philosophy of the Upanishads, which keep saying ‘Neti, Neti’ (‘Not that, not that’). The only answer to each clue that cropped up in our investigations was that this is not it.
Is India the idea of geography? Maybe; maybe not. People from other countries said it must have been really difficult to attend school geography about our country, with so many states, cities, towns, climates, vegetation types. We all eat different varieties of rice, and yet all of us eat rice! We seek maize for different purposes, and yet it is inescapable that we eat maize. We seek barley and wheat for different purposes, and yet the fact that we eat them across these geographic variations confuses the argument. Are we similar yet different? Or are we different yet similar? Going around in circles seems to the only observation one can make. Within our history, we all were supposed to be different kingdoms, and yet, the fact that all of us merged into this cultural fusion makes it complicated to assess what we stand for, what we identify with.
Is India the idea of a culture? Maybe; maybe not. We have thousands of castes, sub-castes, tribes, ethnicities spanning across the entire length and breadth of the country. Each claims its own legacy in history; each leaves a strong mark; and yet, they all live under one big umbrella that is difficult to deny. All of them are distinct, and yet we may see ideas that are present at one place also present in another, where identical society structures being seen in distinct ethnicities, in spite of the thousands of miles of physical space between them, where one sees transitions of cuisine being a gradual one in spite of the distinction in the regions and climates that they live, and where one also sees ties between languages in their structure and grammar in spite of the words being different. So is India all about culture? The answer is not there for me to see.
Are we a people united? We have hatred for each other amidst our professed love for our ‘brothers and sisters’, and we make our situations complicated when we explain what structural discrimination is supposed to mean, and why it was – is being practiced by people who were supposed to have been liberated by ‘modern’ scientific education. We will define every stereotype about ourselves that the world has, and yet defy their logic with the mere shrug of our shoulders or the nod of our heads, which defines us completely. And yet, we say we are different. So what really are we? We throw trash on the road and yet cringe at the ideas of no personal hygiene. We keep butting into each other and may fight with each other, and yet, if an ‘external’ force questions us why we are thus, we aggressively deny and turn the tables on the others. Where computers are used to draw up accurate birth charts, there are certainly no easy answers.
The spiritual idea of India is a quandary in itself. Is it my matrabhumi, karmabhumi and punyabhumi? As a Sanatana Dharmi, the name of the ancient religion of Hindus would say, the answer is yes. But then, the matrabhumi is always the land where I am supposed to undertake my duty. What is my duty? This duty is supposed to liberate myself spiritually, so that the real task of giving back to society can be undertaken. I believe that I should give back to my country and my people more than just religion, though I am a deeply religious person, undoubtedly. I am seeking spiritual liberation as well, though it is far, far away from me. It is here that I have to try hard to do good not just for myself and the ones who are close to me, but also those innumerable voices that are not heard, that are heard but no one wants to listen to. It is here that I am supposed to help those who need it the most. It is not the size of the stone that the chipmunk gave to build the bridge that moved Rama, it was the spirit of giving according to their own ability that moved God. And even though this may be contrary to the idea of karma, where we all have to bear the results of our actions, it is also important to help the meek, and this thought is across all religions, where the idea of the Daridra Narayana or the meek who shall inherit the earth as Jesus had proclaimed comes to the fore. For that matter, the Abrahamic faiths proclaimed the virtues of looking after the meek, of helping the helpless, and for ensuring that the voiceless have a voice, that the poor get a helping hand. If India was supposed to be home to one faith only, what are the ‘others’ doing here? Why is it that we have accepted them as they are, and only recently has the polarization started, though these polarizations have complex multiple reasons lying underneath?
Why is it that I find my own country so difficult to understand? It will take me another twenty years to understand what India means. I am searching for the answer. I hope people have answers to the questions I have.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nation and Patriotism

What really is a nation? There is no standard answer. You only have an idea of what constitutes a nation. But the idea varies depending on your demography, your geography, your language and culture and a million other factors that exist, and will continue to exist as long as humanity exists on this planet. My favorite author, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had written in his most political novel ever, Gora "The idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented which is individual and spiritual, and is untainted by racialism or religious orthodoxy."

A nation is much greater than me or anyone else who reads this long boring monologue. A nation is a collective of consciences, of people who come together and unite against the ills of society; who unite to fight discrimination, who address grievances of their own and who move forward together while attempting to ensure that no one is left behind. A nation is much bigger than just a race, a culture or a language. We have nations based on religions. Why do they, then, fight amongst themselves? We have nations based on similar cultures, and yet they distinguish themselves from each other. Can a nation be based only on one idea? No, it has to be based on a plethora of ideas. A nation is a collective of ideas with a soul, and even if these ideas conflict, the tolerance to hear them out is what constitutes a nation truly.

What does patriotism really mean? Should it be about pride for one's country or its people? Or should it be pride in its institutions and office bearers as well? My kind of loyalty, as Mark Twain had aptly stated, lies towards my country, and not towards its institutions and office bearers. It may sound anarchist in nature, but the reason I quote this phrase is the fact that patriotism truly means that we should not be blind about faults that lie within our systems. Patriotism truly refers to viewing our selves with an objective eye, to be able to boldly criticise ourselves and find ways to correct ourselves to bring ourselves to the 'right path'. If we are truly patriotic towards our country, we should learn to be sympathetic towards our people. Every day farmers commit suicide, and every day we have people going hungry. Corruption is eating our democracy's foundation, and we have convergence of interests of the rich and the powerful happening at a whirlwind pace, when journalists are killed to suppress the voice of truth. And yet, many hold our tiny little paper/plastic flags and shout 'We're free', or that our patriotism comes to the fore only when India plays cricket. What kind of patriotism is that? Answer: The kind that is preached to the people so that they become blind to the matters of significance, that affect them directly, and yet are unaware of. That is an idea I cannot accept at all. Patriotism means to me the ability to speak out for all those who are unheard, for all those whose voices are crushed and need a vent. It means that we address, and not just try, the grievances of all those who have a problem with this country.

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Budget is huh????

Experts scratching their heads, said one 'expert' from Singapore on Times Now, when asked about the Annual Union Financial Budget 2011 and what one should make out of it.

This perhaps was a good way to sum up what was going on in the ramble of a speech that Pranabda (my favorite politician by far) dished out for three hours on a stretch, where he barely drank a drop of water, and bravely marched on, reading out page after page of absolute garbles (not to be mistaken with garbage, for Pranabda's accent makes it difficult to understand what he really means to say).

Social spending remains nearly the same, especially for NREGA, but taxing hospitals restaurants with AC? Seriously? What are you trying to achieve? Rob the poor people further?

Naina Lal Kidwai pointed out that the budget sends a green signal. The only green that I saw was the green of money that is being robbed from my pockets all the time. SO many taxes, and yet there is no improvement on services. In fact, Indian kids are barely able to add up in the land of Aryabhata and Brahmagupta. For no accountability, we are well on the way to deliver another dud (not to be confused with dude, who can be identified by sheer stupidity at times).

No tinkering, and fiscal deficit at 4.1%. Thanks to the sale of 3G, which makes me wonder why they did not do it for 2G spectrum in 2007. We would have been happier then, and the government could have spent more and perhaps won more seats then.

If they really want to be of help to industries, try and improve the structure, which is not the finance minister's purview. Reform reform blah blah blah - what is he achieving by talking about how ministries need more money, when they keep sitting on shitloads of it by not utilizing the funds given to them?????????

Overall, a bhery diphicult bhudget to undershtand phor me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When Stupidity Reigns Supreme

I must admit - I am not a big fan of the UPA or of Manmohan Singh as others are. And so the tone may seem biased here. But the issue was such that I could not refrain from commenting upon it.

http://www.indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/130549/india/food-security-govt-plans-to-limit-food-served-at-weddings.html

Today's news story carries the following article on the UPA government 'seriously' considering an Act that prohibits the number of people that can be invited for a function or social gathering. This is in support of the argument that food wastage can be reduced this way. Please read the story for more of this.

This is another way of the government trying to act Big Brother over us. It seems that personal liberty is not only going for a toss, so is common sense with it. Won't people simply bribe policemen to lie about this? Moreover, I do agree that the crass manner of wedding celebration needs to be controlled, but seriously people, is this any way to stop food wastage, when tonnes of food rots away in government silos across countries or gets destroyed by pests? There is only one way to describe this nonsense; STUPIDITY REIGNS SUPREME.

India's judicial system's motto translates into 'Truth Alone Triumphs'. Maybe the government's motto should read 'Stupidity Only Can Triumph'.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

That Scandal Called Spectrum

Well this is perhaps an apt title. There are no heated debates on it anymore, neither are there front page covers on trying to understand what really happened in 2008. A Raja has been arrested; blood has been bayed; we can all go rest in peace now. Or can we?

Mr. Kapil Sibal has brought out a report under Former Justice Shivraj Patil (not to be confused with former Home Minister Shivraj Patil, that suit changing man), that states that the rot began with 2003 under the NDA. Also, he has been loud and upbeat in disrespecting the Comprtoller and Auditor General (CAG, the Indian government's accountant) report on the perceived loss due to allocation of 2G spectrum by trashing it on the grounds of 'accounting procedures adopted'. I don't know why people do not bring the following points to light:

1. Be it any government under whom the scam had begun, the truth is that there has been a scandal. Start investigating and stop hiding behind the curtains of allegation-counter-allegation amidst all the mudslinging people have jumped into. In that case, one should start with Sukhram under Mr. PV Narsimha Rao's government. Though he was sent to jail, what else changes happened? Nothing! (in retrospect, that INR 4000 crore scandal is peanuts compared to what happened in 2008).

2. The government response to the scandal and its investigation has been an absolute sham. There was no reason why it took the government and the CBI three years to arrest A. Raja when all the evidence was already in the public domain. Tehelka, Outlook and The Daily Pioneer had, for two and a half years, been highlighting the issue before the mainstream media decided to pick it up. Even the so called mainstream media is guilty of not raking the issue and highlighting it in time.

3.As to the perceived loss, Mr. Sibal saying that the loss is only INR 19,000 crore is laughable. Any third grade non-accountant can also tell you the fact that it is very easy to play with numbers. Having worked with balance sheets, I can vouch for the fact that the same balance sheet having a loss of INR 176,000 crore can be made to look like a net profit of INR 20,000 crore - it is all about number crunching. Even if the loss is only INR 19,000 crore rupees, a scam has taken place. For God's sake stop arguing about what the real loss is and get on with the case, its investigation and the prosecution!

4. Where are our laws to deal with corporate crimes? Nowhere! So what we really need is a legal framework to deal with such white-collared crimes as well as Mr. Rajeev Chandrashekhar has pointed out on several occasions. When will the government do something about that issue? Wait! Its busy pandering to the whims of the Ambanis and Tatas!

SO much so for calling ourselves a free and fair democracy; in reality we are an opaque system of governance where it is very easy to drown people in the din of shouting matched to mislead them big-time.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Biodiversity and Sri Lanka

For those who do not know about Sri Lanka, it is one of the world's most endangered biodiversity hotspots. Some of the greatest specie richness in the world is located in this beautiful paradise, that was ravaged by war for over three decades, till it was finally ended (worth a thought though).

Efforts on reconciliation and restoration of the environment in the North of Sri Lanka are now being undertaken on a war footing. What role does biodiversity play in it?
David Without Borders is a brilliant initiative started by two guys in recording efforts on biodiversity conservation, and their recent episode on Sri Lanka reconciliating through biodiversity conservation is certainly worth a watch.

07 Sri Lanka - Building peace for Sri Lanka, the power of biodiversity from David Without Borders on Vimeo.



Dr. Sarath Kotagama came as a pleasant surprise. An ornithologist by profession, he is a delightful person to know. He certainly deserves an award for this initiative of his.

Try and search more about him all of you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

That Thing Called Bamboo

Indian culture has a wonderful relationship with Bamboo. Most prominent among them must be the fact that the flute is made out of it, and the flute was played by none other than the revered Lord Krishna. However, among other things, it is a material of great commercial importance across the world.

What surprises me is the way in which the media tends to ignore such critical issues of development and internal security, and how these issues are so critically interlinked. So it was great surprise for me to read that the Times of India (more appropriately the Trash of India *nudge nudge wink wink*) came out with this article that discussed in great detail the great fraud we did till recently with the marginalized people in our country over the past fifty years.

What is bamboo? Most people, including scientists, say its grass. But according to the Indian Forest Department, it was a tree! Why? Here's the answer.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/science/its-a-grass-not-a-tree-bamboo-off/shoots/articleshow/7330876.cms

And to think we wonder why issues like Naxalism take birth in our country.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Water Privatization and the Media

It is interesting to see the kind of issues that gain coverage in the Indian media, as I have often stated. What makes it interesting though is the selective screening of certain kinds of news items that could be of potential national interest. There is never a debate conducted over matters of national importance in an objective manner. One such area is the privatization of water supply systems in India.

It is of no surprise to me that very few papers in India dare to discuss the issue of water supply systems being privatized in the name of reforms. The side usually taken is the one that is often quoted by proponents; it will be a panacea for all the ills that plague the current systems. Thus it is rare to come across articles on opposition to it in Karnataka, especially in cities like Mysore and Bengaluru. Moreover, the issue is being discussed about the inclusion of the private sector in Delhi as well, with the electricity distribution privatization being quoted a 'success'.

Read more about it here and do let me know what you guys think about the whole issue.

http://www.dailypioneer.com/310878/This-problem-can%E2%80%99t-be-watered-down.html

P.S. The first city to have private water supply was incidentally Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, and the firm operating is a consortium of government financed companies. So is this really privatization?????

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why is Sanitation Not an Issue for the Indian Media?

A scan of the media coverage of issues poses an insight into what are the hot topics of today's media. It is easy to list these issues, for they number only a few. Be it the Hindutva terror, Karnataka land deals, the CWG scam or the 2G spectrum allocation, these issues are still a rage with our media. Though it is shameful to see shameless politicians scream their lungs out saying "My corruption is less than your corruption", it is fascinating to note why issues of grave importance are either dropped quickly or are not even picked up by the Indian media. A lot of them, which I believe are the real issues India faces, are never covered by our so called 'senior' journalists, which is shameful because their voice might lend credence to the efforts of the activists, workers and government servants who are struggling on this issue for decades now.

Ms. Teresa Rehman has been a revelation in that sense. An award winning journalist from Assam, she has been a strong insight into a region that is conveniently forgotten in the mainstream media (a story to be talked about on another day). But it is her struggle about bringing the issue of sanitation to the forefront that is worth a thousand bows. No other 'senior' journalist has seen it within his/her mandate to question why sanitation is not being paid attention in the media. Her blog http://thesanitationscribes.blogspot.com/ is a fantastic eye opener as well as a great attempt to cover what should be a really big issue for the Indian media, and not just remain an issue to be discussed all the time within the academic circles.

http://www.thehoot.org/web/home/story.php?storyid=4648&pg=1&mod=1§ionId=20&valid=true

Please read this to understand the plight of what truly is the aam aadmi of India.

The Economic Slowdown Needs Immediate Address

The Buck Stops With the Duo (Courtesy: Bloombergquint) The fracas in Maharashtra notwithstanding, things are at a critical juncture ...