Sunday, August 29, 2010

Diet of mud and despair in villages even as food grains rot in FCI godowns

Hindustan Times reported that heaps of food grains are rotting in Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns across the country due to apathetic attitude of the authorities concerned, according to a Right To Information (RTI) query. According to the RTI information, as on Jan 1 this year, 10,688 lakh tonnes of food grains were found damaged in FCI depots, enough to feed over six lakh people for over 10 years. Between 1997 and 2007, 1.83 lakh tonnes of wheat, 6.33 lakh tonnes of rice, 2.20 lakh tonnes of paddy and 111 lakh tonnes of maize were damaged in different FCI godowns.

This pathetic situation is prevailing even as news came that many children in Ganne are eating bits of dried mud and silica due to sheer poverty.  New York Times says that India’s eight poorest states have more people in poverty — an estimated 421 million — than Africa’s 26 poorest nations. The Indian Public Distribution System (PDS) is riddled with enormous corruption and inefficiency resulting in only a portion of the grains actually reaching the poorest of the poor. With studies showing nearly 70% of the approx $12 billion budget being wasted, stolen or absorbed by bureaucratic and transportation costs, the poor deserve a better treatment.

This is not the way we want India to shine.  Simply saying that the existing PDS is rotten won't solve the problem.  While action against corrupt officials have to be initiated, a quick introduction of the "food stamps" might also reduce the problem. 

One initial thought is to have Annadan instituted in villages.  In Tamil Nadu, this practise started by Jayalalitha through temples, though initially critisised as a gimmick, brought food atleast once a day for the poorest of the poor. Tamil Nadu also has the Mid-day meals programme for school children, started by Kamaraj initially in a small fashion, but made into a mass programme by MGR in the 1970s.  I am not sure if similar government programmes exists in other states. 

On the non-government side, Akshaya Patra programme comes to mind for its large scale distribution of high quality and hygienic food to poor school children.  Everyday, 12,28,580 children are fed by Akshaya Patra. 

The poverty and starvation deaths are generally not seen in South India, mostly due to better development schemes for the poor.  Foodgrains are rotting in FCI godowns.  It would be better to distribute the grains to the poorest of the poor free or the government either on its own or through public-private partnerships or through NGOs initiate public works programme where instead of wages, food grains can be distributed.  A single course of action wouldn't yield desired result.  It should be a decentralised multi pronged effort - with local resources being applied to solve local problems.  

From a long term perspective, there is a clear need for dramatic improvement in governance.  Without that happening, the poverty situation can become a disaster. The progress on the economic front would be lost, if millions of poor and under nourished people suffer from starvation.  For India to really shine, better action is required.

The Mind Wasters

Hummingbird enjoyed reading the article "The Mind Wasters" (ISKCON News).  Some excerpts from the article:
Many studies have looked violence on television and its impact on our minds, culture, and social interactions. How many murders, gun-shootouts, and violent responses to interpersonal conflict can we digest before it rubs off on us, and our children?
Here's some new evidence why we may want to turn the boob tube off, if not take it out of the house. According to recent studies:
- On average, an American who lives to the age of 80, will spend 13 years of his or her life in front of a TV set.
- For every hour we spend watching television each week, we are likely to spend an additional $200 per year on consumer goods promoted by TV advertisements.
- The more time we spend watching TV, the more likely we are to develop Alzheimer's disease in later life.
In short: watch more TV - waste time, waste money, waste your mind.
This is not to say that there's no value in television. Some rare programming may have educational or other benefits. The point is to be aware of the impact of owning and turning on, or off, a TV set. Its not just idle time we are wasting, it's our money, and our minds, too.
With great difficulty, spread over years, Hummingbird got out of the habit of watching TV programmes.  Hummingbird used to watch cricket matches on TV (till his 12th standard).  Thereafter, something strange happened.  A sudden thought struck Hummingbird one day that even as he busy wasting his time and life watching cricket matches, it is the cricket players who actually make the money.  Hummingbird thought why should he waste his time if he is not going to make money?  This thought effectively killed his interest in the game.

'The Hindu', used to cover sports (especially cricket) very well.  Hummingbird used to read every article written by R. Mohan (The Hindu) and Rajan Bala (Indian Express).  While Indian Express covered sports in its last page, The Hindu reserved its last page more for advertisements and also for a small special column on religious discourses which Hummingbird used to enjoy reading.  Sports used to be covered in the previous two pages.  Hummingbird developed a curious way of reading the paper 'ulta' i.e., reading from the last page first, which habit got ingrained due to reading sports articles.  All that interest in cricket vanished after Hummingbird stepped into college.

Later, the 'old' cricket which Hummingbird knew died its own natural death.  Match fixing controversy (remember Manoj Prabhakar?) wiped out whatever little interest Hummingbird had in the game.  It was rumoured that R. Mohan went out of The Hindu due to this controversy.  Rajan Bala passed away some time back. Hummingbird was thoroughly out of cricket (or for that matter any sports news) that one-day while travelling in a train (to Churchgate) his friend asked him what's the score?  Hummingbird was forced to profess ignorance - he had no clue which countries were playing, what's the tournament, where its being played etc.  Look there he said, showing the Stadium (near Churchgate) where India was playing!  Hummingbird was witness to another cricket match - this time from Aaykar Bhavan where he had gone for a tax hearing.  The Asst Commissioner was busy watching the match from the window of his cabin, with a radio commentary going on in the background!  Hummingbird was told to come again next day, as AC Saheb was busy (watching live cricket free, ofcourse).  Hummingbird is happy he got out of a bad habit.  But he is sad, he wasted so many years, during his childhood - which theoritically he could have used for studying well and scoring better marks.

Many years later, Hummingbird got introduced to CNBC after landing in Mumbai.  Even as one deadly habit went out, another got in.  It took many years to peak and equally took many years to get out of the habit of watching CNBC.  It took a great deal of reading of articles by Prof Ben Graham (eg., of the variety of 'Mr Market') which opened the eyes of Hummingbird and helped him in getting out of the habit of watching CNBC non-stop.  Those days, he used to think of those who watch 'normal' TV channels (news & entertainment) as silly people and only 'intelligent' people watch CNBC!  Needless to mention that Hummingbird thought of himself as 'intelligent'.

Instead of looking at the long term, CNBC by endlessly talking about every issue under the sun and how the sensex is going up or down, only ended up confusing him. Why the price of a share (or the market) is going up or going down - everyone had views - without compunctions they changed their views after a few days (with no apparent ground breaking change actually happening).  It took sometime to understand that they all had an interest in the share price - either going up or down. Many years later, SEBI insisted on "disclosure of interest" so that we the common people don't believe all that is said without actually understanding that people (can) have hidden motives too.

As markets went up and down, CNBC's TRPs also went up.  Everyone wanted to know why it went up or why it went down and whether it would go up or go down.  Hummingbird realised that this is not something sensible people do - people who invest for the long term need to protect themselves as much from the outside chatter / noise - as also from their own 'minds'.  We cannot remain idle.  We need to do something.  In our anxiety to do something, we end up doing the wrong thing.  Hummingbird realised CNBC may be good for 'day traders' but not for 'investors'. 

Later, Hummingbird got into the 'Budget' band wagon.  Budgets became a media event (post liberalisation) and channels started to telecast pre-budget expectations followed by the budget, post-budget analysis etc.  Hummingbird used to spend a substantial amount of time watching every such programme and reading articles in business newspapers. Again, it took many years to actually understand that what matters is the final bill that is passed by the Parliament.  All these discussions are a waste of time.  For almost 5 years now, Hummingbird remains in 'splendid isolation' free from garbage discussion on any topic (including budget).  He reads the Tax Referencer or BCA Journal, after the Parliament approves the budget, so that all pre-budget 'non-sense' talk doesn't pollute him.

During this phase, Hummingbird had slowly but steadily stopped reading the 'normal' news papers.  It was a torturous decision to stop reading 'The Hindu', since it was a childhood habit to read the paper.  'The Hindu' lost its 'balance' long back when the Sri Kasturi retired as Editor.  It has long been hijacked by Communists and atheists.  It was a equally torturous decision to stop reading Indian Express - the paper which Hummingbird used to like the most, especially when Arun Shourie (also click - here and here) and Gurumurthy were at the forefront exposing corruption in the Indian polity.

Times of India, never appealed to Hummingbird as a paper.  After reading 'serious' paper like 'The Hindu' and Indian Express, somehow Hummingbird could never take Times of India, as a newspaper at all, though Bombay people enjoy it a lot. Just as Hummingbird looked down upon TOI, he looked down upon Bombay people too - mmm.. these are not the 'intellectual' types like Madrasis, he used to muse.  Hummingbird used to feel that TOI is more an advertisement sheet wherein between different ads you find something filled up - mostly of the non-sense variety.

The English press whose hearts normally beats for terrorists more than patriots, helped Hummingbird in getting out of a habit ingrained from school days. After almost 30-35 years, Hummingbird became a free bird.  What he wanted was 'news' - what he got was 'views'.  Hummingbird did a 'Ganga-snan' for general newspaper reading and stopped watching 'news' channels.

Heavens have not fallen because Hummingbird has stopped knowing about which train met with an accident where, which politician criticized whom, who looted how much etc.  These things continue to happen all the years.  There are better things in life which happen all the time - our only problem is that the media has saturated coverage with the sensational and negative type - thus removing from scene the silent and positive transformation that is happening in many parts of the country.  How many of us actually know about the grass roots innovations that are happening?  How many of us have understood the difference micro credit funding has made to lives of women especially in terms of empowerment etc.

Hummingbird has travelled a long distance since the old innocent days to believe everything that the media says.  He reads on areas / topics of his interest, but reserves his judgement. Today, 'Mint' and 'Businessline' occupy the mind-space of Hummingbird.  Economist and New York Times remain the most favourite websites for Hummingbird. His readings have become more focussed on economics / business topics and general finance/tax/accounting/HR topics.  Hummingbird likes to read those news items that would enable him to learn something new that's of use for him / his companies.

Ofcourse, Hummingbird had to face many an embarrassing situation. For several months, due to sheer work pressure, Hummingbird just couldn't read even headlines (even from Mint & Businessline).  One evening he spent a few hours scanning the headlines (of many months) scanning the headlines in a RSS reader which he had installed.  In a passing he saw one headline mentioning "Jyoti Basu ill".  He wasn't interested in the news and so he did not bother to click the link and read the full news.  Casually (and quite innocently), he mentioned during a conversation about clearing the old unread links and especially the news about Jyoti Basu being ill. The next day, another colleague told him that Jyoti Basu died many months back!  Hummingbird provided a good case of 'being a joke' for friends on that occasion.

In any case, Hummingbird is not in the race for a popularity (or intelligence or General Knowledge) contest - so his not knowing about some happenings is perfectly OK with him.  Even if he knows, how is it going to help him?  Hummingbird often thinks like this - of what use is it for me to know what is the temperature or weather in Chicago and so why should I know about everything in the world?

When automobile sales zoom, the auto industry cheers the news.  But Hummingbird worries about the impact of pollution, the deaths due to irresponsible road driving, lack of space for the common man on the roads etc.  When salary levels go up, the middle class is happy.  But Hummingbird worries about the poor and the impact of inflation that the salary increase is going to bring on the lives of the poorest of the poor.  Sensex at historical peaks, doesn't bring happiness to Hummingbird.  But starvation deaths bring tears to his eyes.  The heart of Hummingbird has long been captured by Sairam and Sri Ramakrishna.  CNBC and news channels cannot enter his heart anymore.

All these thoughts came to Hummingbird as a flashback while reading "The Mind Wasters".  There are well read people, more intelligent people, all around Hummingbird.  There is also a little Hummingbird in this part of the world - more as a specimen of stupidity, ignorance and isolation from the mainstream!  Hummingbird is happy to be in splendid isolation.  Let all intelligent people be happy knowing about everything under the sun - even without intelligence, Hummingbird is happy, in his own little ways, in his own little world. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Final Farewell

A moving article by Jeffrey Zaslow in WSJ (May 3, 2008) about how Randy Pausch, a 47-year-old college professor, came to teach his family about love, courage -- and saying goodbye.

Randy Pausch, a professor at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, has become famous for the way in which he chose to say goodbye to his students and colleagues. His final lecture to them,  turned into a phenomenon, viewed by millions on the Internet. Dying of pancreatic cancer, he showed a love of life and an approach to death that people have found inspiring. For many of us, his lecture has become a reminder that our own futures are similarly -- if not as drastically -- brief. 

Randy was moved by comments such as the one he received from a man with serious heart problems. The man wrote to tell Randy about Krishnamurti, a spiritual leader in India who died in 1986. Krishnamurti was once asked what was the most appropriate way to say goodbye to a man who was about to die. He answered: "Tell your friend that in his death, a part of you dies and goes with him. Wherever he goes, you also go. He will not be alone." In his email to Randy, this man was reassuring: "I know you are not alone."

Randy rarely got emotional in all his hours with me. He was brave, talking about death like a scientist. In fact, until we got to discussing what should be in the book's last chapter, he never choked up.
The last chapter, we decided, would be about the last moments of his lecture -- how he felt, what he said. He thought hard about that, and then described for me how his emotions swelled as he took a breath and prepared to deliver his closing lines. It was tough, he said, "because the end of the talk had to be a distillation of how I felt about the end of my life."

In the same way, discussing the end of the book was emotional for him. I could hear his voice cracking as we spoke. Left unsaid was the fact that this part of our journey together was ending. He no longer needed to ride his bike, wearing that headset, while I sat at my computer, tapping away, his voice in my ears. Within weeks, he had no energy to exercise.

Randy is thrilled that so many people are finding his lecture beneficial, and he hopes the book also will be a meaningful legacy for him. Still, all along, he kept reminding me that he was reaching into his heart, offering his life lessons, mostly to address an audience of three. "I'm attempting to put myself in a bottle that will one day wash up on the beach for my children," he said.

And so despite all his goodbyes, he has found solace in the idea that he'll remain a presence. "Kids, more than anything else, need to know their parents love them," he said. "Their parents don't have to be alive for that to happen."

Hummingbird always feels this is a very emotional and inspiring Last Lecture.  To download the pdf version of the transcripts of the last lecture click here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Confirming the worst suspicions..!

Came across an interesting article "Corruption in Taiwan" in Economist (July 22, 2010). Some excerpts from the article -
RUMOURS of corruption among the judiciary have long flourished in Taiwan. Yet the news on July 14th that three high-court judges and a prosecutor had been detained amid allegations that they took bribes to fix the outcome of a high-profile case, has brought public outrage to boiling point. On July 18th Taiwan’s highest-level judicial official, Lai In-jaw, who is in charge of the island’s supreme and lower courts chose to resign because of the outcry over the case.
For jaded Taiwanese observers the latest developments merely confirm long-held suspicions of graft in their insular and inscrutable judiciary. “The significance of this case is that it makes all the rumours a reality,” said Yang Tai-shuenn, a politics professor at Taipei’s Chinese Culture University. “It will push the government to do something.”
Well the article says this news brought public outrage to boiling point.

Mmm... How sad, wonders Janab Cynic Ali.  He still finds it difficult to understand why his dear brothers and sisters of Taiwan are angry. Please cool down, he says.  Come to India and enjoy corruption, Indian ishtyle. He is convinced that if our Taiwanese brothers and sisters visit India, then they will stop feeling bad about corruption in their country.  

In India, we have reached the state of Nirvana long back and nothing will push our government to do something... why something.. they won't do anything, he tells the world confidently. If only our Taiwanese brothers & sisters listen to Janab Saheb, their tensions will go away instantly - Amrutanjan style - It's gone.. poye poochu.. poyinde..!

Humko man ki shakti dena..

Hummingbird has limitations understanding Hindi.  Inspite of this handicap, somehow he feels that there is something beautiful in this song (or) bhajan, whichever way one might call, that keeps one engrossed. 

For some inexplicable reason, Hummingbird enjoys audio more than video - and if the tune is soothing, then he enjoys the song/bhajan, mostly closing his eyes and listening.  Hummingbird has no idea whether this is the right way to enjoy music.  This is something he enjoys - something that doesn't harm anyone - yet brings him joy and so once in a while he listens to Bhajans or old songs.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rains and more rains...

It has been raining since morning.  Its also quite cool.  From the weather map in Business Line (August 21, 2010), it is clear that it will continue to rain in many parts of the country and more so in the Western parts.

Cloud formation suggests its going to rain heavily

Interestingly, Mumbai has received maximum rainfall (in mm) amongst all 23 weather stations reported by Business Line (August 21, 2010) in terms of departure from normal for the season, though it is No.2 (after Panjim) in terms of total rainfall received since June 1, 2010.

Station Max Min Rain Total rain Departure
Mumbai 29 25 10 2420 824
Panjim 30 24 6 2656 468
Ahmedabad 33 26 5 960 422
Hyderabad 32 23 15 581 193
N Delhi 28 26 110 576 128
Chennai 35 27 -- 318 51
Bangalore 28 22 -- 225 7

Ranchi 32 24 6 405 -379
Patna 33 28 -- 385 -270
Lucknow 32 25 35 420 -176
Indore 29 22 -- 481 -135
Trivandrum 31 24 -- 543 -100
Guwahati 33 26 103 769 -93
Kolkota 32 26 53 793 -51

[Note:  The columns show maximum and minimum temperature in Celcius, rainfall during last 24 hours and total rainfall in mm since June 1, 2010 and departure from normal for the season.]

The departure from normal for Mumbai also matches with the general observation of almost continuous rains since June 2010.

What is interesting is that Ranchi, Patna, Lucknow, Indore (if we can broadly read them as the old Bihar / UP / MP areas) show a decent deficit rainfall from normal.  Will this have an impact on the agricultural production?

Generally, Kerala and North East areas receive good rains.  The above table shows deficit rainfall for the season in both Trivandrum and Guwahati. 

Business Line's editorial (Furrows of worry, Business Line, August 16, 2010) comes to mind.
With nearly two-thirds of the southwest monsoon season behind us, it is time to take stock of the kharif crop situation. The news is at once good and disappointing from the point of view of overall precipitation and area planted. Although the all-India area weighted rainfall is still in negative territory as of mid-August, 28 of the 36 meteorological subdivisions have had excess (nine subdivisions) or normal (19 subdivisions) precipitation so far. But the disaggregated picture is somewhat worrisome. Even as Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh as also Gangetic West Bengal face deficiency, Punjab, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Eastern Rajasthan, currently in the normal category, risk falling into deficient category. This raises the possibility of yield losses and the concomitant effect on production of cereals and cash-crops, although it may be premature to put a number on this.
In my school days, I used to read in text books that Indian agriculture is dependent upon monsoons.  A few decades down the line, it appears not much has changed at the ground level.  What has changed is that the population has exploded, joint families have split, flat culture has taken root, life styles have changed and requirement for more water has arisen.  Water table across the country has gone down and States fight with each other (eg Karnataka Vs T.Nadu; Kerala Vs T.Nadu) for water.  We would rather allow river water to go waste (into ocean) but won't allow it into neighbouring States! 

Crop cultivation patterns need to change in a very big way - it requires a big effort in educating the agrarian population to move away from crops which consume water in a big way into those which consume less water or use better methods (eg drip irrigation) of using water.  These steps would improve water table, reduce uncertainty of loss of crop - either due to inadequate rainfall or drought etc.

The rainy season is not yet over.  Hummingbird hopes that the deficit areas too receive rains, but not of the unseasonal variety and farming community doesn't suffer.  

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rains...and furrows of worry

Before the rains started, we were looking eagerly as to when the rains would start.  Hummingbird was also one of the avid watchers with a series of posts "Clouds have come ... can the rains be far behind?).

As expected rains came.  Unlike previous year(s), it has been raining quite heavily, almost all through the rainy season.  The last time, Hummingbird saw something like a clear sun, was on August 14, 2010.

It's the last sunset which I saw... and that was on Aug 14, 2010

Thereafter, it has continued to rain especially in the evenings.  The rainy season seems to be quite active all through the country.  Heavy rains have been predicted for the hilly regions of north-west (Business Line, August 19, 2010).

Raining... all over India!

There have been floods in Pakistan, Leh etc.  Looking at the India map and the cloud formation, it appears that more rains are ahead, this season. 

Business Line reports that the Climate Prediction Centre (CPC) of the US National Weather Services has assessed increased chances for above-normal rainfall for the region extending from South Asia to the Maritime Continent and this would bring the south-east coast of India and the Bay of Bengal under rain cover during this period.  The CPC has extended the wet weather outlook to the following week (August 24-30) as well, with the rain cover over India's south-east coast digging further into East-central India.

The prevailing La Nina condition would be more long-lasting than thought earlier and may continue until early 2012, according to updated forecasts from the Tokyo-based Research Institute for Global Change (RIGC) reports Business Line (La Nina may extend into early 2012, say Japanese experts, August 18, 2010).  This is likely to give above-normal rainfall in many parts of the world including India and predictions are that we may have a colder than normal winter.  

Today it rained again, quite heavily in the evening in Mumbai and visibility was poor as I left for home.

Heavy rains and poor visibility... (blackberry picture taken from a moving vehicle)

On the positive side, good rains have brought some respite from the drinking water crisis.  They have also brought cheer to automobile companies with improved sentiment and boosting auto sales.  On the agricultural side, while the kharif harvest could be better than in 2009, it may be far from bumper. And the price implications are self-evident, says Business Line in an Editorial (Furrows of worry, August 16, 2010).  With inflation raging uncontrolled, prospect of a food price linked boost to inflation is worrying.  Some excerpts from the Business Line editorial: 
The risks to crop size and quality will increase if the forecast of more rains in the rest of August and in September turns out to be correct.
Excessive rains, especially when crops near maturation, can be damaging. So, while the ensuing kharif harvest may be better than in 2009, it is unlikely to be anywhere near bumper.
The price implications of the emerging scenario are self-evident. Do not expect any miraculous relief from high food prices. There may be a slight softening of prices in October, with the harvest and arrival pressure; but the sentiment can quickly change for the worse.
The Government must be in a state of readiness to deploy the buffer stocks of rice and wheat for effective market intervention. The poor will need a credible and effective safety net in the form of access to food (fine cereals, pulses, cooking oil and sugar) at affordable prices.
Liberal, duty-free imports will have to continue. Policymakers must exercise abundant caution while considering changes in trade and tariff policies.
Globally too, grain prices have rallied to new highs because of weather aberrations in some regions, including the Black Sea port area and Canada's grain-bowl of Saskatchewan. This is raising the spectre of a 2007/2008-like food price situation. And such price cues can cause ripples here too.
Unlike in the past when droughts were more or less common, this year it has been raining... and raining almost regularly all through the season.  Hummingbird fervently hopes that farmers don't lose their crops due to unseasonal rains or too much rains.  It could lead to large scale misery, not only to the farming community but to the nation as a whole, as the inflation monster which has been dancing all around without any control so far, would get an added boost due to crop failure.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Eating out... and going to hospital..!

Indians are chomping on more and more pizzas — but the success story is a subplot in the growth of the eating-out-of-home story, says Business Line (A topping performance, Business Line, Brand Line, August 19, 2010).
A big bite..!
A few interesting pieces of information came out of this article:
According to the Food Franchising Report 2009, Indians consumed 3.5 million pizzas each month in 2008 as compared to 1.5 million in 2001.  Americans polish off at least 100 acres of pizzas a day (that's 350 slices of pizza per second), while over 90 per cent of Britons eat pizza at least once a week. About 466 million pizzas were sold in Briton last year.  The Food Franchising Report 2009 notes that 30 per cent of working singles eat out at least once a month, with a majority spending at least Rs 101-150 per outing. Urban Indians now have a meal out of home six times a month compared to 2.7 times in 2003.  The report says the retail food sector in India is likely to grow to $150 billion by 2025 from $70 billion in 2008.  The projections are that the size of the world food industry will be $400 billion in 2025 — clearly Indian mouths would be a big contributor to the global pie.
Thus, from a lending / investment perspective, restaurants appear to be interesting opportunities.  Unlike industrial units, such food outlets, tend to get food items on credit and sell on cash, thus almost not requiring working capital.  With food habits changing across the country and eating out becoming more and more an entrenched habit, food outlets are bound to increase in number as also do more business in future.  Any outlet that is run on hygienic lines with a reasonalble pricing policy, would attract enough customers and can become safe bets for lending by banks and for investment by VCs.

While eating out has become more entrenched today than what it was even 10 or 5 years ago, what is causing worry is the contribution of junk food to the health issues confronting the masses today.  The stress levels are quite high and even young suffer from heart attacks.  Life style diseases are emerging as silent killers.  The high cost of quality healthcare has made it almost unaffordable to a very large segment of the society and is a matter of deep concern with no solution in sight.  While government hospitals remain a clear 'no' for the middle class population, not everyone in the country especially from the unorganised sector and the rural masses have access to mediclaim facility or quality healthcare in their areas.

It is in this context, the news that Glocal Healthcare will build 2,000 hospitals across India in five years, appeared interesting to me (Source:  New venture seeks to start low-cost rural hospital chain, Mint, August 19, 2010).
Will Sri Damodaran & his team succeed where the Indian Governments have failed?

Mint says that this healthcare venture could potentially redefine India’s private healthcare business in terms of cost and pricing.  With former civil servants behind the show, let's hope they plug the gaps in the health care delivery mechanism that is obvious today.  What is interesting is that this ambitious 'low-cost' health care venture is being funded by venture capital firms and not by the government.  Maybe this is another case of tapping the bottom of the pyramid for making money.  

Even as I wish this venture all the success, I hope that Government would contribute something to such projects either as a grant or interest free long term loan so that borrowings are kept at reasonable levels and the final healthcare cost for the rural masses remain at an affordable level.

Did BHEL donate Rs.25 crore to Chautala’s party?

Sriman Cynic was surprised to read a news item that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing allegations that former Haryana chief minister Sri Om Prakash Chautala, his then chief secretary Sri L.M. Goyal and others had favoured state-owned power equipment maker Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) in awarding a contract for setting up two power units in 2002 (CBI probes Chautala’s role in awarding contract to Bhel, Mint, August 18, 2010).
Is it a clear case of corruption or witch hunt?

The issue is whether BHEL donated Rs.25 crore to Sri Chautala’s party, the Indian National Lok Dal, and gave Rs.2 crore to Sri Goyal, who was Haryana chief secretary in 2000-02, to get the project?

While private players paying money to get contracts is old news, a PSU paying money to a political party to get orders is something which Sriman Cynic hasn't heard before.  Somehow he innocently thinks that the tender route which is adopted by government is to be followed only if private parties are involved and need not be followed if the contract is given to a PSU or government department.

Sriman Cynic wonders, maybe he is wrong.  It would have been better if the Haryana Government had floated a tender and placed the order with the lowest bidder.  But it is still beyond the understanding of Sriman Cynic that BHEL, a PSU, paid money to a political party for getting this contract.  With C & AG auditing the books of accounts, Sriman Cynic wonders how this would be possible?  Rs.27 crore is not a small amount of money and so cash payments are out of question.  Assuming they did pay, how did they adjust this money in books?  Possible course could be over invoicing / under invoicing with parties related to politicians.  Sriman Cynic is scratching his head as to what is the incentive to BHEL for getting this contract?

This has led Sriman Cynic to think if its a case of political witch hunt?  But in the process should the name of a reputed PSU like BHEL be tarnished, wonders Sriman Cynic. He also wonders, if the news is indeed true, what could be the implications for governance in public sector institutions?  Maybe it would result in further tightening of rules and stifle decision making.  Vigilance officials would be breathing down the necks of decision makers.  Overall, Sriman Cynic is sad.

What can I say..?  Did not Mahatma Gandhi say - "My faith is brightest in the midst of impenetrable darkness".  Well, I can only say, Cynicji, please don't be disheartened by any news.  Notwithstanding our corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, we are still growing.  Like that, slowly but steadily, one day our governance standards would also improve and we won't be reading news of this variety.  If not in our generation, atleast in the next generation.

So, Sriman Cynicji, please keep your cool and let's wait and work for a better era.

Guilty will not be spared..

Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said those found guilty of corruption in the upcoming Commonwealth Games will be punished once the event is over, reports ANI (Source:  CWG Scam: Sonia Gandhi says those guilty will not be spared).

Janab Cynic Ali is wondering whether it is the usual talk of law will take its own course and no one would be spared, howsoever he is mighty etc.  Of course, he is yet to recover from the news that Ramalinga Raju was granted bail (Source: Business Line, August 19, 2010).  If a person who publicly acknowledged the wrong doings is not yet punished and nearly 20 months after his arrest he also gets a bail, and if the case is not yet finished, when will the corrupt be punished in the CWG scam, ponders Janab Cynic Ali?

Any answers? 

Well, let us tell Janab Saheb, that whatever happened in all the previous scams, will happen now too.  Cheer up Janab Saheb, this is modern India.  Mera Bharat Mahan!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Sriman Cynic has started reading newspapers... rather scanning through them.  This headline caught his attention - "Overall inflation to moderate to 6% by Dec, says Chawla" (Business Line, July 6, 2010).

"Food inflation is going down. It will take some time before it comes to a range that is acceptable to the Government and good for the people," Mr Ashok Chawla, Finance Secretary, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference here on Monday. He, however, declined to put a timeframe as to when the acceptable range would be achieved. 
"Declined to put a timeframe" - these words keep ringing in the ears of Sriman Cynic.  After all how can the government put a timeframe - we can put a timeframe, once we are in control of the situation.  Deadlines have come and gone, only to be replaced by a fresh set of deadlines. The entire inflation debate has become a cruel joke. Times of India's headline (July 29, 2010) sums it up better -

I-T staff to strike work ...

It is now more than three weeks since 'Sriman Cynic' stopped reading newspapers.  Cynic normally thinks that nothing great happens if we stop reading newspapers or stop watching Indian news channels - both in his humble view heap garbage (by default) - though at times, he finds something useful or intellectually stimulating appearing in the Indian media.  In any case, Cynic says he intends to quickly scan though the backlog over the next few days.  

This headline in Business Line (July 15, 2010) "struck" Cynic - IT staff to strike work today.  

It is Cynic's guess that corruption on that date (in India) would have gone down by atleast a few percentage points!  

Cynic says that in other countries, government officials do good to the society, by being honest.  In India, government officials do good to the society, by striking work!  Atleast on that day, they cannot collect baksheesh!!

Cynic is convinced that we cannot eliminate corruption in India, where everyone from top to bottom is corrupt.  But he feels that what we can pray for is frequent strikes by government departments.  Well, that's the only way he feels we can hope to reduce corruption level in India.