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Glorified hypocrisy…

Through the ages, India has always been a male dominated society, our history rife with stories of male dominance over women; kings, zamindars, masters, husbands, peasants, even beggars… across all strata of society, our history has always painted a picture of man over woman.

Against this backdrop, I would like to salute the Indian spirit that has relentlessly over time worked for as well as embraced the levelling of the genders. Today the Indian story is definitely different from our maligned history (referring to the context of the blog). The emergence and growth of the Indian woman is a story repeated endlessly (though deservedly each time) and my blog is not another one of those.

In spite of our evolution in this regard, every now and then there are gruesome incidents in our society that show us how fragile the progress can be. Against the backdrop of having fought and won acknowledgement and respect, it is a sad fact that many of our friends, family as well as countless others have experiences in their daily lives that make them realize their vulnerability. Harassment at work, transport as well as at home are still pertinent issues that our women have to contend with

The struggle reached its peak with the tragic incidence etched in our memory as “Nirbhaya”. This tipping point incident rallied people of New Delhi as well as all over India to rally together in their outcry of the state’s failure in ensuring protection to women which in turn led to governments bringing in stricter legislature to protect women in our society.

As is it always easy to have a scapegoat, the government was once again the reluctant but most likely candidate. But it does raise the question, “Was Nirbhaya the government’s fault or was it the result of our social hypocrisy???”

Case in point…

In 2007, the Rajnikanth starrer “Shivaji – the Boss” ran to packed houses all over India raking in more than 300 crores in the process.

In the movie, the hero enchanted by the heroine, enters her house in the guise of a government official. When it doesn’t have the desired effect he pursues her at her work place. When that too does not prove fruitful, the hero with his entire family barge into the heroine’s house to push things forward… fast forward to inevitability… heroine falls for the hero…

Do my previous lines reek of harassment? They obviously do. So this brings up a million dollar question. If we, as a society, celebrate harassment on the celluloid, why do we have a problem with it in real life? Why do we get angry if a young sincerely enamoured Indian boy “harasses” a girl in his attempts to woo her??? Why do we have a problem when a guy thinks he is a sincere lover like the hero and accept his actions? Why do we have a problem if a guy in offices makes a woman uncomfortable by his advances???

Ironically, the sections of the movie that I have referred to are constantly aired as “comedy” in many channels. Why would not a kid who grows up watching this as “comedy” not resort to it in his life?

If we truly want to make India a safer place for women, we need to stop celebrating what we don’t want to suffer…

Tech paranoia at its peak?

Hi I am a modern day Indian… young enough to be a part of the technology revolution that is sweeping across our country yet old enough to be a part of the “manual” world that is slowly coming to an inevitable end.

I hold a couple of bank accounts across private and public sector banks as part of the company that I own.

Before the advent of internet banking, the most common way for money to be exchanged across two parties was a cheque (referring to a cheque as an entity of the past is deliberate…).

A cheque, a piece of paper, carrying a signature that seems similar enough to the naked eye was all that was needed.

Enter the new age – internet banking… supposed to be faster, easier and definitely less time consuming… OR IS IT???

The public sector bank with whom we work functions like this (for the corporate account)

Step 1: I login in to the site using a login password.
Step 2: I make the transaction.
Step 3: I need to enter an authorization password to complete the transaction
Step 4: On entering authorization password, I receive an OTP on my mobile
Step 5: I enter the OTP to complete the transaction.

For the readers who think it is done… please read on:

Step 6: Another user logs in to the site using his login password.
Step 7: The other user selects the transaction (Step 2) and authorizes it.
Step 8: In order to authorize the transaction, he needs to enter his authorization password.
Step 9: On entering the authorization password, he receives an OTP on his respective mobile
Step 10: The other user enters the OTP to complete the transaction.

For the readers who think there is more… TADA, it is finally done

And I come back to the topic of the blog…

Why are our public sector banks suddenly so weary of the pitfalls of the electronic system? When crores of rupees used to be transacted using visual checks of scribblings, what is the source of the paranoia that replaces a visit to the bank with a 10 step process spanning 2 login ids, 4 passwords and 2 mobile phones???

In a fast growing world, government organizations need to view technology as a facilitator of efficiency and convenience and not as a grudging inevitability. This could be the first step in harnessing technology to be come a people centric country…

My ranting is done… Now i’m off to the bank to deposit a couple of cheques… Ciao

Would I want Chennai to be a cooler (weather wise) place?

Dated: 23 October 2013, 3.13 AM

The background to this post is the weather we have been experiencing in Chennai for the past two days. Loads of rain brought the temperature spiralling down to an extent as to make me wish for this to be permanent…. That brings us to the question “Do I want Chennai to be a cooler place?”

In order for Chennai to suddenly experience a dramatic change in weather going from hot and humid to cool, breezy and overcast, there has to be constant increase in the amount of rain that is caused in the city (Planting trees etc may not be able to produce the effect of a sequence of cyclones…I am stating this so as not to displease any reader (hopefully) who is an avid tree planter).

This in turn can only be increased in the number of cyclones that can provide the steady supply of rain. Such a condition (looking beyond the imminent danger to life and property on the coastal shores), will lead to the following impacts on our lives…

There will be a chaos in the fishing community as their working time will be drastically reduced leading to a dearth of sea food availability in the country. This in turn will change a relatively common and popular commodity namely seafood into a very costly one aka sea food would become much costlier…

This will lead to a sudden shift in food preference of sea food eaters to other meat varieties thereby upsetting the supply chain paradigms of the entire non-veg community. Soon all forms of meat will be giving onions a tough competition in the rate of escalation of its prices…

We all have seen the effects of a heavy shower on the city’s drainage and roads systems. The possibility of contiguous rain could only mean that more and more areas get water logged and roads go from worse to more worse (reserving “worst” for later…). The condition of the roads will gradually worsen to a state where people might assume that there is metro work happening in their backyards too…

Water logging can lead to a sudden increase in mosquito population thereby increasing the threat of diseases like dengue and malaria… It is a question whether the city is equipped for outbreaks of either if not both these diseases…

Traditionally waterlogging of low lying areas and slums has been accompanied more often by distribution of freebies (distribution of free dhotis, sarees etc…) rather than preventive measures. This could lead to a sudden burden on the state ex-chequer having to dole out continuous freebies to keep people happy… More local taxes, costlier fuel, the list could go on…

As the state ex-chequer comes under sudden pressure, it is but natural that the government turns to its biggest revenue grosser… TASMAC!!! The government could be pressurized to increase alcohol consumption so as to offset the load leading to all the obvious dangers of an increasingly inebriated “tamil kudimagan”…

The vigour shown by the government in increasing sales through TASMAC will only receive more encouragement from the local population who now find the weather more conducive to lead a more relaxed lifestyle… supply fuelling demand and demand fuelling supply at the same time…

This could also lead to a sudden spurt in law and order issues as a metropolitan population suddenly decides to chill out more… you can imagine the rest…

As has already been clearly documented by all the tamil movies that include a TASMAC scene (as if it were an unstated rule), such an increase in the appetite of alcohol in the city will be accompanied by more consumption of snacks that takes us back to the rising prices of meat and sea food!!!

At this point I look up my blog and decide to go to bed with a prayer that Chennai weather remains the way it is…

It is one to wish a place has better weather, but totally another to endear and yet see the soul of the place… Cheers to all the people who brave the weather, yet embrace it to make Chennai what it truly is…

Can good economics ever beat good politics???

It is my observation that the position of any country on the global landscape is the result of an (ever-continuing) battle between good economics and “good” politics…

Where good economics can be defined as the mass mobilization towards economic and social upliftment of all, today’s “good” politics (or atleast most of it ) can safely be defined as mass mobilization for individual(s) benefits/goals…

I believe that the stature of any country in the world today depends upon which of these two forces actually influence the denizens of that country.

To create an environment of debate, lets take up the following scenario….

In October 2009, there was a natural disaster of enormous proportions that hit the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The rivers Tungabhadra and the Krishna had their worst flood in the last 100 years leaving behind a trail of destruction.

Taking into focus the state of Karnataka (needed for this blog), the districts of Raichur, Koppal, Haveri, Bagalkote, Bijapur, Gulbarga, Bellary, Belgaum and Gadag faced devastating floods in the first week of October 2009, while they were just recovering from the severe drought. With about 18 million people directly affected by the floods; one million people rendered homeless; more than 3,55,000 people in over 1,200 relief camps and the death toll crossing 200, the October 2009 floods in North Karnataka was the worst in recent history.
(http://www.headstreams.org/what-we-do/relief-and-rehabilitation/floodsinnorthkarnataka-2009)

It was heart wrenching for me as I had just completed a bike ride across these places; having just enjoyed the natural beauty as well as the fantastic NH4, it was indeed very sad that think of what could have been and what it was…

Later on, pondering on this question in my mind, I come up with a seemingly crazy hypothesis…

Let’s assume that the Chief Minister of Karnataka at that time, lets call him Mr. Y (no pun intended) looked at this calamity and was contemplating on the possible ways to avoid such destruction to his people.

As this was a flood caused by a sudden increase in rainfall, it is quite possible to assume that the same could happen again as the world moves slowly but surely towards an inevitable global meltdown. In order to ensure the better channelling of this excess water, he decides to create a reservoir/dam in the middle of the state, one that he could possibly connect to River Kaveri (a southern river in the same state).

The minister realizes that this idea of his not only allows for the creation of a state-wide irrigation system, that can possibly avoid future droughts, but also create a possibility of settling bigger political issues;

The excess water could simply be given to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu with whom they have been at logger heads for sharing the water of the Kaveri !!!

This gesture could be labelled as one of goodwill, possibly paving the way for enhanced cooperation between the two states and what was once a source of heartache and financial losses to the state (the flood) could simply be converted into one that has benefits in a myriad of ways… (At this juncture I would have to admit I have no clue if the above idea is practically feasible, if found otherwise, I request the reader to just take note of the intent)
Now to connect this crazy hypothesis to the title of the blog…

How would “good politics” react to such an example of “good economics” in action?
It is natural to assume that such an attempt, though mutually beneficial, will have to withstand the attack that will be launched on it by all opposing political parties.

There would be an uproar from the opposition that the sovereign property of the state has been handed over and there would be umpteen conspiracy theories as to why the minister decided to “pander” to the neighbour’s demands…

There would be a loud hue and cry by “Karnataka loyal politicians” who will oppose this idea as a mark of their loyalty to their state… There would be dharnas, riots and protests towards protecting the honour of their state…

Will the common man, who is witness to both, realize that the idea was actually intended to save and protect the citizens of the state thereby making it an example of state loyalty or will this facet of the truth be lost in the political angst of having shared a resource with the neighbour?

Will this stroke of genius be appreciated by extending his license to put economics to good use (aka victory in the next election) or will it be the beginning of his political exile as a traitor, can only be another hypothesis.

Sadly India neither boasts of ministers ready to experiment with “good” economics nor does away with “good” politicians who will not allow the modern Indian minds to see it, if and when it happens…

I would like to ask the reader to contemplate if it is possible for good economics to work in India, whether we as someone who is erudite enough to either accept/rubbish this blog, be ready to be an agent of change; whether we are ready to be part of a revolution that gives economics in India a chance…

Closing this blog with the hope that India strives towards becoming a country where it is able to choose the better force in order to gain her rightful position in the global picture…

Dummy’s understanding of Indian Union Budget 2013

The contents of this blog are the views of an ordinary Indian citizen… If the views are far removed from reality, I would love to be corrected by the more erudite…

 The union budget seems to have the following goals in mind…

 

  1. How to reduce imports and increase exports?

  2. How to handle Indians’ thirst for gold without harming the Rupee any further?

  3. How to raise more money for the government without pissing off the people?

  4. How to make sure the budget doesnt win the upcoming election for the opposition?

 

I will proceed to state how I think the above questions have been answered….

 Before I begin, I have to admit that even before we arrive at a verdict of the budget as such, it seems that after a long long time, economics has been given preference before politics… maybe the situation has become so dire that the pecking order had to be changed…. in any case, the change in thinking is something to be welcomed and hope it is the beginning of a trend in Indian history…

 Lets start the dummy’s analysis…

 How to reduce imports and increase exports???

 For a developing country like India, it is very important that as a country we export more than we import…. During the times the Indian story was unfolding, Indian exports were on a seemingly unstoppable growth path (aided by the every increasing global presence of Indian IT companies)… Then came global recessions… The European crisis, followed by austerity in the US, followed by more crisis in the European Union…. all meant that the buyers of Indian exports were either reducing or becoming too poor to continue as buyers… This factor coupled with coalition governments at the helm, often referred to by the now popular term “policy paralysis” only helped to exacerbate the situation… Growth that was a healthy jog started slowing down to a canter…. and finally almost a “slow walk” forcing global rating companies to downgrade us to “junk” (have no clue as to what that means… but only know that its a very bad scenario to be called “junk”, what say you…?)

 This seems to be the case where the budget seems to be filled with direct and indirect methods to reduce imports and increase self sufficiency. Let me state the points that made me think so…

 Increase in duty on mobiles…

 Even if none of us can jump up and state numbers, it has now become a weather beaten story that India is the world’s fastest growing mobile market…(to show off, I’ll state some numbers here…) In 2012, half of the mobile phones sold in the world were sold in India, a country that has gone from having 37 million subscribers in 2001 to over 900 million subscribers in 2011 (a growth of 2432% in a decade’s time1)… I could go on and on but I think I have proved my point…

 The government has increased the excise duty on mobile phones costing more than Rs 2000… Though there is much agitation against this point, I feel that this has been done with very clear objectives in mind… 

  1. This is going to have a direct impact on the huge import of handsets from China as the cost of importing these phones is going to be higher… 

  1. The increase in excise duty is sure to earn the government more money as today man’s essentials have become “food, clothing, shelter and mobile phones”… 

  1. But the most important objective seems to be in getting mobile companies to manufacture more of their phones within India rather than outside India. The budget also mentions many incentives and tax benefits to companies that are investing in machinery and infrastructure in India that may possibly tempt some or many of the mobile companies to increase their manufacturing capacities domestically rather than to depend on imports…

 Increase in duty on set-top boxes…

 The above explanation seems to be justified by the approach towards set-top boxes. In an environment where constant messages stating digitization deadlines flashing on our TVs, a increase in duty on set-top boxes seems like “forcibly creating a market for a totally imported component and then making it difficult to import it thereby forcing domestic production…“ something in the lines of “carrot and stick” comes to mind…

 It also seems to be a clear indication that finally the Indian government is definitely annoyed by increasing imports from China and has finally decided to bully our population into doing something about it… I hope and pray that I get to shout hurrah in my future blogs in this regard….

 Increase in coal duty…

 I got to know there are 2 different policies for normal coal and steam coal imports. That coal import duty was costlier and that steam coal was cheaper before the budget. Now steam coal has become costlier to import on the same lines as coal… I came across the term CVD at many places wherever I read about the budget, still am clueless about it…

 The direct impact of the increase in duty, would mean that with coal becoming costlier, electricity (are you feeling the shocks already???) is to be become costlier in India… A county (in general) and many states in particular (this blog emanates from one of India’s most power deprived states) that are facing an acute shortage in power, this would seem to be very bad news (read somewhere Adani group head bemoaning the increase in costs)…

 However, lets face the simple truth… As population rises, as coal reserves deplete across the world, it is, as sure as we are going to die someday, inevitable that the cost of importing coal is only going to keep on increasing…

 By increasing the duty on coal, the government seems to be forcing Indian power companies to increase their forays into greener and alternative sources of energy. To support this fact, the budget has several incentives for companies/entrepreneurs involved in wind power generation…

 Necessity is the mother of invention… and the budget seems to be making use of the current scenario in pushing us in the direction of cleaner, greener and more power at the same time achieving its intention of creating another dent in the imports segment…

 Without delving into more examples, these statements seem to make a point that there is a clear and uniform pattern across the entire budget to reduce imports… If the developed countries clear their mess and return to becoming buyers of our exports… I hope we can look forward to a healthy balance between exports and imports…

 

How to handle Indians’ thirst for gold without harming the Rupee any further?

 Gold has been at the centre of Indians’ lives and this can be seen in the fact that India imported around 900 tonnes of gold in 2012 for domestic consumption2 and the trend is something that can be assumed to continue with gold being treated as an investment in addition to being an integral component of the grand Indian wedding.

 However, in layman terms, the more the gold a county imports, the cheaper its currency becomes… In other words, the number of rupees to be shelled out to get a dollar will keep increasing as India keeps importing more and more gold”…

 This is something that can give any finance minister (of a country where gold is so important culturally) nightmares of a continuously depreciating currency…

 I, as an ardent admirer of movies like the “The Italian Job”, “The Ocean’s movies”, cant but stand up and applaud the idea that our minister seems to have come up to handle the situation…

 The budget has increased the limits of how much gold can be brought into the country by NRIs/indian tourists… The limit for a male passengers has been increased from Rs 10, 000/- to Rs 50, 000/- and for a female passenger from Rs 20, 000/- to Rs 1, 00, 000/-….

 In simple terms, the budget allows Indians to bring in as much gold as possible (directly proportional to the number of Indian NRIs and Indian tourists abroad) and hope to reduce the amount being brought into the county via imports… This can ensure that there is ever increasing amount of the metal in the market for us to buy and sell and not have an impact on the daily battle between the dollar and the Rupee…

 Sounds filmy… but does seem to be a smart move… I look forward to gold market/bullion reviews over time to see how the plot unfolds…

 

How to raise more money for the government without pissing off the people?

 When I start typing about this topic, I am reminded of a recent article in the Economic Times of how “Gurgaon is both the land of cowherds and crorepatis…”3 I can safely extend this analogy to the country on the whole where there is an ever increasing divide among the haves and the have nots… Though India has witnessed more and more people crossing the barrier to become “haves”, the population expansion on the lower side of the barrier is much more compared to the upper stratum…

 With this backdrop, any move by the government to tax the richer, no matter how right or wrong it is, would be met with much enthusiasm. Having with him, such a fail-safe option, the budget seems to have taken it one step more in further dividing the rich into more classifications in order to make sure that the associated dissent and disappointment is lost in the collective public approval…

 Increase in duty of cigarettes and proposed increase in duty of cigars…

Among the world nations, India can be called the most hypocritic when it comes to cultural values… Sex, skin show and female harassment are celebrated in our movies, but chastised in our values… Alcohol consumption is denounced but is the main source of revenue for many Indian state governments… the paradoxes are aplenty….

However without meandering more, increase in duty of cigarettes is sure to be cheered by people on the assumption that it will reduce cigarette consumption and it is likely many people will consider the government to actually have a noble intention at play… Whether it will reduce smoking in the country is unlikely, it is sure to give a significant increase in revenues… To prove my point, note the following impact… A 20’s pack of Kings cigarettes will cost Rs 150/- instead of Rs 135/-… (I have very few readers, let alone readers who smoke.., but if there was and if the above point disturbed him/her, I will be most surprised…)

 Increase in service tax charged for AC restaurants… Now AC restaurants will be treated at par with AC restaurants that serve liquor…

By specifically stating AC restaurants, the budget wants everyone to understand that this is a “robin hood’s budget”… But having stated that, I do not envisage any reduction, whatsoever, in the social lives of the people who will be impacted by this rule… The upper middle classes and the upper classes, the symbols of India’s growth story may not even notice the impact… If any one disagrees, lets try a simple experiment…. Go to a restaurant for an evening to which you might have gone before the rule sets in… Order the same items as last time (if you are able to remember) and on receiving the bill, see if you can identify the change in the bill value…. (do not save the previous bill and bring it along for the exercise !!!)… If many of you are not able to identify it, I will feel vindicated…

 Increase in duty on SUVs and 100% duty on imported vehicles…

If anyone felt that the previous point was not enough to qualify to be that of Robin Hood, this will surely fit the bill… The rule increasing the excise duty on SUVs (SUVs used as taxis exempted) seems to mirror the millions of bystanders/pedestrians who admire these shiny vehicles on the road… In fact, the finance minister has even stated that this increase is justified by the fact that these vehicles occupy more parking space… I assume that this opinion is intended to resonate with the wistful feelings of those who simply cant afford one…

Once again a section has been carefully chosen that is seemingly impervious to such cost hikes. In a society like India where having costlier and bigger cars is considered a social status, such a hike may not deter many a buyer… “Rather spend a little more and be called a rich man rather than save and become a commoner…” seems to be the assumption made by the government of the India’s rich…

 Just some examples that appealed to me to convince me that the government has tried to generate as much additional revenue without causing too much of a flutter… In my head, I can visualize an animated version in which Robin Hood reads out the budget…

 

How to make sure the budget does’nt win the upcoming election for the opposition?

 Taking into consideration the fact that this could potentially be the last budget presented by the current government, the finance minister is to be lauded for not losing focus of the bigger issues at hand and for having prioritized economic issues over political ones.

 Having said this, there still seem to be points scattered that that somewhat ride over the previous observation… stating here the ones that seemed so to me…

 Bank of the women, by the women and for the women…

 The proposal to set up a bank to focus on helping women entrepreneurs is definitely welcome, but does it need to be run only by women???

 It is not that we want a bank run only by men, but it does pose an indirect question as to whether Indian banks are an unsafe place for women to work???. I hope that there is no controversy in these lines and the idea being benched as a subsequent outcome. In any case, the pitch to attract female voters is for all to see…

 Post the budget presentation, Mr Chidambaram has even stated that he intends to replace “he” with “she” when addressing the common man, i mean the common person thereby sending across strong signals that of the intention to walk the talk.

 The fact that it did manage to make the opposition leader Mrs Sushma Swaraj smile (and also Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mrs Meira Kumar, basically supporters, opposers and neutrals) can make it a safe assumption that there is as concerted effort to appeal to the Indian female voter population…  

1000 crore Nirbhaya fund for ensuring safety and dignity of women

 I do not think there is a need to explain this point in detail. It seems to be a clear attempt by the government to show people (who are fed up of promises) some concrete action on protecting the safety and dignity of women in India. Its just sad that “Nirbhaya” had to die such a tragic death for something like this to be started… However, on a positive note, hope the fund is used for what it is planned for and hope it helps making India a safer and better place for our women…

 Reviewing of criteria for awarding special status to states

 I have limited knowledge on what this means in terms of actions in the near future, but it did make Mr Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar and a member of the opposition NDA, thank the finance minister as many as 7 times !!!. It does look like an effort to reach out to parties at the helm at various states… With no one really knowing how fractured the electoral verdict is going to be in 2014, this seems to be a trump card thrown on the table…

                           

Conclusion…

 As a common man who spent some time reading the budget, the above mentioned points are the way in which the budget has registered in my head.

 And I am aware, that like me, for the many million readers, the budget will be remembered for various different combination of points.

 The collective result of our analysis will surely influence the way results unfold… sensex, markets, ratings and above all elections …

 No matter what the future holds, I think it is high time we get more budgets(and subsequent governance) that focus on the real issues that hold our great country back…

 

Jai Hind