Monday, July 29, 2013

Great Souls

"Even today in Mumbai city, I can have a full meal at Rs.12. No no, not vada paav (snack). So much of rice, daal-saambhar and with that some vegetables are also mixed," Babbar said. Congress leader Rasheed Masood... "one can eat well" for as less as Rs. 5 in the nation's capital. - Full meal for Rs 5 in Delhi, Rs 12 in Mumbai: Congress leaders - Business Standard

They are so lucky to live and dine in those parts of Mumbai and Delhi, which probably no one else ever saw or know :)

80 Crore job

"once someone had told me that Rs 100 crore was required to get a Rajya Sabha berth. But he said he got it for Rs 80 crore and saved Rs 20 crore. Now will people who are willing to invest Rs 100 crore, ever think of the poor country." - Rajya Sabha seats available for Rs 100crore, Congress MP claims - TOI

Even though we boast ourselves of free from ‘moh’ and ‘maya’ the reality is opposite. 80 crores can give a good yield from market, bank, commodities, real estate etc. Folks are so enthusiastic to serve the nation that they are even ready to spent 80 Crores or expecting a windfall profit? Do I have to answer this question?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

FCI and money - From where it is coming and to where it is going?

"The bane of FCI [Food Corp of India] is...labour unions have a mafia-like stranglehold over it. At FCI, the highest paid loader gets a staggering Rs 2.25 lakh per month to simply load a truck with grain sacks. The same person in the unorganised sector get paid Rs 6,000 a month. FCI gives seven times more salary to its contract labour than the rates prevailing in the market. The organised trucking industry also raises its rates when transporting for FCI, thus making the Indian exchequer pay thousands of crores extra over the years."

- "Why competition in food procurement is good - Business Standard"

WOW!!! It’s fascinating to know what is happening inside those big warehouses spread across the nation.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Will Rangarajan formula eliminate all problems in Oil and Gas sector?

Press release from Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, GOI states that,

"...committed to deal with the energy security issues... gas pricing formula effective 01-04-2014 was recently revised... This...will boost investors’ sentiments in the sector...exploration is expected to be greatly encouraged by implementation of forward-looking Rangarajan Committee recommendations.

"...taken a number of measures to boost investment and accelerate exploration work... CBM Policy and Shale Gas Policy are being finalised while work on setting up National Data Repository (NDR) has also commenced" - Dr Moily

"...Petroleum Secretary Shri Vivek Rae called for faster decision making."

Do you really believe pricing is the only problem? Will all glitches evaporate if we increase the pricing? I don't believe. We need to have more stable and forward looking legal framework and regulatory mechanism in oil and gas sector. It should not be something which takes different forms in every other fortnight or whenever GOI get a court notice. If India has Oil & Gas deposits, foreign companies may be ready to invest; without a stable mechanism all will sit in the fence only.

Will the new SC directives prevent acid-attacks?

"...preventing acid attacks, the Supreme Court has completely prohibited over-the-counter sale of the chemical unless the seller maintains a log/register recording the address and other details of the buyer, and the quantum"

"... should submit the details of sale to the local police within three days of the transaction; no acid should be sold to any person under 18 and all stocks must be declared with the local sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) in 15 days"  - The Hindu

Some more constraints are there in the guidelines. But my question is, will this stop acid attacks? I have reasonable doubts. Problem here is anyone having a good understanding of basic chemistry can easily manufacture acids using easily available substances. It may not be of high quality, but will do grave damages to victim.

Torture, Rape and Murder - Miserable stories of Ethiopian migrants in Yemen

From the dawn of human civilization people used to travel across the world, across mighty mountains and deep oceans, dry deserts and dangerous forests. Many perished on the way; numerous others reached far flung lands and started a new life.

In those days such journeys were a gamble. A bet those people made for a better tomorrow, for a better future. Dangers always hung as Damocles sword above their head. Even now, it is very much dangerous in many parts of the world – illegal detentions, indefinite prison terms, boat accidents, shooting at borders, brutal torture, rape, kidnappings etc.

BBC’s Yalda Hakim illustrates the fate of Ethiopians in Yemen here - "Ethiopianmigrants tell of torture and rape in Yemen".

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

3 oil blocks in nomination basis - Are we competitive enough in oil exploration sector?

"Iraq offered three discovered oil blocks (Middle Furat oilfields) to India...agreed to consider investing in the 300,000 barrels/day of Paradip refinery..."  – Reuters

India got 3 discovered oil blocks, fine. But, anyone noticed the catch here? All are on nomination basis!!! Russia, Central Asia and now Middle East... its more to do with government to government (G2G) relations than acquiring assets from competitive open markets. I don't believe this is the way to go forward. Our oil exploration companies have to elevate their profile, become competitive on their own. So that they can bid and purchase oil and gas blocks abroad, even without the weight of GOI.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Reckless mining and foreign exchange reserves

Iron ore sector properly exemplifies, how irresponsible actions by even a small group results in big losses for country.

In the rush to maximize profit from Chinese economic boom and increased spending in infrastructure by other countries in pre-economic crisis days; many in mining sector ignored guidelines, mined without any concern for environment, destruction of pristine forests etc. Frequent corruption scandals and severe environmental losses eventually brought courts in to the scene. Unlike executive and bureaucracy courts didn’t hesitate in banning mining activity itself (in Karnataka, Goa, Odisha etc).

Consequences were serious. India, which once classified as a major exporter of Iron ore imported around 3mn tonnes in the year ended in March 31. Please note that, even in the year ended on 31 March 2011 India was the third largest exporter with 98mn tonnes. According to Business Standard report, in the last quarter (ended in June 30) India imported 1,85,113 tonnes of iron ore.

As courts are slowly lifting ban from different leased out blocks, production is slowly gaining speed.

At present China is witnessing a cooling down, other economies are also sluggish. Will the demand for iron-ore once again go back to pre-crisis days? May be, but not anytime soon.

Take a look at the economic consequences of reckless mining and subsequent banning. 1. We lost good amount of foreign exchange from Iron ore export. 2. At the same time, our own forex reserves take a hit due to payouts for iron ore (and coal as well) imports. That too at a time, when India is struggling with massive Current Account Deficit (CAD) and high forex outgo in the form of debt repayments.

Hence it is important for the government to come up with proper policy guidelines. Not the excessively regulated ones (which will definitely results in bigger corruption scandals). Neither the one where ‘No Go’ areas become ‘Go’ areas over the night nor the ones which ignore or try to minimize the ecological, environmental cost of mining. A straight forward policy (not the ones which even the lawyers can’t understand) coupled with transparent process cycles can do wonders.

PS: Banning did some good things as well. An importing point is the revival of ecological balance in some areas. Mining is not an environment friendly activity (especially open pit ones) but there are ways to minimize the impact, even though it will reduce profits. For the very future of India, it is important for governments and courts to monitor and regulate mining activities. Just take a look at this picture by Praveen Bhargav to visualize the ecologicalcost of mining - 'Bhadra River Recovering after Stoppage of Mining inKudremukh' - Conservation India



Monday, July 15, 2013

Korean Talks: One step forward, one step backward

"South Korea and North Korea resumed talks Monday on reopening a jointly operated industrial park in the ...North Korean border town of Kaesong...was idled in early April, when North Korea withdrew all of its 53,000 workers, blaming tensions it said were caused by U.S.-South Korean military drills. The South later pulled out all of its own personnel, most of them factory managers." - NYT

Another step in 'one step forward, one step backward' Korean negotiations. These talks and subsequent actions looks like a video playing again and again... Moving forward only to reach the starting point!!!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Nandi Hills - Hill station at a calling distance from Bangalore

I was sitting idle for some ten minutes, thinking about what to do next? Suddenly a small pop up came in the right bottom corner of the screen and slowly faded away. My hands slowly moved towards the mouse to open it. There was a simple one liner - "Shall we go to Nandhi hills in this weekend?" I closed the mail and went back to my chair. Nandi Hills...

Nandi Hills

Located on Chikkaballapur district of Karnataka, Nandhi Hills are approximately 70kms from Bangalore. This particular hill also carry a fort in her her. Company under the command of Convalis captured the hills (along with fort) from Tipu Sultan in 1791 after a three week long siege.

Important points in this hill are Tipu's Drop, Tipu's Summer Palace and Fort, Horse Way a number of temples. Even M.K.Gandhi and J.L Nehru came here to enjoy the cool atmosphere offered by Nandhi Hills and its surroundings.

Towards the Hill

One that cool Saturday morning, we left around 4.30 in the morning – 6 people in 3 bikes. Bangalore roads were slowly waking up to welcome the new day. After saying bye bye to thousands of inhibitants in yesterday night, city was more than happy to welcome us.

Just before six in the morning we reached at the bottom of the hills. Then comes the assent, after completing a brief police checking (please note that there is a regular police checking at the lap of the hills, so always keep all necessary documents).

An early morning

In bike moving towards the hills

A couple enjoying their journey in that cool saturday morning

Police checking the documents

Moving forward - Tearing mist cover

Buy ticket from here

Alfred, Rakesh, Subeesh, Alvin and Jithu

Temple entrance

Temple at the top of the hill
Another temple

People enjoying the saturday morning
Hill located on the opposite side - Almost looking like a Volcano

View at ground level

Magic of flowers

Another view from top
One the way back - don't forget spend some time at Devanahalli fort (Tipu born here)
Around 11.30 in the morning we come back after the journey.


Location Details
Name:                   Nandhi Hills
Coordinates:         13.386°N 77.701°E
Elevation:              1,478 m (4,849 ft)
District:                 Chikkaballapur, Karnataka
Timings:                Open from 6am to 10pm
Distance:               Around 70kms from Bangalore City
                            Approx. 10kms from Chickballapur town.
How to reach:
On Bangalore- Bellary road, reach Devanahalli cross, which is on the 36 th milestone. Take the deviation on the left and travel 11 kilometers to reach Nandi cross. The foot of the hill is 3 kilometers from here.

On the Doddaballapur road, turn right to reach the road that leads to the top of the hill. From the foot is 8kms of the top.

My suggestion is to go in a two/ four wheeler, as public transportation facilities are not good in this area.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Kerala's Attapady tribal belt is witnessing frequent infant deaths

Recently a five day old kid (weighting just 2.3kgs!!!) of a Kurumba couple, form Pudur area of Attapady, died in Kozhikode (Calicut) Medical College. This couple lost their first offspring in the same way. According to reports, with in last 17 months 52 tribal kids died due to malnutrition and anaemia. In Attapady there were 3 cases of abortion in June and seven cases in May. 

Deaths are neither due to some diseases which modern medicine is not able to recognise or comprehend nor due to some mysterious illness. Causes are simple and straightforward - chronic malnutrition and anaemia; two conditions for which government, healthcare and tribal department knows what the solution is. But growing death count indicates that authorities often looked the other way.

I can't believe that tribes were not getting enough food to eat because of unavailability of funds. Schemes designed for the empowerment of tribes and development of Attapady region may already exceeded the number water droplets in Arabian Sea.

Then why they are dying? What is happening to the numerous schemes designed for them? Why food is not reaching their hands? Why they have to travel all the way to Calicut/ Thrissur medical college in case of any emergency? Why there are no specialist doctors in nearby hospitals?

Questions are numerous but who will ask the same to Kerala Government? Who will make sure that the food grain, cereals, milk, tablets etc are available in the region (affordable to locals)? Will the politicians running the state from other end will take time to ask some of these questions to themselves? Can't they take some time out of Solar Scam arguments and counter arguments to study the ground realities in Attapady?

Let me remember you that, this is rainy season in Kerala. Just imagine, what can be the situation of tribes living near to the top of Western Ghats. Wake up... Do something



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Antony’s visit to China: Visit, visit and visit; talk, talk and talk

Excerpts from Joint Statement issued at the end of talks with Chinese leaders by Defence Minister AK Antony in Beijing.

1. Ministers emphasized...enhancing mutual trust and understanding between two militaries.
2. ...agreed on an early conclusion of negotiations for the Border Defence Cooperation...
3. ...welcomed...counter-terrorism bilateral joint exercise between their armies in China in 2013.

They also agreed on,

a. Senior military commanders...will exchange visits...annual schedule.
b. Visits of border troop delegations...enhanced to promote dialogue and strengthen trust and cooperation.
c. Border Personnel Meetings(BPM)...greater frequency and additional locations.
d. Navies...increase ship visits, consider...joint maritime search and rescue exercises and cooperate in counter-piracy operations.
e. Air Forces...high level visits... expand their functional exchanges...focus on...flight safety, aviation medicine and training.
f. Military training institutions...exchanges at the faculty and student levels.
g. ...greater awareness and understanding...young officers...visits and exchanges...annually.
h. ...Antony invited his Chinese counterpart, Gen Chang Wanquan, to visit India in 2014...Chinese Defence Minister accepted the invitation.

Two words which find frequent mention in the statement are - visit and talk. Lot more visits and lot more talks. Will this lead to something? I am not sure. If we consider the fate of long running, never ending border negotiations as an indicator, then new visit and talk system will also end up as futile as the earlier ones were (except in creating more airline bills). Eventually the problem will effectively transfer to the shoulder of future generations.



1. Ministry of Defence, GOI.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Building a pack of cards.... Foundation? What is that?

“Twelve people have been found dead so far after City Light hotel collapsed early this morning, we are still trying to clear the rubble and rescue anyone alive,” local police official K Satyanarayana said. - SCMP

At least in this case building was old. Just think about the numerous residential complexes - mainly two to five stories - coming up like mushrooms in rain in many Indian cities. Many of them don't even have anything to call a good foundation!!! If there is a small earthquake, everything will come down as pack of cards...

Fishing in troubled waters? Major General Luo Yuan needs to think twice about his statements

Sino - Indian border at Nathu La pass
“The Indian side should not provoke new problems and increase military deployment at the border areas and stir up new trouble,”... “India is the only country in the world that says that it is developing its military power because of China’s military threat,”...“So I believe that India should be very cautious in what it does and what it says.” - SCMP

Two statements mentioned above are from Luo Yuan who enjoys the rank of Major General and currently the deputy-director general of the world military research department at a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) academy.

According to him, India is the trouble maker and our deployments at Indo-Sino border are creating all the problems!!! What he unintentionally or intentionally forgot, is the situation in Chinese side of border and PLA’s deployment patterns. They created complete physical infrastructure required for rapid deployment of forces to border areas even from remote military bases; Infrastructure they are creating in the land (belongs to J & K) occupied by their all weather friend; recent intrusion of their troops to Indian territories, that also not one or two kilometres, which resulted in three week stand off. If India is building road and rail links in our side of border, to connect the remote villages to mainland, we are accused of trouble making!!!

Take a look at his second statement. Are we the only country? News coming out of East & South China Sea indicates something else.

Now, read his third statement. He is right, we should be cautious. In fact, I think we are. We are sometimes over cautious about Indo-Sino relationship - take a look at any of India's summit with Japan or US or Australia. We often don't take sides which make the Chinese uncomfortable. Isn't this rule applicable to him? Do he really need to release this statement when Indian Defence Minister is about to visit (first such trip in seven years) China? Does he have to say India is a trouble maker?

I think an official of his position should think about what he says and how others will perceive it. China which implements a strict framework for freedom of speech and internet policy, these type of statements will easily interpreted as the views of Chinese policy makers. If Chinese wants to test Indian waters first with a negative statement and then balancing the same with denial (after some time), I have to say it is wrong way test the mood.



Closed eyes – Lapses in the monitoring systems

“NIA is also probing nearly 48 hours or roughly 48 GB of CCTV footage gathered from 16 cameras installed in the temple. One of these cameras has not been functioning for some time. The blurred footage showing the movement of people inside the temple has provided some clues, a police official said.” – The Hindu

Take a look at underlined line in above paragraph. If a particular CCTV was not working authorities need to replace it. Now we have CCTV’s on many streets, office buildings, airports, seaports etc. I wonder how many of them are actually working and people are there to monitor it.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lieutenant Islam Bibi was shot dead: Increasing threats for Women officials in Afghanistan

Living conditions of women in Afghanistan is not an area for rest of the world to proud of. Harshly enforced discriminatory gender specific customs, gun culture etc are keeping women out of job, out of education system, out of government services, out of modern healthcare systems etc. Of course insurgency is affecting men as well, but in the case of women it’s much more brutal. They have to live in a constant state of fear...

It’s not that Afghan women are not doing anything on their own to alter the status quo. When they got an opportunity to pursue education or government services, many came forward to accept the challenge.

Lieutenant Islam Bibi is one such person. Prior to the downfall of Taliban, this 37 year old, mother of three, was an Afghan refugee in Iran. In 2001 with a lot of optimism she came back to her mother land. Around nine years ago she joined Afghan Police force. Over time she moved up through the ladders and reached the position of Lieutenant – thus became the most senior female official in Helmand province of Afghanistan.

Thursday while going to work, assailants shot her. Bibi later died in a hospital bed. Her son, who was also travelling in the same vehicle, also suffered injuries.

Her way was not covered with rose petals. In insurgent hit Helmand provice, she faced opposition not only from outside but from the family as well. Bibi told Sunday Telegraph that, “My brother, father and sisters were all against me. In fact my brother tried to kill me three times,”

Living in Afghanistan is perilous; if you are women then extent of risk is very high. Over and above 1,00,000 strong NATO forces are winding down their operations in next year. Will Afghanistan lose even that minute progress they made in social status of women? Will the new administration, receiving less support from NATO (after winding down) be able to empower women?

There are some positive steps. Like the passage of legislations like "Elimination of Violence Against Women." But laws as such don’t have much significance, unless they are enforced well by a determined executive with backing from Police, Judiciary and Civil society. Will they will be able to do this? More than that, whether they would like to this? I have doubts.

Bibi is not the only women official gunned down by anti social elements. According to SCMP report, "...killing of female police Lieutenant Colonel Malalai Kakar, in neighbouring province Kandahar in 2008... deaths of two successive women’s affairs directors in Laghman province within months last year." In addition to that vast number of silent victims across the nation...

Assailants were finally able to silence the voice of Bibi. Now, it is the obligation of Afghans especially women to live with that spirit. As NATO soldiers are already started packing up for their journey back to home, they should not expect much from outside world. For their own life, for the sake of coming generations, for the sake of humanity, it is the duty of Afghan women to fight hard for their rights, for their rightful status in society, politics, economy etc. Rest of the world may not be able to join you on ground but our wishes will be with you.



Thursday, July 4, 2013

Proliferation and Duplication of Centrally Sponsored schemes

Sometime back when I went through the list of central government schemes, I felt more like reading a dictionary of abbreviations. Just imagine the sheer numbers of bureaucrats required to support and run those schemes (many of the schemes are partially or fully duplicate). This long list may serve to increase the size of the system and decrease its efficiency. Just like the long canals we built for various dams, which often run dry.

I think this has to do more with politicians and bureaucrats, who are eager to announce some new schemes every day to improve the living conditions and empower citizens (at least in theory). This often led to duplication of schemes, beneficiaries, extra paperwork and of course more corruption.

In such a situation central government’s decision to merge 147 centrally sponsored Schemes to 66 covering various sectors during the period of next year plan make sense. It is to be remembered here that, Chaturvedi committee recommend bringing down the schemes to 59.

Will this help in long term? Well, less confusion, les bureaucracy, less administrative hurdles; but in long term? No...Elections are coming. Again the number of schemes will go up!!!


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Booking Indian Railway Tickets using mobile phones

Recently Indian Railways (IR) introduced facilities to book railway tickets using basic mobile phones (without any internet connection). I don’t think the process is very easy as Railway officials want us to believe. My suggestion is, just allow the users to send an SMS from their phone in a predefined format and reduce the amount from their balance.

Anyway let’s take a look at how it is working as of now.

Booking Railway ticket through SMS (Courtesy: Ministry of Railways, GOI)

The key features of ticket booking on mobile:
·         Ticket can be booked within minutes;
·         basic mobile phones are sufficient; no internet connection is required;
·         The user will get ticket details on SMS instantly.
·         SMS along with valid ID in original can be used for travel, no printout is required.

I. Book your ticket through USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) based booking for Airtel subscribers*

•     Register for Airtel money by dialing *400#.
•     Load cash on this or recharge from any Airtel money outlet.

Booking Flow
•     Dial *400# and select book tickets option.
•     Select Reservation.
•     Enter your IRCTC User ID.
•     Enter the details of ticket (station, train no. date of journey, class etc.).
•     Enter mPIN for authorizing payment.
•     Booking confirmation SMS is sent by IRCTC and same can be used during journey along with valid ID proof.
•     Fare & IRCTC service charges are debited from your Airtel money account.
•     Charges: No PG Charges.
•     Agent / IRCTC Service Charges: As applicable
Helpline No: 121
Helpline Email :

II. Book your ticket through SMS

1. SMS based booking through 139*

•     Register your mobile number with IRCTC as well as with your bank.
•     Bank provides MMID (Mobile Money Identifier) & OTP (one time password) for authorization of payment.  (More than 25 banks are providing this facility. For details:

Booking Flow
•     Send SMS, in the following syntax, to 139
•     You will receive Transaction ID alongwith other details.
•     Make payment through sending an SMS, in the following syntax, to 139
      PAY and your ticket is booked.
•     Service is available to all mobile subscribers.
•     SMSes @ Rs 3/- per SMS (2 SMSes are required for each booking).
•     PG charges Rs 5/- for ticket amount Rs 5000/- (as applicable by bank).
•     Agent / IRCTC Service Charges: As applicable
Helpline No: 139
Helpline Email:

2. SMS based booking through 5676714*

•     Register your mobile number with IRCTC as well as with m-wallet (
•     Send SMS, to 5676717, in the following syntax START for user authentication (first time only)

Booking Flow
•     Send an SMS to 5676714 to book a ticket in the following syntax:
      BOOK,, , ,,
•     You will receive the Transaction number.
•     Send the 2nd SMS, for payment, in the following syntax.
1.   “PAY , MPAY, ” for authorizing payment through MPAY
2.   “PAY  ,,, ,” for authorizing payment through IMPS.
•     After payment is made booking confirmation is sent to your mobile.
•     Charges: No PG Charges. Agent / IRCTC Service Charges: As applicable. SMSes @ Rs 3/- per SMS (2 SMSes are required for each booking).
Helpline No: 8882001001
Helpline Email:

3. SMS based booking through BSNL*

User should have the following:
1.   BSNL SIM card installed.
2.   Java enabled mobile phone.
3.   Andhra Bank Prepaid card.
      This is a menu driven application where user has to enter the details asked for in simple step-by-step process to get the ticket.

•     Install the application.
•     Select the Register option to get the mPIN.
•     Click the icon BSNL Prepaid Card
•     Select Ticketing > Train (IRCTC)
•     Fill up the journey details such as From stn, To Stn, Train No, DOJ, Class, Quota, passenger details.
•     Enter the mPIN to get the ticket information.
•     Charges: No PG Charges. Agent / IRCTC Service Charges: As applicable. SMSes without charges.
Helpline No: +91-8801298038
Helpline Email: