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Thursday, April 12, 2007

BMIC - IT - economy linkage

text of the posting made on a Yahoogroup in response to usual Socialisic rhetoric:

Hi L

That we differ on a lot of issues is quite an under-statement. Whether public governance as a whole can be entrusted to the private sector or not is debatable. What is certain however is that people would be far better off if a lot many of the services is entrusted to them, with the government just playing the role of the facilitator/ regulator.

We are already seeing this happening all around us and enjoying the fruits of it. This I will term as the 'efficient sector'. And, to take care of the needs of the disadvantaged lot, you need to have the 'social sector'. Beyond that, there is no place in the future world for the 'laggard sector', which is what the government services have generally turned out to be, with of course the rare exceptions, but which also cannot last long if they continue in their present styles.

I admit I haven't studied law as closely as you may have. But, like most lay people, I rely largely on the principles of natural justice, and I am sure the Indian constitution cannot be too much at variance with that. Now, if things are as plain as you make them out to be, how come the courts have repeatedly ruled in favour of NICE, except, if I understand correctly, in the Gottigere case, which is on an environmental issue, but again, the result of a muddling by the government. May be you would like to say that the courts are also a stupid lot.

You have stated that the "the Advocate General has argued that the Government is not against the project at all". But, that's where there is a serious difference between your stance and the government's. You are opposed to everything about the project, which most are not, including me, even if it is a car-based development. And, I don't think the land-owners, or even the evacuees, have a serious problem, either. As for the educated lot, particularly the youth, a new world itself was to open out to them, may be after their being imparted a bit of training. And, as for the uneducated lot, they would have been happy to take up the many new kinds of jobs resulting out of these developments, including as caddies in golf courses. It's another matter that there may be the few here, who would like to continue to sentence them to hard farm labour, and on top of it all, romanticize about it, even as they enjoy all the goodies of the modern world.

Mr Ashok Kheny envisioned the project some ten years back, struck a deal with the then government, raised the resources to put in the risk capital, and has been pursuing with each of the ministries, that followed, to keep up their part of the deal. With the project becoming a real money spinner with the economic boom that ensued, the various ministries that came along, negotiated and settled on 'what was in it for them', and moved along. The present lot are apparently a lot greedier, and that's where the problem lies.

Nobody seems to ask what if the Central Government had decided not to open up, and the economy continued to languish at the earlier 'Hindu rate of growth'. There wouldn't have existed an IT sector in the country, and Mr Ashok Kheny would have had to declare himself bankrupt. May be that's what you would have liked. But, I doubt if many from even the this group would support that viewpoint.

Granted, the government should have the powers to evict people only in very exceptional cases, and against payment of handsome compensation in such cases, and that land for projects should be purchased directly at market prices. These are now evolving resulting out of the Nandigram/ Singur fiascos. Perhaps, these fiascos could have been avoided had the wise people concentrated their efforts where required.

cheaper commuting

text of the letter sent to Times of India:

I refer to the report in your columns yesterday (9th April) under the caption 'BMTC cheapest mode of transport', supposedly based on study conducted by our city traffic police. That the bus is the cheapest mode of public transport has been established from long, and all relevant information in this regard has also been available from long on the web-site of the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas,

Now, what is even more significant is the strong recommendation made by the Ministry for promotion of competition from private sector in order to keep the fares low and improve services. If the city traffic police is really keen on getting a grip on the traffic scenario, clearly, that is what they need to pursue.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

unwarranted IT bashing

Text of the letter sent to the Times of India:

Before Sri Sujan Sengupta blames the IT industry for spreading the 'dangerous virus of capitalism' in Bangalore, vide his letter in your 'my times, my voice' columns today, he should first ask why, in his home state, the comrades are beginning to do exactly the same. Very clearly, the comrades are also now realising that the fig leaf of Socialism does not provide enough of a cover any more.

Capitalism may not quite be the answer. But, certainly the country has had enough of Socialism, and it is high time we moved on.

Now, the IT industry is the only industry that has helped generate employment opportunities for the educated youth in the country in such a big way. Their prosperity has in turn fuelled the growth of the other industries leading to creation of employment opportunities, both for the educated as well those less fortunate, in the other sectors also. India has phenomenal strengths in the IT field, there is a vast potential for growth, and the entire country could benefit immensely from it. Instead of celebrating this, it is a pity that the likes of Mr Sengupta choose to remain stuck in a time warp.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

towards more objective policing

text of the letter sent to the Indian Express:

I refer to the front page report in your columns today under the caption 'violence after youth runover'. The report further goes on to state that the youth was riding his two-wheeler on the wrong side of the road.
Now, this is the kind of menace that every law-abiding road user is faced with day-in and day-out, and is quite the biggest nightmare for him. And, one expected that the traffic cops were given those fancy bikes essentially to chase such offenders, and bring them to book sufficiently heavily so that they don't ever dare to repeat them. Instead, what we see is the 'speed cops' literally ambushing two-wheeler riders here and there, and booking them largely for minor offences, apparently with just the 'revenue' targets in mind.

Do we need repeats of such incidents before our cops learn to become more objective in their approaches?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

BMIC, stupid people and wise guys

In response to my posting the write-ups captioned 'my good friend Ratan' and 'unpardonable chaos creation' (see below) in a yahoogroup, Mr L responded with his usual rhetoric, the substance of which can be guaged from my subsequent response as below:

May be the BMIC project deviated from the original alignments. But, as of now, the roads exist on the ground. As such, why not allow them to be used for the benefit of everyone concerned, even if NICE – the company, benefits the most, instead of pursuing other more disastrous projects?

Also, if wise guys (as different from stupid people) had concentrated their efforts, right from the beginning itself, on ensuring compliance by NICE on matters like alignments, as well as the other terms and conditions, instead of opposing the entire project itself, tooth and nail, perhaps the environmental damages could have been minimised. And that, perhaps, is the lesson here, if one chooses to wisen up a bit.

Just this past Sunday, at the initiative of Mr Zafar Futehally, who in his 80’s finds enough energy to pursue environmental causes that will put a teenager to shame, some 100 residents from the immediate neighborhood, as well as beyond, assembled at the Agara lake (adjoining HSR layout) at around 8AM, and went about clearing the area around the lake off plastics and other waste material. The lake had recently been restored, and the area fenced off, by the Lake Development Authority (LDA). Mr Futehally has observed that a number of bird species, which had kept away from the lake for long, have started making their re-appearance, of recent. Mr B K Singh, the LDA MD, alongwith a few officials including from the PWD, Mr Yellappa Reddy, etc, were also present. Mr Singh went on to inform that the LDA has contracted out the maintenance of the lake to a Hyderabad party, following an open tender process. When I intervened to state that we do not wish to have an amusement park here like the one in Nagavara, he readily agreed to arrange a three-way meeting between the resident representatives, the LDA, and the contractors to review the terms and conditions, as also to have some 5 of us on the monitoring panel. Well, it would have been better if we had been involved in the pre-tendering to stage itself, not just for Agara lake but for the entire lot of them in and around Bangalore, which is what I had been advocating to our ‘wise’ lake protectors all these years, alas, in vain. Now, we will have to see to what extent the damage whatever can be contained in Agara.

Coming back to the BMIC, not just the 35,000 IT professionals, Mohandas Pai, Nandan Nilekani, and Narayan Murthy, but even the likes of Subroto Bagchi (of Mindtree) have been openly supporting the project. If the petition link is made available to me, may be I would like to sign up too. The IT companies have been accused of crowding around Bangalore. And, when they support a project that will help de-clutter Bangalore, that is also found fault with!

The IT industry is easily the most benign of the entire lot from the environmental angle. Its growth has helped generate huge employment opportunities for the educated youth in the country, whose prosperity has in turn fuelled the growth of the other industries leading to creation of employment opportunities, both for the educated as well those less fortunate, in the other sectors also. If not for the IT sector growth, like I have said before, perhaps half the members of HU would have been part of some naxal groups. India has phenomenal strengths in the IT field, there is a vast potential for growth, and the entire country could benefit immensely from it. For growth, however, they need land. Again, like I have stated before, the laws of the land, as they stand today, do not generally allow for purchase of land for industry. If it had been otherwise, the Infosys’s would have purchased land in the open market at prices and terms equitable to all concerned. They have indeed been looking at building whole townships themselves, including for housing, recreation, etc for their staff. Perhaps even some of the land-owners who entered into some such cushy deals with them could have taken to golf, if they so chose and made it a part of the deal. But, the government comes up with all kinds of unnecessary controls and you have a situation, that benefits neither the industry nor the land-owner.

The wise guys perhaps need to pursue correction of this situation. Instead, if they choose to remain rabidly anti-industry, it is natural that anything and everything that the industry does, appears wrong. There’s no easy remedy for that.

It’s nobody’s case that the industry is full of knights in shining armour. But, when you heap criticisms on them for all the wrong reasons, the criticisms for the proper reasons also tend to get blunted.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

My good friend Ratan

A letter supposedly addressed to the West Bengal CM, Sri Buddadeb Bhattacharya, by Sri Ravindra Kumar, Editor, The Statesman, was posted in a Yahoogroup, by Mr L, alongwith the comments 'In case there are still some Ratan Tata fans left, here's some interesting reading'. I responded as below:

Hi L

I am sure that was targeted at me. Let me not disappoint you. Indeed, I am a greater fan of Ratan Tata today, after reading what you had forwarded.

After some three decades of continuous rule, brainwashing people on the virtues of a spartan existence, the Marxists (so-called) in West Bengal suddenly realised that they could not carry on the bluff any longer, particularly with the onset of the information revolution, leading to increased awareness amongst the people and resulting aspirations, including even of the Bhadralok. They realized the limitations of an agro-based economy in fulfilling these aspirations, and started looking more seriously at developing industry. Even a Prakash Karat started elaborating on the need for large-scale manufacture as compared to the ‘small is beautiful’ ethos one would have expected him to espouse. But, they had done everything quite the opposite in the past, and it wasn’t going to be easy convincing the industrialists that they now meant business. No one was prepared to make any real big ticket investment in the state, yet.

Now, here’s where Ratan Tata needs to be complimented for reading the situation well, and using the opportunity to extract the best deal for his company under the circumstances. He is after all a businessman – going by your own quote of a few months back. He had very successfully launched the cheapest and totally indigenous car, and after conquering a large chunk of the domestic market, was keen to capture a similar chunk of the international market, for which the price was a major factor. He had to keep it low. And, as far as the Marxists were concerned, they decided that their best bet towards taking the state along the industry path would be to woo the Tata’s, who generally had a fair image, and that thereafter, things will follow automatically. So, it was a win-win situation for both.

Only, the Marxists goofed up, and badly too. Even though they had come back to power with an even bigger majority on their new ‘industrialization platform’, they had not done their homework well, and things just went totally wrong. They then went on to compound the wrongs by committing even bigger wrongs in Nandigram, the arrogance of having been in power for so long possibly playing a role there. Hopefully, they have learnt their lessons now, and will come up with the needed correctives. But, when you have been carrying on a bluff for so long, it is not easy to switch to talking straight, I guess. That’s quite the tragedy here.

The first sentence in the 2nd para above, I expect, is going to be interpreted as an advocacy for consumerism. If that charge comes from someone like Ms K (to cite just one example), who shoulders so much responsibility and manages it all at the lowest cost to her organization, traveling mostly by BMTC buses, etc, I’ll accept the charge. But, if it comes from people who enjoy all the good things in life, but would like them denied to the masses, well, I would term that plain hypocrisy. Incidentally, Ratan Tata’s name doesn’t figure in the list of billionaires in India, inspite of heading the largest industry house, and I am told he generally travels in his Indica, often driving it himself. Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji are on the billionaires list. But, quite like Ratan Tata, they also do not believe in leading an ostentatious life, but definitely believe in leading a comfortable one, and are not the least apologetic about it.

Statesman was, and possibly is, very highly respected for its editorial content, etc. But, if they choose to rest on their laurels, rather than re-inventing themselves to compete in today’s world, even while maintaining their impartiality, they may find the going difficult. Also, more newspaper production is as much, if not more, damaging to the environment as producing cars, the newsprint coming after all from the felling of trees.

If you ask my personal opinion, though, I would have liked Tata’s to produce more and better buses rather than cars. Not that I don’t like cars, or that I don’t like others owning them. But, very simply because that kind of a growth is just not sustainable. And, Tata’s would have been happy to move along those lines, had the government driven policies in that direction. Also, the Singur kind of development is what Mr Swaminathan Aiyer had very correctly termed ‘crony capitalism’ in his column written during the thick of the controversy (I had passed on the link to the group also), and he had suggested a few viable alternatives. Many other economists had like-wise given their suggestions, too. The debate can be about which of those routes to pursue. But, if you have decided that industry itself is bad for this country, as well as the world, and want to remain steeped in the romanticism of the past, well, fair enough. But, what’s the point condemning the Tata’s? You should be targeting the governments.