Sunday, June 19, 2016

RRExit - The exit of Raghuram Rajan, Governor of Reserve Bank of India

The referendum on Britian's possible exit from the European Union taking center stage over the past few weeks and the term #Brexit becoming a trending topic on Social Media forms the background to this post. For, at about the same time, the story about Raghuram Rajan's impending exit broke, and thanks to the wit of India, we have the tongue-in-cheek term #RRexit being coined. 

As usual, the reactions have been on predictable political lines, with UPA and left leaning politicians heaping praise on Rajan and heaping scorn on NDA for not retaining a truly great RBI Governor, and NDA politicians happy to see his back. Like former Finance Minister P Chidambaram who was responsible for the appointment of Rajan, said that he was not 'surprised' by the development. "This government did not deserve Dr Rajan. Nevertheless, India is the loser," Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen said, "It is unfortunate if Rajan's exit is because some government member is against him. His exit is a huge loss." I guess Politicians will be politicians (Sen included), and their vision is always blinkered by agenda or the next poll, but I was surprised and disappointed with the reactions of many of the Business Honchos like Infosys founder Narayana Murthy who said Rajan deserved more dignity than what he was treated with. "Believe we need the help of every smart Indian to remain on current growth path." HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh said, "It's a pity to lose him. I'm wondering what has precipitated this action by the governor. I am sure the government, at the right time, would have considered giving him another two years term as most governors have got." Even a visible supporter of the NDA like Mohandas Pai tweeted that it is a "very sad day for us great talent driven away by alcontents, cronies...deeply concerned."

In addition to Indians and Indian Politicians, we have the international press and some world leaders predicting that #RRexit coupled with the possible #Brexit would unsettle India, and lead to a fight of capital from here to other markets.

I firmly believe that all these reactions are a little unfair. There is no doubt about the credentials of Raghuram Rajan. My reading is that he is an amazingly well put-together and intelligent economist, but one has to admit that he is essentially, a left leaning one. He was a good professional addition to the UPA government and was perhaps it's only shining light, considering all the scams and economic downturns we had to face over the two terms of the UPA.

However, one must now acknowledge that India has overwhelmingly voted for a Right of Center dispensation and it is quite evident that their Economics and Rajan's Monetary Policies do not jell. So many times, the Government and the RBI has not seen eye to eye, especially on Inflation and Rate Cut policy. So one has to agree, that while he may be a great guy, but currently, he is obviously an unsuitable candidate, in the perception of the current dispensation. 

I'm not surprised that he was perhaps asked to go. I firmly believe that with every regime change, all appointees of the previous dispensation must offer to tender their resignation and await reappointment by the new Government. It would be the professional thing to do. Unfortunately, that is not a practice in India, and appointees seem to think that they are somehow required to hold on to their posts and push the earlier dispensations' agenda. This needs to change.

The NDA has an overwhelming mandate to rule India as they see fit and they have to prove that their approach, in terms of Fiscal Policy and Governance is better for the nation than the ones pursued by the earlier Government, and has to do so within 5 years. Hence, there is no argument that they need to have all their Tools, Tackles and Workmen exactly as they want them to be. It is only fair that it is so.

I further believe that Rajan was foisted on the nation in the last year of UPA rule for a 3 year term and that was not perhaps the ideal thing to do. They could very well have given him 2 or 3 terms when they were ruling but chose not to. It is patently unfair of them to expect the NDA to do so. However, having said all this, one fervently prays that the choice of person will be apt and worthy of the position that being the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India bestows on him / her. The next few weeks will be really interesting!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

We all need a Citizens' Charter

I belong to a very interesting Whatsapp Group, that was formed to debate issues important to the Indian Nation, and to share ideas and suggestions on Policy that could work towards the betterment of some aspect of public life. 

This group called Illuminati, had tasked me with the drafting of a Citizens Charter, which would list out some critical behavior expectations from an enlightened citizen, which all the members would debate and adopt or revise as per majority vote. I reproduce the first draft here, and I would love to receive comments and suggestions to make the same more useful or robust.

Illuminati Citizens Charter

We, the members of this movement to encourage an ever increasing number of Indian Citizens to agree to voluntarily submit themselves to a Citizens Charter defining the ideal standards of Ethical, Democratic and Egalitarian behavior expected of a Citizen of India. 

I, the undersigned, having appended my signature to this Charter, do pledge to abide by this Citizens Charter in letter and spirit, and shall do my utmost to encourage my family and friends to similarly abide by the same. 

1. Franchise. 

I solemnly swear that I shall always exercise my Right of Franchise. I shall unfailingly cast my considered vote for the most suitable candidate in all elections that I am eligible to vote in, whether they be for the Local Body, the State Legislature or the Parliament. I shall do my utmost to encourage such Candidates who I sincerely believe support Meritocracy, are Patriotic, and place the Nation and the Indian Constitution above narrow Self Interest and abhor considerations of Caste, Creed, Community or Religion based politics. 

2. Abhor Corruption. 

I pledge to do my utmost to discourage corruption in public life in any form. Whether it be a low level act to escape a traffic infraction or a high level one involving Corporates and Governments and, everything in between. I promise to never be personally involved in any corrupt act and also counsel others to abhor such practices if it comes to my knowledge and information. 

3. No Discrimination.

I will never practice discrimination of any sort and I will oppose, with all the vehemence at my disposal, any discrimination on the basis of Religion, Caste, Gender, Color, Race, Place of Origin or Sexual Orientation. If I come across anyone indulging in discrimination in word or deed, I promise not to be a mute spectator, and shall endeavor to educate and prevent or report such individuals. 

4. No Animal Cruelty

I shall never indulge in any act of cruelty towards animals and undertake to actively work towards the prevention of any act of cruelty to animals, whether they be pets, beasts of burden or wild animals. If I do consume animal products, I shall restrict myself to food products and avoid fashion and Fur products that are obtained by inflicting cruelty. I assure that I will make every effort to ensure that the products I consume are obtained humanely and I shall restrict my consumption to only permitted animals and avoid products obtained from Protected, Exotic or Wild animals and Birds. 

5. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

I swear that I shall responsibly consume scarce resources or products that have a deleterious effect on the environment. I shall be prudent in my use of Electricity, Fossil Fuels, Disposable Plastics and products manufactured using fuels and methods that add large quantum of carbon into the atmosphere, such as burnt bricks, etc. I shall actively promote the planting and nurturing of trees and prevent any wanton or irresponsible tree felling. Thus, I shall strive to minimize my Carbon Footprint and aim to achieve a Carbon Neutral existence for my family and myself. 

6. Civilized Drivers

I undertake to always drive my vehicles in a responsible and courteous manner. I promise to follow all the traffic rules and also adopt a civil and the Right-of-Way principle of driving, and strive to drive on public roads causing a minimum of inconvenience to other users. In the event that I am involved in any accident, I promise not to bolt from the scene, and shall make every effort to provide medical assistance to anyone injured in the accident. I also promise that I will report all accidents to the jurisdictional Traffic Police and undertake to assist them in their investigations. I shall endeavor to be a Good Samaritan on the roads and offer assistance to victims of vehicle accidents, and inform the authorities about the incident and assist them in their attempt to provide Medical Attention and to bring the guilty party to book. I will never permit my under aged children to drive a vehicle, and shall inculcate the highest standards of safety and courtesy in my children who are licensed to drive.  

7. Local Body Rules

I promise to help make my city, town or village more livable by following all the Bylaws and Civic Amenity Rules. I promise not to deviate from Sanctioned Plans and default on Setbacks and FSI regulations, and ensure that Light, Ventilation, Privacy and Safety are not denied to my neighbors due to my transgressions, as I expect my neighbors to care for my hygiene aspects. I undertake to also not tolerate others for their deviations from the bylaws and shall bring such deviations to the notice of the concerned authorities. I also promise to practice all mandated aspects of Good Urban Citizenry like Rain Water Harvesting, Waste Segregation at Source, Not Dumping of Waste in public areas and Never Littering or Spitting on the streets of my city. 

8. Athithi Devo Bhava

I promise to make my country welcoming to tourists and visitors both from within India and from outside. I will try to be Pleasant, Warm, Helpful and Accommodating of the needs of our guests and will try to ensure that all others do so too. I will try and prevent anyone from taking undue advantage of our guests in any manner and do my utmost to present a positive picture of our country and culture that expects us to treat our guests like God. 

9. Taxes and Duties

I solemnly pledge to truthfully and dutifully pay all the taxes and duties that are payable by me towards the Local, State and Central Governments. I will not take recourse to any illegal or questionable methods for assessing my taxes and undertake to do so only by using the legally permitted provisions and exemptions in a fair and transparent manner. I realize that taxes are my way of contributing to the development of my nation and I shall do my utmost to get everyone I know to similarly comply and contribute.

Place:                                                Name:

Date:                                                 Signature:

Monday, March 14, 2016

Women's Right of Entry to Places of Worship - An Interjection

I have familiarity with Hindu Temples so I will be able articulate my views using them as a basis. However, the debate is also about restrictions placed on women at some Dargahs and Mosques too.

I write this article in the background of a lady in Maharashtra, Ms. Trupti Desai starting a high profile campaign for temples to permit entry of women into the Sanctum Santorum, particularly of the Shani Shingnapur Temple near Ahmednagar. Once she raised this issue, similar voices were heard protesting the barring of the entry of all women from age 10 to 50 at Sabarimala in Kerala and the restrictions placed on woman entering the Haji Ali Dargah at Mumbai. Please see link below: 

In my experience, it is only in Maharashtra that one has seen this practice of all devotees getting access to the Sanctum Santorum and making offerings to the presiding deity, and hence the demand is quite an explosive one elsewhere. In most other temples, definitely in the Southern States, nobody except the designated priests are permitted to enter as they have to maintain a certain decorum (much like Surgeons preparing to enter the OT, like bathing, wearing fresh sun-dried dothies, observing certain religious practices at home, etc.) and nobody else is allowed to enter. 

As everywhere, some rules are broken in some temples for VIP visitors which is an abhorrent practice and must be stopped. 

Thus, if all temples bar the entry into the Sanctum Santorum for ALL people other than the presiding priests and have no restriction at all on anybody else entering the public spaces of the temple to pray, it should be seen as an enabling and egalitarian solution to the problem. 

Some temples bar women, some bar men, some bar non-Hindus etc. which should be viewed as being anti Constitutional and such restrictions must be banned by law, to the extent that everyone regardless of caste, creed, race or religion shall have free access to the 'public' spaces in a temple.

When it comes to women, it must be said that they are the most mature ones in any society and are the true keepers of tradition and faith. Thus, if they feel uncomfortable entering a place of worship on certain days, (I see this in my family) they will not enter. Others may feel that they have a right to enter regardless - and it is our duty to protect that right, but to ensure that religious sensibilities are not unnecessarily trampled upon, restrict that right to the 'public' spaces of temples.

Thus, to sum up: Open the doors, but restrict entry to the OT to only the Doctors and leave the choice of entry (or not) to the public spaces of a temple to the devotees.

Additional reading:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My Disappointments with Budget 2016

Is this Really an NDA Government?

Prime Minister Modi was decisively voted to office on the basis of his promise of 'Acche Din Aanewaale Hai' credo (Good Days are around the corner), and in a manner of speaking, to take up from where Prime Minister Vajpayee had left off. Big Bang Reforms, Job Creation, Wealth Creation and Robust GDP Growth were supposed to be a given, and a departure from the regressive Left of Center politics of the ungainly UPA Coalition Governments of the past was supposed to be a reasonable expectation. However, on several counts, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley disappointed me with his Budget for 2016. The large outlays for Rural Development without creating urban wealth and Jobs, makes this look like just another UPA-X Budget.

Direct Taxes - A Historical Anomaly

I cannot profess to be an expert on all aspects of the Economy and Union Budget preparation but I do understand this. We have been "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" since the past 65 years. The salaried class continues to bear an inordinate burden of the Direct Taxes and nothing is being done in every Budget to widen the tax base.

Why cannot the Government consider bringing all Aadhar Card holders (a known and verified database, with the yet un-enrolled eager to enroll, to enjoy the benefits of subsidies) into the IT net with a voluntary low rate of tax, say 5% with compulsory filing of Returns? 

There must be hundreds of million people in India, who are self employed, earning handsome incomes but not paying a rupee in tax and thus contributing nothing to Nation Building. If the Govt. brings all earning folk into a benign tax net and expands the Direct Tax Revenue, Salaried Class Income Tax rates can be cut and their disproportionate burden towards the nation reduced. Nothing done, disappointed. 

Reduce and Simplify Direct Taxes

Ideally, a simplified Tax Compliance mechanism where all the Salaried Class pays 10% Flat Tax Rate on income with no Exceptions and Rebates is something we need to work towards. No move towards implementation of the recommendations of the Direct Tax Code, which has been gathering dust for years. Disappointed.

A Harebrained Scheme to Tax Provident Fund Savings

So instead of rationalization of taxes to reduce the burden on the Salaried Middle Classes, we have a completely incomprehensible move to tax even their savings. The Provident Fund Saving is the only nest egg that a Private Sector Employee has to retire on. To want to tax that too is akin to twisting the knife in the back a couple more times, as though bleeding them dry was not enough. One day after I wrote my piece, The Times of India had pretty much the same thing to say.

Where is the much publicized Disinvestment?

The NDA from the Vajpayee days had a stated principle that the Government's job is to Govern and not to manufacture Soap, Operate Hotels or Run Airlines. The huge financial package for the loss making Public Sector every year could be used to build hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure, and the reticence of Modi to boldly take a position on the same is baffling. His early political learning seem to be very Left of Center, and perhaps, he still carries some baggage of Nehruvian Economics where all things were supposed to be Government run or controlled. In this one aspect, Prime Minister Modi is more old fashioned than his much senior NDA predecessor, who had a Disinvestment Ministry and wanted the Government to exit all non-critical ventures and unlock the wealth held in these properties and businesses. 

One was hoping that the Government would make some significant announcement in connection with 100% Disinvestment in a few Public Sector Undertakings and stop the continuous bleeding of tax payer money by supporting inefficiency and sloth that constitutes the sector today. Instead, we see some spineless Stake Sale of marginal significance. This is not a reflection of the 'Government should not manufacture soap' policy. Disappointed again.

I was hoping to see genuine investment in Farm Infrastructure

One is deeply distressed that the state of our farmers has not materially improved over the past 65 years. Surely, everyone should strive to ensure a situation where this noble profession would be a safe and remunerative one on which a farmer and his family could depend on? I believe every patriotic Indian should be deeply concerned about them and use their knowledge to help better their situation. 

I support a Farm infrastructure impetus. 

I have previously written on this subject to Agriculture Ministers, Food & Civil Supplies Ministers, Secretaries of Agriculture, even to FCI and Warehouse Corporation, but not one of them have responded to either initiate action, or to rule out the idea as un-viable. I appeal to the Government to constitute a Preliminary Study to check the feasibility of my suggestion, and provide some direction and hopefully later to obtain some commitments from the Government in the Budgets.

All Governments, regardless of their political persuasion since independence, have done nothing substantive to modernize the Farming Sector and tragically, the average Indian farmer even today remains stuck in the medieval age using cultivation methods which were developed thousands of years ago. True, a lot of progress has been made in the creation on a large talent pool of Agricultural Scientists and Graduates who are working to change the sector in terms of providing a Knowledge Base on Cultivation Methods, Crop Rotation and Soil Management, but the vast majority of the millions of farmers have no access to this expertise and have to come a long way just to catch up to subsistence. One is particularly concerned about the state of post cultivation collection, processing and storage of produce, which is in a 'rotten situation’ in more ways than one, fraught with corruption, leakages and unscientific methods, but no efforts or thoughts are being extended to remedy this.

Successive Governments have thus far, spent Thousands of Lakhs of Crores of Rupees in promising Remunerative Prices in the form of MSP, providing Free Power, Pushing (sometimes controversial) Seeds, Promoting Unsafe (and sometimes banned) Insecticide and offering Fertilizer Subsidy which have just kept the farmer dependent on the Monsoon, on Usury and his produce slowly turning Pesticide-Ridden and Non-Prime over the years. In addition to such upstream efforts, the government needs to invest in downstream capabilities, in the form of contemporary farm infrastructure and help the farmer modernize the entire chain of activity from soil preparation to the ultimate storage of grain. The Government is expecting Modern Retail Trade to make these investments, but has made the Retail Industry a minefield of regulations, deterring investment (more on this later).

I have recommended exploring the need to invest in farm infrastructure in addition to subsidy, which I have tried to bring to the attention of many of the powers that be, but have found no success. No one it seems, is interested in pursuing an alternate path. I sincerely believe that this has the potential of changing the landscape of rural India and will go a long way in improving the Food Security situation of our nation. No Capital Expenditure proposed for Farm Modernization in the Budget, a further disappointment.

Our Cities are decaying due to a step-motherly treatment

Touching on an co-related matter, for 65 years, we have been repeatedly told that releasing funds for Urban Infrastructure was 'frivolous expenditure' as India is a rural agrarian economy, and thus, a lion’s share of the past Budgets were allocated to Rural Initiatives. Consequently, due to neglect and sheer non-investment in our urban centers and poorly managed investment in our villages, we are now facing a situation of both urban decay where the worlds most polluted and grid-locked cities are Indian – on the edge of collapse, while on the other hand, the farmer is still killing himself for his inability to repay a loan of a few thousand Rupees, or curiously, abandoning his farmlands to move to decaying cities. In this connection, we see however some positive action, and investments are planned for Smart Cities and improvement of the creaking infrastructure of our major urban centers. However, far more targeted and aggressive investments are required to overcome the lag imposed on our cities for 65 years. So, yes, disappointed!

Finally, my pet peeve. No clarity on Retail Trade continues to stifle it.

Mr. Amitabh Kant, Secretary DIPP, had recently accepted that the Government may not have all the answers, especially when it comes to Sunrise Industry, and hence, it was more than willing to solicit the views of the Domain Experts in assisting in the formulation of policy. While Minister for Commerce and Industry, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman stressed that the primary aim and immediate concern of the Government was the creation of millions of jobs for our young adults, who are just entering the Economic Contributory Stage. Both spoke during the events organized for the promotion of Start Ups in India. In the background of the above, the one Sunrise Industry that has the ability to create, and absorb millions of fresh High School (Class X and XII) graduates i.e. Modern Retail Trade, is unfortunately mired in so much confusion and politics. If it is harnessed properly, Retail is a low hanging fruit that can change the outlook of the nation while contributing immensely to job creation.

  • At the outset, it is no secret that India was perceived as the ‘Most Desirable’ Retail market for investors for over a decade and a half, but is now considered as a ‘High Risk’ market.
  • The policies governing Retail in India have not been enablers, perhaps due to the political sensitivity to the adverse effect unbridled Retail expansion may have on the Kirana Stores, and they have been made very complex and confusing.
  • The primary problem was the classification of Retail proposed by the UPA Government, i.e. Single Brand and Multi Brand Retail.
  • This is a classification that is not natural in Retail, as the Activity Chain / Processes depends on type of Merchandise, and not whether they bear a single brand name or not.
  • Retail Business Models are generally not amenable to the above classification and hence the Back-End Investment mandates and Sourcing Criteria do not make fiscal sense to most Retailers.
  • This has resulted in no significant investment in Retail since the policy was announced by the previous Government, when it actually has the potential to be one of the best Forex earners for the country.

The Government refuses to take the advice of Retail Experts

Despite Mr. Amitabh Kant's statement of consultative process to be followed for Start Up's, when it comes to Retail Trade, he obstinately refuses to engage with Retail Experts to help formulate enabling policy. 

To ensure that the artificial barriers to investment in Retail are dismantled and the country becomes the most desirable destination for Retail Businesses the world over, while still keeping a tight watch on the deleterious effect Retail can have on the Kirana’s, the following approach that has been endorsed by the Retailers Association of India, may be worth considering.

  • The entire policy framework governing retail needs to be re-looked into, and the same aligned with the business processes of the industry.
  • The new suggested classification could be ‘Food Retail’ and ‘Non-Food Retail’.
  • Non Food Retail which can be anything from Car Showrooms to Apparel and Consumer Durables to Jewelry Retail should be permitted as freely as possible. 
  • Whether we permit 100% or 76% or even 51% FDI it is immaterial, as most retailers will be able to find Indian partners without much problem. It is critical however, to have minimal restrictive rules and regulations governing this segment.
  • Thus, without even impacting the Kirana in any manner, we can open our market to literally thousands of Retail Chains and create a large number of Entry Level Jobs.
  • To ensure that investment in Food Retail like Supermarkets and Fresh Chains is done in a very planned and controlled manner, this category can have reasonable restrictions to minimize their impact on the Kiranas while at the same time, encouraging them to invest in upstream infrastructure like Grain Elevators, Cold Storages and Logistics.
  • Retail creates jobs for young people with Minimal Higher Education, and Short-Term Training (could even be On-The-Job Training), hence the benefits to the economy and the politics of the issue can be had within a very short gestation period.

Thus, in addition to creating a large number of jobs, the freeing up of Retail (or simply clarifying the classification) will improve our grade in the Ease of Doing Business Rating, improve our Currency Valuation and contribute to a Feel-Good Business Climate, as investors in other more Critical Sectors will be comforted when they see Retail Brands from their own countries flourish in this market. Needless to say, the influx of Retail will also have a positive spin-off on the IT, Malls, Manufacturing, Construction, Apparel and Consumables industries, and support a vast number of indirect jobs in addition to the direct ones.

We in India deserve to have a fully enabling environment for Retail, and permit us to reap the benefits of the low entry barrier investment it can bring even while protecting our Kirana heritage and jobs. No move towards clearing the logjam of Retail. Disappointed? No, distraught, actually.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Lift the ban on India's Daughters. On the documentary too, of course.

"India's Daughter". A Documentary made by a sensitive and concerned film maker, who herself is a survivor of violence against women, Ms. Leslee Udwin, produced by the BBC and promoted in India by NDTV. The background of the documentary is the horrific gang rape of a bright and promising medical student in a moving bus, at an 'earthly' hour of 8 pm. Her male friend was also thrashed and immobilized while four animals and a juvenile took turns to rape her, while 'punishing' her for resisting. Apparently the punishment included biting, beating and violating her with an iron rod, which resulted in catastrophic injuries including the separation of a portion of her intestines, which a juvenile perpetrator pulled out and threw away. Chilling.

The documentary attempts to study the incident and understand as to what kind of criminality and social conditioning could create such despicable monsters in India, and the resulting status of women, and their safety in society. The film maker conducted a series of interviews with the accused and their lawyers, experts in criminal mentality and women's groups to present a balanced report on the macabre truth about the status of women in some regions of India. Instead of applauding the efforts of the film maker, the Government in an ill-considered move, decided to ban the documentary!

I'm really amazed how any sensible Government can ban a documentary as important as this one? I sincerely believe that the documentary is actually performing a great service to our nation, by exposing the disgusting underbelly of gender issues in India.

Well researched and immaculately presented, '‪#‎IndiasDaughter‬' must in fact, be made compulsory for every Indian to watch and introspect about. The status of women in the minds of the 'poor and marginalized' males is apparently not even worth feeling any guilt or remorse, after brutally gang raping her, physically assaulting and disfiguring her, and throwing her out of the bus naked on the street. The most poignantly shocking being the patriarchal and misogynistic views of the so-called educated Lawyers. It is simply shameful, and shatters the image I had about my country and it's people who are descended from a 5000 year old civilization. "So, where is this civilization that everyone speaks of? I wonder."

In any event, why is the Government making such a concerted and yet ham-handed attempt at preventing me from seeing this documentary? I cannot think of any conceivable reason for them to do so. In the form of an apt analogy, I am reminded of a story in which an incredibly stupid person refuses to get treated for a dog bite on his butt because he was embarrassed to show it to the doctor. Mr. Home Minister, the country will fall victim to this 'rabies' if we do not choose to wake up and start doing something by way of changing mindsets. Please stop this silly retrograde action and permit Ms. Leslee Udwin to hold a mirror to us, and show to us Indians our warts, as it were. We need to see them, and hang our heads in shame. Hopefully, it will help change the mindsets of millions of people who treat their daughters as less than equal, and do not have the basic parenting skills to teach their sons the difference between wright and wrong.

India always touts the fact that we have the youngest and most productive population in the world, and this Human Capital is verily treated as primary equity that will help take this nation to the top of the comity of nations. I shudder to think that untold millions of this 'human capital' would be possessing such a warped and retrograde outlook of life. Forget taking us ahead, they will condemn us to the medieval age if we do not root this virus out. 

I strongly urge everyone to see the documentary from wherever they can access it. We need to be shocked when faced with the truth. We need to introspect and change. If we do not, we have no hope of becoming a modern and developed country and an egalitarian society. As the Government has gone to the Courts seeking a ban, I still see a glimmer of hope, that the enlightened in the Judiciary will throw out the undemocratic ban, and set a positive precedent.

My heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to Ms. Udwin, @BBC and @NDTV for the documentary. @ArnabGoswami I really am a Big Fan, but you were horribly wrong on this one. If you ever read this, I hope you will be able to tell us "what the hell were you thinking, when you launched so silly a tirade against the making and telecast of this important study"...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Did the Hon. Governor 'impose' Hindi on the Karnataka Legislature?

I thought long and hard before writing this, and yes, I have finally reached the conclusion that I'm quite unhappy about the fact that the Hon. Governor of Karnataka had chosen to speak in Hindi to the Joint Session of the Karnataka Legislature recently. Apparently, hardly anyone in the two houses understood the speech, which is meant to address the people of Karnataka. 

So why did he speak in Hindi? The convention is to address the house in English or Kannada. If the Hon. Governor who is from Gujarat was uncomfortable with his English proficiency, he should have spoken in Gujarati and provided a translation into Kannada and English. That would have been acceptable as a personal accommodation to a public personage. What is incomprehensible is; why thrust a totally alien language (in the context, as neither the speaker nor his audience were Hindi speaking) on us?

This is something that will happen only in Karnataka. Will the Legislatures of Tamil Nadu and Kerala permit this to happen without an uproar? Why on earth do our politicians put up with this? Why did nobody even register their protest formally? Now that a precedent has been set, and officially no one objected, we can expect this to become an annual feature!! What a miserable situation. 

The arms of the Government must demonstrate a higher level of sensitivity in a multi-lingual nation such as ours, especially in States where an extra sensitivity against the 'imposition' of Hindi exists.

In a lighter vein, I must insist that this will cause unease in my mind until the day when a Governor from Karnataka, addresses the legislature of UP / MP / Bihar or other Hindi speaking States in Kannada! Until then, this unequal treatment of my mother tongue will prick and chafe.

Before anyone can revert with the response 'Hindi is our National Language', it is not. It is just one other language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. See links. Surprisingly, it was the High Court of Gujarat (the Hon. Governors home State) that gave a ruling settling the debate on this issue.

Also, sharing an editorial that helped me form my views on this topic.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fate of the Make in India program?

Recently, the Modi Government launched the ambitious ‘Make in India program’, where investors from the world over were requested to include India in their manufacturing plans and to invest extensively here. The aim is to convert India into a manufacturing hub for the world, very similar to China, as we offered the largest bunch of young, trained and motivated workforce's in the world. Intricately planned and amazingly thought through, details of Sectors that are desirable, the ‘Smart Cities’ that are being developed into such hubs and also the ‘Industrial Corridors’ that would work in unison have all been identified, but has any focus been put on one aspect – The Ease of doing business in India?

It is quite embarrassing that as a nation, we seem to unfailingly go after all our big FDI investors with a hunting crop! Tax notices have been served in the past on Vodafone, Nokia and BMW. Is this perhaps because our rules are so opaque, and our bureaucrats love to keep things shrouded in mystery and adhocism so that, suddenly, one fine day, they have the opportunity to use their Discretionary Powers to suddenly re-interpret the rules? Why is it not possible to publish a clear document recording all the Rules, Legal and Financial compliance's at the time of granting of the License? Will it not avoid this silly season of litigation and arbitration with Governments pulling in their ‘Sovereign’ punches – as Finland was forced to do some months ago?

Now, sadly, Nokia has announced that it will shut its Chennai facility on the 1st of November, as it couldn't be transferred to the purchaser, Microsoft on account of pending Tax Claims by both the State and Central Governments. This move has put some 6,600 people out of work (directly) and adversely affected some 10,000 others indirectly. What will happen to Vodafone and BMW, next? With this kind of business climate and officialdom, the Make in India campaign is doomed to failure, unless the License-Permit Raj run by the bureaucracy is eliminated.

Just a couple of days after posting this article, I learn with dismay that the World Bank has demoted India a further 8 places to be 142 out of 189 (please see Economic Times link), for the period June 2013 to May 2014, which is the last year of the UPA Government. Thus, it is amply clear that all efforts of the UPA Government, if anything, did nothing to improve the business climate in India, leaving this unenviable task to the NDA Government that is now in power. The World Bank was thankfully quite candid in mentioning that this dismal performance cannot be a reflection on the performance of the new political dispensation which had been in power for a few days at the time of this evaluation.

I do hope that this will be a wakeup call to the NDA Government and they will configure all their policies in such a manner that India reaches to within the top 25 countries in year one, and higher as the years go by. For any foreign investor, who has 141 options better placed than India, it is not conceivable that he will overlook all 141 options and pick India to invest in. We have got to change the way we do business. 

Update as on 24th November 2014.

Since I wrote this article, I am thrilled to note that the Government of India in a surprising exhibition of alacrity, adopted the World Bank Report Ease of doing Business as a guidance tool, and has promised that they will configure the policies in such a manner as to be in full consonance with the requirements of Ease of doing Business and has even promised that they will try their best to ensure that India figures within the top 50 in a years' time.

Needless to say, this a sea change for an Indian Government and the openness, the speed of response and the appropriateness of the response is most heartening. 

The Make in India team have also since become quite active on Facebook and Twitter (@makeinindia) and have been collaring many followers, who, one would imagine, would encourage, motivate and guide the policy with their comments, including me.

More recently, a report titled Country Brands Index came out, something that I was personally not aware of, wherein they analyse a country's strengths in various criteria - economic, environmental and social and rate a country on how it is perceived by the rest of the world. Hence, a country that is high in the perception index, enjoys a high degree of reliability perception and hence people would be less hesitant to buy a product manufactured there. Thus, countries themselves become brands! 

I was amazed that just when India embarks on a Make in India program, a report, upon aligning with which, would ensure the success of the Make in India program, came to my notice, and I have introduced the same to the Make in India team. I do hope they will recognize the benefits and work toward a high CBI rating in 2015 and make us all proud. 

If India rates within 25 on the #EaseofdoingBusiness and within Top 20 on the #CBI2015, there will be nothing that can stop the flow of investment to us.