corruption

All posts in the corruption category

Make In India : A Need For Introspection

Published October 15, 2015 by vishalvkale

In the previous article {Make In India} , I introduced a look  at Make In India’s loopholes – not from the GOI, but from we the people.  Therein, I had concluded, We, the people, just don’t seem to care about these basics. Quite frankly, we just don’t care. While the chosen words are a bit strong, the fact remains that corruption – unless it is tackled, MII will remain a pipe dream. By the same token, unless administrative reforms are taken up, MII will remain a pipe dream.
Take a small example. I have consistently referred to RBI report on the states finances; the report of 13-14 clearly identifies good movements in state budgets, with increasing responsible states. But the very same report makes a  certain observation of off-budget expenses and their possibility of presence, as also highlights the laggard states and their irresponsible behaviour. The report of 14-15 once again clarifies the vast gulf between the various states. The differences in the state of finances in the document amply indicate the need for differential and targeted plans, as also the evidence of our own eyes as we traverse this Holy Land we call our Mother, our India
Now the central government has devolved a higher share of revenues to the states, and not touched or perhaps reduced in real terms expenses on Education, among others. Without a concurrent increase in state budgets allocations on education, there will be no improvement in the state of affairs; and without an improvement in the performance of government servants and their accountability, on-field situation will never improve. These administrative reforms are urgently required – are they happening?
On education, how can a poor uneducated person benefit from MII? What is in it for him? Hundreds of Millions of Indian live outside the top 200 urban agglomerations {around 86%. Not for me the artificial classification of urban-rural. Visit any city outside the top 100, let alone 200, and try and spot the similarities between rural India and them!}
How will they benefit? They arent educated and lack skills. And skill development cannot substitute for education, which opens the mind, develops its faculties, and broadens perspective. Short term few-days skill development is no comparison. The answer is education; it has to be a proper education for true development to percolate to all levels of the society. Even skill development requires a certain basic level of education or skills that can be honed. Even in low-level technical jobs, some basic education is a prerequisite.
What kind of job will these poor people get? Menial jobs and / or low-level jobs, most likely. What will these jobs pay? Some {hopefully most} will earn more than previously, but questions will remain. Will they earn enough to create enough wealth to ensure a far better future for their families? Further, how many people will benefit, in absolute numbers as well as in percentage terms? Is there a guarantee of the continuance of these wages for long, given that they are unskilled employees, and as such easily replaceable? Are we or are we not risking more migrant people drifting from place to place?  
And what about the impact on ancillaries and Small and Medium Sector units? These lack the capital to upgrade technology; and new world-class manufacturing facilities will require even ancillaries to upscale and upgrade. What about their capital requirements and problems? How will that be facilitated? What about skill levels in employees in these units, which  will require major upgradation? Is there a risk of job losses in Small and Medium units arising out of this? What about the rampant cash transactions that are prevalent in this segment? How will you push them towards cheque and other more modern methods of transactions? Even if it will eventually lead to greater monetary returns to India, what about the short-terms pains? Is there any plan to mitigate any pains that are certain to arise from the course of development?
These are all genuine questions, and not allegations or critical statements. And these questions will need to be met and answered for MII to be a true game-changer at all levels for society. As more and more facilities come up, it will require inputs, some of which will be taken from the local populace, like land.
The pressure will be on these new units to add back  to society in a demonstrable fashion so as to smoothen the introduction and facilitate their setup. Frankly, there is no choice:  these questions will have to be answered; we are a democracy.
And further, do we have the means to ensure corruption will not happen, and that these people will get their true wages? Or that the wages will be enough to provide for their families needs like education of children? Or that percentage of Cash transactions will go down? Or that land is acquired without corruption? That there is no cutting of legal corners in the entire process, and that all rules are adhered to? That there will be no revelation of scams thereby ensuring smooth operations? That everything operates above board, and that no bribes are paid? Or that, if bribes are paid, the same never comes to light?
We dont, and that is a fact. How then do we ensure that this will be implemented? We cant! The reason that this is a major stumbling block is simple : a revelation of the truth will lead to legal as well as social ramifications, stalling projects. It will also adversely impact efficiency as the entire system comes to a screeching halt with reference to that project, as any officer will be want to be extra careful lest he or she be found guilty!
This isn’t fault-finding; just a humble request for deep societal introspection. Please ask yourselves these questions, and look at what we have become as a people, what values we stand for and what values we are giving our children by our behaviour!
That  is the case of corruption. In the increased activism among the media, as well as the anti-corruption mood in combination with investigations, exposures and actions of law-enforcement and investigative agencies, scams are certain to come to light. That means a full and final grounding of any project that is scam tainted. Unless corruption is systematically reduced, questions relating to MII remain; and will need to be tackled and answered.
Furthermore, we all of us demand and ensure top education for our own children – we can afford it, by the grace of God. Then why dont we demand that the Government give education to those who cannot afford it, that education happens properly, and not the farce it is in some places? We give our family the best, because it is our family. We call India our mother, and then ignore the educational needs of the less fortunate among us!!!!! Why are we, as a people, so consistently ignoring education?

And we call India our mother?? Who will take care of our own brothers and sisters if we dont??
Advertisements

Make In India Explained, With Questions It Raises

Published October 5, 2015 by vishalvkale

Make In India is, and has been for a while now, the buzzword and the favourite of the Media and the educated public alike; little space has been shared for the realities, or what precisely MII entails. It almost sounds like a new dawn of manufacturing, with   the excitement and the euphoria this slogan has generated. That by itself is most welcome; if people in India are gung-ho about manufacturing, that is indeed welcome, and helps to seed entrepreneurial spirit. The problem is the word Euphoria; excitement is needed, and a catalyst, and perhaps what the Government desires.
The difficulty is the needless Euphoria around this term, which is almost a halo now. It almost sounds as if we have no manufacturing at all! We are ALREADY making in India, thank you very much. The challenge isnt Make In India : it is Create The Proper Conditions For Make Much More In India!
Take the Auto Compenents Sector, for example. It is dominated by the Small and Medium Companies, some – indeed most – hiring unskilled or semi-skilled labour of upto 10-20 people, producing end-products for some defined customers in a symbiotic relationship not only with other manufacturers, but also with traders and suppliers. In Mumbai alone I alone managed to find 1077 companies spanning auto components, springs, steel traders, kitchen appliances, bolts, nuts etc. More than 90% of these were small outfits, Isnt this Make in India?
In the Delhi – Ludhiana – Chandigarh – Haryana – Gurgaon corridoor I managed to locate some 736 companies making the above items. Ditto Hyderabad, Nashik, Chennai, Coimbatore, Pune, Nagpur. Most of them – nearly all – small companies. I visited one personally – a small company, well managed, but with less than 50 employees doing brisk business. Isnt this Make In India?
Make what In India, pray tell? Nuts? Bolts? Springs? Rack-and-Pinion arrangements? Wheels? Gears? Cars? ACs? Soaps? Biscuits? Curtains? Cloth? Shirts? Shoes? Motorcycles? Furniture? Make what? Dont we manufacture all these and more? And what happens to the current spring manufacturers and gear manufacturers, to take a small example? Not your large companies – I am referring to the multitude of small players that exist in the economy, in just about every industry – even soaps {Sanatan Soaps, for example}. And what of the current overcapacity? What happens to their product lines? Where are the specifics? Make in India for whom and which market?
Make In India wont just happen; you will have to deal with the issues. Companies are facing a credit crunch, with working capital loans hard to come by. There order books are ether stretched due to lack of timely raw material, as old outstanding to suppliers are not coming through due to supply chain issues further down the chain. Or their order books are vacant, as companies close down.
I myself have talked to several promoters who have closed their units, There are massive infrastructure issues, skill issues, access problems, market access issues, raw material issues, productivity and work habit issues that need sorting, to say nothing of the market and economic structure related points that we have inherited!
Where are the changes that enable lending to companies, for another small examples? Why is the credit offtake on a decline from the banks? Where are the measures dealing with these systemic challenges that will have to dealt with? Like the challenge at our filled-to-capacity container terminals at various ports? The roads and rail infrastructure that will carry the goods from one place to another? Make In India, when it takes days just to send material from one state to another, requiring documentation across states? When the vehicle takes 3 days just to traverse 400 kilometers, sometimes even lesser distances? These matters, and more, are known factors; that begets the question, what then, is Make In India about? When we have extensive manufacturing industrial units in India in every industry, what is this Make In India?
Primarily, MII is targeted at the Western Audience, not an internal audience, with two clear purposes in mind :
* Attraction of Foreign Direct Investment, as opposed to portfolio investments or Financial Institutional Investors. The budget does not have much fiscal space which can give the Government room to manoeuvre; so they seem to feel that this is an easy way out of the quandary. Every step the Government has taken is in line with this objective in mind. Whether or not this is actually the case : fiscal room – is another matter, and opens up a pandora’s box; one which we will perforce have to open if we are to really understand the MII plan in its entirety.
* Build India as a major stop on the Global Supply Chain,with a secondary target of Job Creation, spurring investments and building economic growth
There it is, in a nutshell. If and when it succeeds – it has the potential to turn Indian fortunes.
The target of the Global Stop for India might be laudable – but is premature in the extreme, as Arvind Kejriwal has rightly been at pains to point out, as also any number of other critics of this plan. This cannot happen without giving proper education, and proper health facilities – for who will work in those nice new swank factories? Large numbers of the population automatically stand excluded due to this problem. I pointed this out last year in 3 separate articles, and am certainly not the only one to do so. What is being done to address the other, and far more important point of this MII Plan?
For the plan to spread inclusive growth, employment opportunities have to be shared by all sections of the population – and that can only happen with a focus on education. Do we have such a focus? Far too obviously, we don’t have even a tiny fraction of the focus on education on a national level {I am talking of you and me, not the government}. That is actually not in argument. There is no focus on Education  – not in our minds, not in our Media, which goes gaga over the smallest development related to Make in India, summarily ignoring the questions that emanate from this plan!
Point to be noted is that expenditure on education remains abysmally low; funds have been marked to the states, with increased devolution of central revenue. This has apparently happened without a clearly elucidated guideline to the states for proper utilization of these excess funds. Read the RBI status report on the finances of the states for more, both the good and the bad. If there is a guideline, it is not in my notice.
In the absence of such a guideline, there is no guarantee that these excess funds will go towards education and health, which are a pre-requisite for manufacturing. You need humans to work in your factories – and you need to ensure that benefits from industrialisation flow to the local population, so that resistance to other moves comes down. This is manifest in its absence, as is evident from the nationwide strident objection to the Land Bill.
You also need infrastructure – which means Land again. This wont happen fully without the above, and a reduction of corruption and increase in governance efficiency. The list of sordid tales arising out of Land Acquisition in India is long; and in vivid public memory. Unless these reforms are initiated, MII wont take off. Not for a long time. And, if it does, {which is quite possible, frankly} – the rate of spread of its benefits to all economic classes of society will be very slow, leading to further income disparities, increasing inequality in income alongwith all it entails.
And therein lies the problem.
This isn’t all; there is far more to it than meets the eye. Stop for a moment and think : you are introducing {or trying to} large facilities by directed planning, into an economy populated by Small and Marginal Manufacturers with distributed manufacturing facilities on a micro, small and medium scale, characterised by exceedingly complex holding patterns and ownerships meant to circumnavigate the complex historical laws governing the industrial sector.
Any industry requires ancillaries.This means investments by second and third tier manufacturers, who have serious issues accessing institutional credit, and do not have either the experience or the cash to do it on their own, or indeed the knowledge. Those who do have scale and money, cannot take advantage due to distributed ownership patterns and other reasons. The mode of large numbers of transactions remains cash. This also raises issues for security for employees, as one of the entry strategies is far too obviously JVs or take-overs of existing facilities.
Again, lack of clarity governs. This highlights the attendant reforms that are needed : corruption on a war footing, reform of the banking system. To be completely fair, some of these steps are either being contemplated, or are being started by Dr Rajan and the RBI. But that is limited to the Banking System, not corruption. Further, credit delivery and other things need both, not just one aspect.
Thus, in conclusion, while MII is an excellent plan, our India needs answers to the many questions it raises : namely Infrastructure, Corruption, Systemic Reform, Education, Health, Environment. While we Indians are euphoric about the the possibilities of this plan, the tragically comic aspect of this euphoria is the complete and utter neglect of the need for systemic reform required in the aspects noted above in the public imagination. The Government may or may not be doing anything : that is immaterial.

We, the people, just don’t seem to care about these basics. Quite frankly, we just don’t care. If we did, we would not be euphoric, but only cautiously optimistic, and be asking the Government to give more attention to Education, Health, Corruption Eradication, Environment etc. Judging from the amount of media and social media hype around MII, it seems a fair conclusion : we just don’t care…

Modi Sarkar : The First Year… Worrisome Portends and Trends

Published May 23, 2015 by vishalvkale

This is a short and truncated analyses; the full analysis will take time, and will be rather long – and will appear on my main blog, @Reflections in the due course of time. I am only covering the main points here. Please follow me if interested. 

Before I present the negatives : Let me state that it is too early to call this Government good or bad; one year just isnt enough. The following points are indicators that can be used as guides. I am not presenting the positives; there arent very many, as per me. There is far more to worry about, and far more that needs to be explained. 

My View : Negative at worst, and Zero at best… {First time I find myself in agreement with the Congress / Rahul Gandhi!}

Note : All Block-quotes are from my own articles

A lot has been said – and repeated ad nauseum by media and fans alike – way too much of the positives, which may or may not have any bearing with reality. Let me present the other side… the worrying aspect…

1) CENTRALISATION OF POWER
There is a clear and marked trend of centralisation of power; this brings uncomfortable memories from the past. This Government is decidedly about one man, and one centre. Not my idea of an ideal Government, frankly. For a distributed and diverse nation, centralisation is not the answer; a judicious mix of central command with a federated approach is the need of the nation. This is clearly absent; where present – as in Economics, the follow-through is exceptionally poor. This Government is about one man. And that is bad, period.

2) URBAN FOCUS

Read : Farmers see income gains vanish in Narendra Modi’s inflation war

Not one of the problems of Agriculture has been dealt with; as a matter of fact, there is rising discontent within the farming and rural community that is going to hit the electoral prospects of this Government in the near future. What do we need more : Smart Cities, Bullet Trains – or Rural Roads, Seeds, Canals, Schools, Connectivity, Market Access, Fair Remuneration and Price Realisation?

The villages of India have clear priorities : they are primarily agrarian economies, with farming and related activities as a base. The fact of the matter is that digitisation, urbanisation etc are not their primary concerns, Their primary concerns are bread and butter – same as everyone. And in that, they require bridging lab-to-farm knowledge, irrigation, better and faster access to markets, credit terms and avenues, seeds, better price realisation at farmgate… what is being done in these fields with the same level of Government attention, focus, speed and execution urgency? Nothing!

Take Smart Cities Concept as an example. There are two data points available : 5th Economic Survey, 2005 and NSSO 2011, Both tell the same story: Smart Cities are nothing but a fantasy. They are premature, they are the future, but very premature. The Idea is right, but a decade or two too early.

As per the first, there are 41.83 Million establishments in India; 76% of these worked without any power; employing 100.9 Million; 46% were own account establishments. As per NSSO 2011, 66% were OAE; retail trade slipped from 42% to 30% and ,manufacturing grew from 23% to 31%. Own Account Establishments were 60% of retail, 72% of Manufacturing, and 63% of service. Contribution to the GDP : between 46-58%. Statement of Simple Fact.

Now try and fit a smart city somewhere in all that.

What does the nation require? Research shows that nearly 93Million of our farmers are losing 800-odd per crop; data shows the level of poverty in our nation; consumption trends corroborate, with the top 10% growing at a rate of 3% as opposed to 1% consumption growth for the bottom 40%. Farmer suicides are going up; the economic fundamentals are shaky; the global economy is in unprecedented turmoil, and all we can think of is Smart Cities?

Our Armed Forces are in dire need of funds; and all we can think of is Smart Cities? Wow. Fantastic priorities.

We spend the lowest in GDP terms on Education, Defence and Health, and all we can think of are Smart Cities?

Besides, a Smart City requires – DATA CONNECTION. Being a Telecom guy, I now how ridiculous and ill-conceived that notion is; We in India have average & unreliable speeds of around 1,5mbps; the developed nations have a speed of upwards of 22mbps. They have high penetration of credit and debit cards and acceptability of online commerce; we dont. India has precisely 73Million broadband connections – this is including individuals with a double connection; I have three. Less than 69 Million Indians consume more than 512mbps of data on a monthly basis; and cashless transactions are unknown outside the protected environs of top places.

The logic is sound, I clearly stated that concept is needed – but a decade or two too early. This will work in a relatively corruption-free atmosphere, where the Land issues are under control. That we dont have. Next, this works in economic reality which enable the above, which again we dont have, as I have been at pains to point out.

The shift to the small cities will not happen in the industrial sector; the vast majority – upto 90% – of the actual producers are concentrated in only a select few agglomerations, namely Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, followed by Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad. Other second-level sites are Nashik,Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Ludhiana, Kanpur, Rajkot,Surat. No one else comes even close to these cities, although Jaipur, Chandigarh, Hissar, Nagpur and a couple others do try hard.

The shift will not happen from these established centers; there is in existence an ecosystem that now is impossible to replace,. with manufacturing facilities being deeply interlinked with their vendors and suppliers who have now set up in the same or nearby areas. In B2B industries, a symbiotic relationship has started with the consumers and the manufacturers sometimes co-located, or located within 8-10Kms of each other.

The proof is in the manifest failure of industrial areas in other wannabe metros, like Indore and Bhopal, which have simple failed to take off. They remain consumption and trading centers, not producers, despite an incredible level of support given to them by successive Governments. The failure of Bhilai to rise as a comparable center to even Nagpur, let alone Surat & Rajkot, is a case in point.

What nonsense are we talking about?

We dont need Smart Cities, We need Schools, Colleges, Primary Health Centers, Rockets, Mortars, Fighter Aircraft, Missiles, Satellites, Seed Research, Irrigation, Water Purity for Agriculture, Extension Workers to teach our Small and Marginal Farmers, Redoing our Duty and Taxation Structures, Fair prices for farmers at farm-gate, cement or pukka roads, etc etc. A smart city can come after that.

3) DEFENCE, EDUCATION AND HEALTH
Let us take just one – Education as an example  :—->
Is This Government On The Wrong Path? :


Now look at education. You first shout to all and then some – education is the focus, we need a school every so-and-so Kms… And then dont budget for it. And on top of it all, in a classic mark of crass stupidity, increase allocation to states – without ensuring a mechanism for extracting value of this excess fund flow to the states, quite a few of whom are known for fiscal profligacy of the worst kind. And then, you expect the states to implement what is in essence a centrally thought plan. While the plan to devolve to states is laudable, there is a dire need to pull up recalcitrant state governments. Interested people can go through this report : State Finances – RBI Report

What has been done to ensure buy-in by stakeholders at the state level? What has been done to improve efficiency of monetary utilization in the states, and ensure that the excess funds dont get spent in idiotic schemes, for which quite a few of our states are famous? If the states were so efficient, they would have already improved on-ground governance, which they havent. One look at state budgets is enough. What mechanism has been implemented – or is being planned to be implemented – to ensure that the states’ budgetary health improves, and that real value for money spent is obtained? This is what I expect a good PM to do, a good central government to do! 

4) FOREIGN POLICY
Too early to state anything here : results – positive or negative – require time to present themselves. I only state this : 

In FP, image means nothing; it is immaterial. FP is a matter of hardcore strategy, deliverance on words, hard power, and economic give and take. How a nation is perceived is of no relevance. Thus, a better global image makes us feels better as Indians, but counts for precisely nothing in Diplomacy, and that is an absolute.

If you sift away the hyperbole and focus on the hard facts, there are no achievements – precisely zero as on date in FP by this Government. FP changes take time to reveal themselves; let us wait and see.

Now, for example, if the Government had played hardball with USA, and negotiated well with EU, taking Brics along there was an even chance of splitting the combine straight down the middle; in FP, the $$$$$ reigns supreme. It matters little if you are an asshole or a murderer {Read history for real examples of both – Pakistan, or any number of other evil leaders who were hailed by The West} : if you can deliver $$$$, you are a good man, Read the 1971 war and its prelude, or Iraq or any number of other facts. This is beyond debate, I am afraid – and is not open to question.

So far, I have seen nothing except talk talk and more talk.

Talk is cheap. Even I can talk! Look above {EU example} for proof! Where;s the real action????? He has changed many a paradigm of our FP, and the effects in FP can only be observed over a long period of time. Personally, I am extremely uncomfortable with the FP as on date; at least insofaras USA, Israel and China are concerned.

There is no record of even one nation {non-European / Developing} that has benefited from a close association with the USA; quite the opposite. Add to that the recent revelations on arms aids, intelligence – the net result seems negative. Recall the previous time India and China tried to come close.

And ME-Israel? That is a sea-change : requires deep analysis for a thorough perspective. I am worried.

5) BUDGET

The budget document is also a strategy document, it reveals your real priorities. If you are not putting your money where your mouth is, it clearly raises the suspicion that you are insincere in your words, or you have no idea what you are doing – or you have compromised. And dont have the guts to say so openly. And that is precisely what this Government’s actions in totality are stating to me as a worried and concerned citizen. I am already on record accepting that this is the best Government we have had in a long time – and if this is the best we can do, we had better get seriously worried!

Full analysis here : The Union Budget 2015-2016 : Glaring Holes

This budget has been justifiably praised on any number of points; sadly, it has got no praise for the two biggest points in its favour : The focus on the unincorporated sector, and the change in the duty structures. But most critically, there has been little critical appraisal of its faults, which are numerous.


This is a budget for Corporate India, and the top 20% of society. As I noted in my previous article on this budget,  Defence, Education, Health and Rural India are the priority sectors for us.

If poverty is reduced, in addition to a growing economy, we also require an educated and healthy population, which means an effectively functioning primary and secondary school set up, increase in facilities and so on. We already have an excellent higher education set up. If on the one hand you are pitching yourself as pro-poor, and on the other, you are increasing focus on high education and cutting on schooling spends in terms of a percentage, this does beget the question : are the priorities correct?

What we are in effect saying is, Corporate India, Middle Classes can reap immediate benefit, while making no efforts to tackle the real problems beings faced by Rural India, like reducing middlemen, education, etc. This is a majority government, they can easily take hard decisions. And yet they are not doing so – as I had foretold much earlier. And that is what makes this budget completely unimpressive, and very UPA 3-ish.

My rating : 2 stars. As I expected….

Asia’s third-largest economy spends about 1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on public health, compared with 3 percent in China and 8.3 percent in the United States. Indian states manage their health budgets separately. From : India keeps tight rein on public health spending in 2015-16 budget

6) HIGH DECIBEL PROGRAMMES WITH POOR FOLLOW-THROUGH

Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan and the Toilet Scheme are just two example that  have now been on for one year almost, and already shoddy implementation, and fanfare and media attention. Enough said; that said, like FP above, early days. Let us not criticize unduly!

7) ARROGANT AND UGLY UTTERANCES AT ALL LEVELS
The most worrisome aspect. It is not acceptable for leaders of a nation to belittle the past leaders at every stage and platform with utterances that reek of sheer arrogance and bravado, like “Good Government after 10/60 years”; “Indians now feel proud”, and any number of other examples. These are statements we should be making – this is proof positive of a total lack of humility and sheer arrogance; it is also unacceptable – as it is beoynd debate that at least UPA-1 made many a good decision. Give credit where credit is due- which this Government doesnt. To top it all come the polarising and deeply offensive voices from people connected with the ruling party – I have heard more than a few. 


THIS IS NOT MY IDEA OF A GOOD GOVERNMENT… THE 7th POINT ALONE IS WHAT HAS DRIVEN ME COMPLETELY AWAY – note the capitalisation. I dont support a set of arrogant people, howsoever good may they be.  

Was the UPA better? I honestly dont have an answer. My recent studies have led me to a rather uncomfortable possibility that UPA-1 at least was a good Government, but to be honest, I need to study a lot more before I can make any such assertion!  

Is This Government On The Wrong Path?

Published March 3, 2015 by vishalvkale

I closed my previous article with these words  : 
What we are in effect saying is, Corporate India, Middle Classes can reap immediate benefit, while making no efforts to tackle the real problems beings faced by Rural India, like reducing middlemen, education, etc. This is a majority government, they can easily take hard decisions. And yet they are not doing so – as I had foretold much earlier. And that is what makes this budget completely unimpressive, and very UPA 3-ish. “
Given below are the problems that I consider to be the real problems that impact us as a nation, encapsulated in very short : 
A) DEFENCE : Dramatic increase in budgetary allocation to defence. The plain and sad fact is that The Indian Armed Forces are in dire need of funds infusion; we need Fighter Aircraft : Medium Role Combat Aircraft in particular; we need Artillery Guns to replace the ageing bofors; we need munitions; We need urgent infusion of Naval Craft in several categories and so on and so forth. We further need to the Eastern Army corps that is being planned as a defence against China. The status of the Armed Forces has been extensively documented in the books by Gen Malik, in Gen VK Singh’s leaked letter, and in numerous articles in newspapers and magazines 
B) EDUCATION : Major focus on Primary and Secondary Education, not higher education. India does not need any further higher educations institutions as yet; what it needs are the refurbishment of existing facilities, and major fund infusion in Rural India especially. In terms of budgetary allocation, we are among the lowest – which is sad for a developing country. 
C) HEALTH : A clear definable plan to counter malnutrition, and fund infusion in the Rural Health Sector, encompassing PHCs, Taluka, Tehsil and District HQ hospitals in terms of staff, medicines as well as facilities. We need an increase in budgetary allocation to bankroll this 
D) RURAL INDIA / AGRICULTURE : A clear shift in focus from Urban to Rural India in terms of infrastructure : easier access to nearest agricultural mandis, markets, rural facilities like digitisation of land and revenue records, connectivity of the village with the local district and state capitals, making it feasible for the farmer to sell his produce directly ensuring better price to him, amending APMC etc related acts and so on and so forth. What is required is a clear focus on forgetting Urban India for now, and focussing on Rural India; with the benefits from the above, Urban India stands to gain automatically given the productivity enhancements. This requires budgetary allocation of funds, and a workable plan for the same – and a clear implementation focus.
E) SUBSIDIES : Tackle wasteful subsidies. On Agriculture, streamline subisidy; remove undue focus on Nitrogen, and develop a more equitable and more logical subsidy plan. I do not recommend cutting back on Subsidies in this sector; farmers cannot afford it. That is a fact. What is needed is a rebalancing. This is a structural component, and cannot be so easily altered. Reduce subsidy even further on petroleum products for all IT payers; they can afford higher cost of petrol. The farms cannot. Alternatively, remove petroleum subsidy altogether; develop cash reimbursement through Aadhar for the poor and the rural sector. 
F) RAILWAYS : Increase fares across the board, period. Invest proceeds on modernisation and increased security. Stop cross-subsidisation of passenger with freight; be logical, consistent and transparent. 
G) EXPENDITURE : Curtail wasteful expenditure, and all non-productive expenditure; period. No explanation required, no justification need be given. It is our money you are spending. This does not include expenditure on social imperatives, and support causes, without which we may have a human tragedy, Those expenses are a priority; here I refer to Governmental expenses, making the states accountable, cutting back on wasteful non-productive freebies etc. 
This, in the order of priority, is what the nation requires. What I am a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y shocked is that few people thought of defence. Boss, they defend our lives, and their problems are serious! It is a shocker that no one – not one person here thought of the needs of the defence of India! And their needs have been documented by several authentic people, and in detail. Shame on you, India. Shame!
Now look at education. You first shout to all and then some – education is the focus, we need a school every so-and-so Kms… And then dont budget for it. And on top of it all, in a classic mark of crass stupidity, increase allocation to states – without ensuring a mechanism for extracting value of this excess fund flow to the states, quite a few of whom are known for fiscal profligacy of the worst kind. And then, you expect the states to implement what is in essence a centrally thought plan. While the plan to devolve to states is laudable, there is a dire need to pull up recalcitrant state governments. Interested people can go through this report : State Finances – RBI Report
What has been done to ensure buy-in by stakeholders at the state level? What has been done to improve efficiency of monetary utilization in the states, and ensure that the excess funds dont get spent in idiotic schemes, for which quite a few of our states are famous? If the states were so efficient, they would have already improved on-ground governance, which they havent. One look at state budgets is enough. What mechanism has been implemented – or is being planned to be implemented – to ensure that the states’ budgetary health improves, and that real value for money spent is obtained? This is what I expect a good PM to do, a good central government to do! 
The budget document is also a strategy document, it reveals your real priorities. If you are not putting your money where your mouth is, it clearly raises the suspicion that you are insincere in your words, or you have no idea what you are doing – or you have compromised. And dont have the guts to say so openly. And that is precisely what this Government’s actions in totality are stating to me as a worried and concerned citizen. I am already on record accepting that this is the best Government we have had in a long time – and if this is the best we can do, we had better get seriously worried!
Why the hell do we need more Engineering Colleges? That too IITs? And more management colleges? So that they can run away from India, rather than help solve the problems? And that too in a scenario where  thousands of Engineering graduates, management graduates and other graduates are running around from pillar to post jobless? That is being smart? The definition of smart has certainly changed, if that is the case. Why not upgrade existing colleges from D and C category? 
You know why not? Because it is hard to do. Because you will have to roll up your sleeves and really work! Because you will have to challenge vote banks; vested interests; etc. I feel jilted! I had high hopes from the BJP. I feel jilted! They are doing exactly what the Congress did – NOTHING!
Next, defence. “Already, more than 90 per cent of the defence capital allocation is pre-committed towards instalments for purchases made during previous years. While the exact figures would become clear only after March 31, it is already evident that no more than Rs 8,000-9,000 crore of the Rs 94,588 crore capital Budget for 2015-16 would be available for new purchases. A few percentage points of army revenue overspend (it overspent 5.5 per cent this year) would whittle that down to zero.” 
This is a brutal shocker – the nation’s armed forces are in dire need to refurbishment, and the best you can do is this? Add to that the zero action on health and education : the conclusion is inescapable : the priorities are wrong. The Government is wrong on this, demonstrably so.
The needs of Agriculture which have gone unattended for many years, have again been postponed. Agriculture needs subsidy rebalancing – not done. Ideal ratio – 4-2-1. Indian ratio – 6.5-2-1. QED. Largely due to the Subsidy imbalance. Why wasnt this attended to?
Next, APMC act. How do you intend to ensure that the farmer gets the right price- the government states it want to do this – without dismantling the credit scenario-mandi power and giving free market access etc? {This is not just a budget issue, but also a governance one} Why hasnt this been done? This isnt a good government, sorry. I feel jilted. And I can do a similar analysis for Health, Education etc. I feel jilted.
And we, the middle classes, we are all jumping for joy as rates were not increased in Rail budget. We travel with family once or twice a year, and earn Several Hundred Thousand every annum. Total additional expense to us taking 2 trips for 4, and a {huge} 15% rise : 2000 Rs.
Wow man, WE middle class can go bankrupt if we have to shell out 2000 Rupees extra. F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C! Keep it up!
What is required is a sense of balance : while the needs of growth and business are real, and vital – they will, after all,  generate the profits and the employment to solve our poverty problem – the needs of the people are also equally important, so that they are in a position to partake in the economic development in the form of an educated and healthy people of India. I am worried since this is a good government we have; but whose direction is as wrong as the previous ones!
India isn’t about the Middle and above classes alone; it is equally about the other 80-plus percent. What we are currently doing tantamount to giving them freebies, and alms, and not developing them so that they can stand on their feet. What they need is the ability of stand on their feet, and assistance in the form of support programs till the time they do. That is a fact – and the sooner India realizes this, the better for all of us.

Book Review : The Winner’s Curse

Published February 5, 2015 by vishalvkale

   The Winner’s Curse

By Dee Walker


Dee Walker is an alumnus of IIT Delhi, and is a businessman in the field of startup ventures, specifically into providing guidance to international companies wanting to invest in India. He also works closely in Pro Poor Policy and Programme Development, Monitoring and Evaluation.

THE CHARACTERS
Harsh Mittal : Dont judge him. Repeat : DONT judge this guy
Kamal Pandey: I like him, period. Nice guy, tough and a fighter
Babuji : A Politician. Need I say more? 
Roabesh De Mello : The Resident Sycophant
Raghav Badhwar : The quintessential I-Me-Myself man
Rajan Khosla : Corporate Hot Shot…
Savita Bhambi : The Ferret
A. R. Mani : Tech Wiz. He starts with tech, and stays with tech till the end. Right till the end. 
Aravind Pandey : He started it all… without him, there is no story to speak of… for nothing would have happened…


THE PLOT
The plot seems deceptively simple; trust me, it isnt. It is anything but simple; and is a beautifully crafted set of two intertwined plots, based on politics. The first revolves around Harsh, & Babuji. Babuji has thought up a simple plan centred around the Unique Identification Number project, involving connecting each citizen digitally and ensuring proper deliverance of services through e-governance. Tacked onto this is a surveillance and intelligence project. Babuji calls his mentee Harsh, and top businessman and an IITian to boot. 

Enter plot no 2: corruption. Some nice, decent and honest gentlemen are involved in a nice sweet and cosy mining set up, involving ferreting out some ore to China, alongwith the mandatory lining of the wrong kind in the right kind of pockets. Well, these nice people run into a most disagreeable and troublesome character who exposes them, or tries to at the very least. 

The rest of the story revolves around these two (apparently) totally unconnected plots, as the story gyrates back and forth with effortless ease. What is the connection? What happens next to our set of grey characters- for save a couple, all are etched in tones of gray to some degree? Will they manage to fight the temptations of the trappings of power, and the hypnotic pull of corruption? And how is this material the basis for a cliff-hanger? Read the book to find out!


THE ANALYSIS
The Winner’s Curse is a fiction book in the political thriller genre; and stays true to its genre in totality. It is based on politics, current events, and is an out-and-out thriller. Not only is the book a thriller, it is also a thriller that does not have any violence at all; and yet manages to keep the adrenalin flowing high in the reader till the last page. It will take an effort just to keep yourself from turning and skipping the pages to see what happens next

The part I personally liked best about the book is its practicality, and the way the plot has not shown a crusader as the central character. If anything, the central character is almost on the verge of being an anti-hero, which is most out of character for a book based on political corruption. Not just the central character – every character of the book is well filled out, and etched with realistic and deep tones, making for a completely believable story, one that almost seems real…

From start to finish, the story and the plot seem stunningly real and completely believable. At no point does it feel like fiction, which is a stupendous achievement for the chosen genre and topic. The narrative is flawless, and devoid of any vulgarity. In fact, the control on the language is truly laudable, with not a word out of place. The couple of expletives that do occur are natural in the situation portrayed; that apart, the book is squeaky clean. 

The book sets a frenetic pace right from the first page, and carries the plot effortlessly forward. This is a page turner, and you will constantly want to push ahead to see what happens next. A word of advice: this is not a book that you can read in stages or in fits and starts; once you start it, you will have to finish it – that is the quality of the writing. I rate it 5 stars… a class book that is a quick and fast read, and enjoyable as well. And the icing on the cake : a lesson to boot, with the ten commandments {What are they? Read the book!} , and the hard-hitting punch in the end, as the title and its meaning strikes home hard, in a stunning climax…

A Hard Look At We, The People

Published January 11, 2015 by vishalvkale

In the previous article, we took a look at the concept of values from a psychological perspective : Life’s Challenges : Are You Rough, Or Are You Tough?. Let us take a small peek at the definition and concept of the term Values from the perspective of Psychology, taken from the website “psychologytoday” : 



One important concept in psychology is values.  Thus, it is important to define values.  What are values?  Values are judgements about how important something is to us. There may be three basic attributes of values.  First, values are subjective judgments.   Second, we may make a judgement of how important something is relative to something else.  For example, one may judge that helping others is more important that becoming famous.   Third, values may be principles that help us make important personal decisions. 




Values are beliefs, and refer to desirable goals that motivate action. Values serve as standards or criteria and guide the selection or evaluation of actions, policies, people, and events. People decide what is good or bad, justified or illegitimate, worth doing or avoiding, based on possible consequences for their cherished values. Any attitude or behavior typically has implications for more than one value.  The tradeoff among relevant, competing values guides attitudes and behaviors (Schwartz, 1992, 1996). Values influence action when they are relevant in the context (hence likely to be activated) and important to the actor. {Reference here}




Values are of many types – for example Power, Tradition, Security, Conformity, Benevolence, Achievement, Stimulation, Hedonism etc; but that is not what concerns us directly. What is more important is the clarity that our actions are defined by an underlying set of criteria, which determine our actions and behaviour. This is critical : for this lays bare some rather uncomfortable questions for us Indians in general. 




What are the values that we, as a people, hold important? Keep in mind that Values are graded in terms of relative importance to us at a subconscious level. Thus, when we ask for or pay a bribe, what are we displaying about ourselves?  That for us, as individuals, the person or the self is more important than the society, the laws and the nation. And that is only for starters. 




The conscious decision to pay a bribe, or ask for one clearly means that morals mean nothing to us. And, viewed from the Value perspective, we can see that giving a bribe is as bad as taking a bribe. For, in both cases, you have made a clear choice : to you, as a person, the nation as well as the society is not as important as yourself. You grade yourself and your own convenience to be of a higher level of importance than the well-being of society and the nation.




Bribery is not at all a totally harmless activity; its damaging effects range from financial impact on the society to issues of national security. It is the same in several other aspects of behaviour. Consider unethical conduct in the job, that is condoned as routine in the modern workplace. The moment you make a choice to ignore the fake document, you are actively choosing to place the self above the law, the morality, society as well as the nation. To you, Power and Achievement are far more important than societal norms and national interests. Worse is the case of actively procreating false documents, or not doing due vigilance, or suggesting creative accounting and procedures in high value investments and transactions. You are yet again saying that you, as a person, value the self above everything else. 



This attitude and these set of values manifest themselves in any number of activities, and clearly spell out what you and I as Indians hold important in our lives, and lay bare the hypocrisy of the statements of our placing India first. The same case is in civic sense – by littering your surroundings, but keeping your house clean, you are clearly showing a definable value choice : that you place a much greater emphasis on the self than on the community. 

Every choice we make, every decision we take, exposes us for what we are, what we hold dear and what relative importance we attach to various choices and objectives in life. Our indulgence in unethical behaviour exposes us for what we are intrinsically; the famous chalta hai attitude, when observed from this POV, shows up not as chalta hai but as a clear choice for valuing self, and placing a comparably lesser emphasis on the society and the nation, even in situations where there is no chance of danger to our own lives, or any great material damage. 

Our attitude, made famous by many articles and commentors as Chalta Hai is actually nothing even close to a Chalta Hai type of attitude, which is typically indicative of a laidback and lackadaisical approach; it is actually a clear, conscious choice of placing higher value on personal convenience and benefit, placing the nation and the society at a secondary level. The only extenuating circumstance is the risk to personal or family lives; and this is a danger in very select cases. In the large majority of cases, this argument of Values holds true. 

Your choices are driven in your subconscious by what you value, as we have seen above. And the numerous unethical and at times downright illegal behaviour we display,  in both small and large cases, {like jumping red lights, saving time for us, but inconveniencing others}  clearly spell out that we dont value the nation and the society as much as we do. Had that been the case, incidences of people paying a bribe would have been lesser, unethical conduct would not have been such a serious issue and so on and so forth!

In simple terms, we place Achievement, Esteem and Power on a greater level in our own personal value sets over and above Security, Tradition, Conformity, Morality, Universalism and Benevolence. All three choices that we have made are undoubtedly important; but it is a manifest truth that they cannot be above the nation, the society and the law, or in other words – Security, Tradition, Morality. This is a clear indication that our Value Systems and Morality is in dire need of correction. 

For, it is a known fact that one can achieve Esteem, Power and Achievement Satisfaction even without the compromises made in the examples above. Thus, if a large number of people feel that in our society we cannot survive without placing self first, we are in effect stating that we as a nation, and as a society, have a Value System and a Moral Compass that is badly skewed towards the self over the nation and the society, and are thus stating that our society is in a state of decay! 

That would have been a dire indictment of us as a people, were it not for some heartening trends that are currently in a minority, but are growing in strength from day to day; giving our society a beacon of hope in the morass of decay that surrounds us in contemporary India – the growing intolerance for unethical behaviour and the rising tide of people speaking up, and calling it like it is, while also acting true to their words. Let us do all we can to strengthen this new tide… Jai Hind!

The Axis Of Evil In Contemporary Indian Society

Published January 4, 2015 by vishalvkale

The Axis Of Evil is a term of World War 2 vintage, used to denote the Axis Powers led by Germany. At the outset of this post, let me proffer my apologies for using this term for the present article; if any feelings are hurt, please accept my apologies. This article has no reference to the World War 2 or its ugly memories, or even Colonialism. This is a article on Modern India, and social issues within Modern India. 

The word Evil, going by the dictionary term, means wicked; more pertinently, if we look at the secondary meanings of the word, we get the terms bad, infamous, bad or blameworthy, unpleasant, causing ruin or pain, indicating future misfortune… and my article is concerned with the secondary meaning of the word Evil, not the primary meaning. 

A discerning observer can easily spot three or four behaviours of the people in contemporary India that are coming together to form what I call The Axis Of Evil In Contemporary India, as I mention in the article. Let me get straight to the point : these behaviours are :

  • Corruption
  • Incompetence
  • Attitude
  • Lack Of Community Feeling

These above four are together conjoining into one unfortunate whole, and creating the scenes of disrepair that we see today all around us. They are the Axis Of Evil – and these have permeated most aspects of our society – be it our civil institutions, business, day-to-day life etc, with only a few notable exceptions – exceptions that prove that we, as a society, have it in us to come out of this problem. 

1. Corruption

Do we ever stop and think how the 10 Rs we give to the local policeman or the 1000 Rs we hand over to the local civil authority is harming the nation? How it is hitting India, and hitting it hard? In the article Corruption Can Kill we saw in graphic detail how corruption can also kill, either directly or indirectly – and kill by the scores. Example : “Customs Inspector Talawadekar and Phanse came into the room… Singh and Talawadekar, law enforcement officers, were Phanse’s co-conspirators…” Tiger received a call from a customs inspector…” Tiger refers to Tiger Memon, and this was the prelude to the Mumbai Bomb Attack. 

We saw in the Cobrapost expose how corruption has begun to eat into the core of our business institutions as well, with no one even caring to think that the money they are handling may have illicit sources. Can anyone of us normal citizens give a guarantee that the money we pay as bribes does not land up in the hands of the terrorists or criminals? That the money we are helping move around may be a conduit for serious illicit causes? That the silence we display may actually end up harming thousands of people, as has happened in the various scams in the stock market? In every case, the silent acquiescence of tens or perhaps hundreds of normal people has led to serious loss or worse to countless people!

This reprehensible and cowardly silence, and active or passive involvement in corrupt acts has a tremendous cost to innocent people, the organisations, our society, and the nation. Only the people involved are unaffected, they take home their salaries, their promotions, their house and their cars; without a care for the impact of their actions on the nation and the innocent people… 


2. Incompetence

This brings me to the second factor in this Axis : Incompetence. These people – who are termed “worldly-wise” by some sections of our so-called educated population, are themselves not aware of the serious impact of their behaviour. This is classic incompetence; despite being educated – some of them highly educated, these people are shockingly unaware of the damage they are causing to everyone, as we shall see later on in graphic detail

The factor of incompetence goes much, much deeper than this, and connects effortlessly with the third factor – Attitude. Take a careful look at any activity, and you can spot shocking lapses of performance and of incompetence in virtually any activity you care to observe. Let us take the example of a security guard at any mall. I have routinely been seeing every entrant to malls being searched, bags being searched; but the so-called search is a mere bagatelle, a formality. 

The shocking laxity in security searches in malls, that too in a nation hit hard by terrorism, points to deep-seated incompetence at all levels – from the security guards to the top people, who just don’t care enough about security, and are just not aware of the risks – which is crass incompetence. The same can be seen at Railway Stations, I have seen people just walking around the metal detectors, and authorities just looking on, or metal detectors kept to one side!

I could understand if this permeated only Governmental institutions, but a look at the corporate scenario only reconfirms my hypothesis of gross incompetence. How many corporate managers in telecom or finance wonder about the fake documentation with regard to KYC documents, for example? Did anyone stop to think of the risks to the nation and the organisation? How many sales professionals stop to think of the damage they are doing their company, the channel, the network by offloading needless stocks just to save their jobs, and of how many people’s careers are destroyed, and of the irreversible damage to the brand? Again, this is classic incompetence of the highest order! 


3. Attitude


Incompetence blends into attitude; not everyone is incompetent. There are any number of highly competent people who just compromise like cowards, with the manifest disorder all around, in some pretext or other. Call it the chalta hai attitude, or call it selfishness – call it what you will. These people are aware of the damage their actions are causing their organisation, the brand, the society, the nation – but make no overt or covert effort to make their surroundings a better place.

Attitude manifests itself anywhere you see it : people throwing dirt on the road, paying a bribe, taking a short-cut, walking around a metal detector and considering yourself smart for doing so as you have avoided the rush, allowing people to avoid metal detectors despite being aware of the risks involved. As we shall see in the next article, this is manifest in virtually every activity! 


4. Lack  Of A Community Feeling


This brings us to the fourth and by-now obvious pillar of this sorry state of affairs : the Lack Of A Community Feeling. Every action seen above places the self and the family above the nation, the people, the society, the neighbourhood, and the surroundings. We as a people love to go gaga on nice-sounding mantras by change agents – but lack the courage or the competence {or both} to be the change. 

And that is why we have a shameful sight of The Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi himself having to call for Swatch Bhaarat! And an Aamir Khan to do advertisements for cleanliness in India. Honestly, this is shameful in the extreme that we require such august personalities to learn behaviours that we ought to learn our mother’s laps! And the most shocking and shameful aspect of this is the pride we feel in having The Prime Minister Narendra Modi call for cleanliness! 

Tell me, are we so dirty a people that we cant keep ourselves clean? And if we can keep ourselves clean why cant we keep our nation clean? We require Narendra Modi for this? Shame on us! Cant we hold onto our urine for 15 minutes while we find a loo? Cant you take a day’s leave from your company to take out a driving licence the right way? I could go on and on! As I said, shame on us! 



In Conclusion


These four factors – Corruption, Incompetence, Attitude and Lack Of A Community Feeling are what I call The Axis Of Evil. It is painfully clear that these 4 habits are indeed Evil in the secondary meaning of the term. These are what have the potential to lead India to misfortune, give India an unpleasant name, are bad, are blameworthy, and make us infamous as a nation. Truly and verily, The Axis Of Evil. 

And, in at least one case, it is also Evil in the primary sense of the term : corruption, which can and does cause serious damage to the nation as a whole and to its people. Taking a bribe from a criminal is pure evil; ignoring money laundering is also evil; turning a blind eye to harmful deeds which lead to losses to millions of people is also pure Evil. Verily, The Axis Of Evil In Contemporary Indian Society – and these are the habits we need to change; and without the help of Mr Narendra Modi, who is frankly not there to help us tend to our bad habits! He is here to run the country, let him do that… let us focus on smashing this Axis Of Evil from all walks of our lives…