Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sania Mirza - The Secretarial Saga

Seems there is no end to the Govt’s appeasement of Sania Mirza. The latest I hear is that the Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh (or the Home Secretary) has to personally deliver the Padma Sri award, which she did not collect when the First Preacher of the nation was giving away at the Ashoka Hall. Apparently, the Bhagmati Begum was busy losing a set or a skirt or both at some county tennis tournament.

There could be nothing more demeaning than this. A civil servant with more than three decades of distinguished service, who heads the state administration, is reduced to a mere delivery boy. I won’t blame the protocols. Those who must have devised it would have never imagined that the Padma awards would be given to such persons whose claim to fame is disproportionate to their legitimate sources of talent. No wonder the likes of Romila Thapar, Kanaksen Deka and consistently reject these awards. There is a longer rejection list here and here.

The C-block guys at the Secretariat would tell stories of how they were hounded by her dad for the 20 lakhs, that’s after looting the exchequer of 99 lakhs (some Bata-conomics there) in cash and a lot more in kind. After cornering humungous amounts through endorsements, inaugurations, ad campaigns and virtually every possible method to sell herself, encroaching on Govt's paltry resources in plain audacious shamelessness.

I would not repeat how she has used her non-sporting resources like dress, drama and diatribe to corner the scanty sporting resources leaving the out performing persons like Humpy, Anju George and Joshna Chinnappa, to name few. That someone who couldn’t manage to win a single Open, is given this award is itself a vulgar joke. I just hope the Govt. mends the rules. If someone can neither make it to the awards function nor have the courtesy to depute someone, then they should be asked to collect it from the cloak room of the nearest railway station. Please don’t ask senior bureaucrats to do such derogatory task of delivering awards to some bimbette who has no idea where her t-shirt ends, where her skirt begins and where that ends. (All the three cozily coalesce at a single line.)

I still tolerate all this nonsense with the fond hope (or rather desire..) which I expressed in my previous post. If that’s not going to happen, then with shotgun on her forehead, I am going to make her dance with Balakrishna and Mohan Babu for a hardcore Rayalaseema flick.

PS1: My regular visitors, if there are any and if they are still alive and sane, would be relieved to note that I wouldn’t be posting till second week of May. Got an exam on hand. So, people, wish me luck while I let you live in peace.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

India Fashion Week 2007 – A preview

Now that both the fashion weeks have come to a close, here is a preview of what to expect next year.

  1. More splits and Chennai, Kolkatta, Bangalore and Hyderabad have their own fashion weeks. At Chennai, Karunanidhi accuses Jayalalithaa of diverting the cloths meant for Tsunami relief to the fashion week. At Kolkatta, only red garments (I don’t think the Marxists are leaving Writers’ building this year either) are allowed to be showcased. At Hyderabad, YSR asks if he too could walk the ramp as he has walking experience of over 1600 KMs. At Bangalore, every alternate model is accompanied by a bearded baby elephant a.k.a Vijay Mallya. Walk the good times!
  1. Low-cost no frills show would be held at tier-2 cities like Hubli, Vijayawada, Madurai, Kanpur, Sholapur, Asansol, Raipur. In these shows models bring their own cloths and visitors their own chairs. Tea and snacks would be sold inside the auditorium.
  1. Kinky Narula presents, our very own desi lingerie collection, “Noorjahan’s Secret”. The following evening NotSoNeat Verma accuses Kinky Narula that the blue g-string with Zardosi was actually his and Kinky stole it when he gave it to the hotel laundry. Kinky retaliates saying it was a woman’s garment and questions what NotSoNeat was doing with that. Rajdeep Sardesai asks the viewers to SMS him whether Kinky was guilty.
  1. Subburami Reddy and Amar Singh walk the ramp. Of course, after Sorabjee, Jethmalani and Jaitley assure them that it would not be an office-of-profit.
  1. Sultry Goel’s collection is a huge hit. But after buying , her customers call back to ask for instruction on how to wear them. The outfits had too many pieces and each smaller than the other.
  1. Hutch launches 24-hour value added service to get the latest updates on models’ whose cloths malfunctioned. Calling charges Rs 60/min, provided you get through the line.
  1. At Praveen Togadia’s maiden show, models walk out in protest after he asks them to wear cloths that go below the knees and elbows. Models fear that it could lead to asphyxiation due to lack of venti(til)lation. Brinda Karat joins them saying the Govt. should bring suitable legislation to prevent such health hazards at working places.
  1. Lorry launches a special collection for the Haryana Police to prevent Gurgaons and Faridabads. The shirts would be customizable to restrict the movement of hand.
  1. Two women are hospitalized after they got scared at the Demonish Horrora’s collection.
  1. As a grand finale, CanU SeeTheGirl launches a radical genre of Malfunction fits. These cloths come with stealth strings, which can be used to create ‘accidental’ show downs at the required moment. Hutch network collapses.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

OBC Reservation - Replies to the Editor

The following are the letters that appeared in The Hindu yesterday. Surprisingly, not a single letter was in favour of the proposed OBC reservation. It seems to be consistent with the latest biased reporting of The Hindu. OK, that would make the topic for another post. For now here are my responses to the letters.
The report that the Human Resource Development Ministry is considering the Mandal Commission formula of 27 per cent reservation for the Backward Classes in Central educational institutions, IITs, and IIMs is shocking. It comes at a time when India is ready to take off as an economy. The proposal, if implemented, will harm the very institutions that have contributed the most towards India's resurgence.
Reservation is the easy way out for successive governments that have failed to provide infrastructure at the grassroots to the backward communities to improve their competitiveness. The move will affect the quality of engineers and managers in future.
Shubhasish Chattoraj,
Kharagpur, W.B.
But the quality of our engineers and managers would remain intact when seats are bought with huge capitation fees. Right?
The furore over the proposal is quite justified. If a student ought to be recognised, it should be on the basis of his merit alone. One of the reasons for the dilution of standards in education is the quota system.
We Indians bemoan the constant exodus of bright students to countries abroad. But if a student's merit cannot secure for him a seat in the premier institutions of his country, he is perfectly justified in leaving for distant shores.
Anuradha Rajan,
Even otherwise no one is staying back here. Majority of them migrate for money. A few for better opportunities in terms of research and quality of education. I am yet to see someone who goes to the US Embassy because he just lost his seat due to reservations.
While our politicians have not proactively invested in capital assets like new institutes of higher education, they have no qualms about robbing seats in the name of social justice, discounting merit in the process, and pushing India further into the abyss of policy-induced incompetence. Discounting merit is no way to become a global knowledge society.
K. Chandrasekar,
Where did these IITs, IIMs come from? They were established by the Government with the tax payers’ money. Taxes that were collected on every bar of soap and packet of salt that the teeming millions paid even during their poverty. Taxes that were collected with the promise that they too would have a share in fruits of development. Taxes that were collected 50 years ago when they were poorer than they are now. How much have these investments benifited the poor?

What do you call the numerous Kalinga Nagars and Gangavarams. It is today, after the terms such as “sustainable development”, “equitable growth” etc have become popular, that people are raising the issues of displacement and rehabilitation. The injustices of Bhakra Nangal or Nagarjuna Sagar are so bad, that the Government doesn’t even have a record of its rehabilitation program. So the foundation of the modern prosperity has been built on perpetuating poverty. Let us acknowledge and take affirmative action against that.

Robbing people of their lands and shooting at them is development. But upliftment of depressed sections and ensuring their assimilation into the mainstream is robbery. And what about the “policy-induced incompetence” of those “modern temples of humanity” which were supposed trickle down benefits. They couldn’t even trickle down water for drinking.
How long are we going to continue widening the reservation net? IITs, IIMs, and other such institutions have built a brand image with their outstanding quality — as reflected by recent mega salary offers to IIM graduates. If governments in the last six decades have not been able to bridge disparities and remove backwardness, surely the reservation policy is flawed or there has been lack of sincerity. Let us not politicise education for narrow ends.
Air Cmde (retd.) Raghubir Singh,
To say that the image of an institution shall be determined merely by their output is akin to rating a country by its per capita or a corporation by its profits. We have moved into an era where judgments are no more made by a single criterion, output. For a nation, the distribution of income is as important as its per capita. Similarly, for a corporation, it contribution to the society is as important as its profits. No wonder CSR is the buzzword these days. In the same length, for any institution aspiring to be world-class, it is important that there is diversity and inclusivity in its members.
Thanks to our politicians' lack of imagination and competence, reservation has been politicised to the extent where even honest and legitimate criticism is branded as anti-people. Why should the son of a doctor alone become a doctor was the question asked before the introduction of the reservation policy. Strangely the position is the same even after 60 years of implementation of this policy.
At this rate, even 100 years of reservation are not going to achieve the objective of the policy.
S. Rajagopalan,
It is foolish to expect the injustice of 2500 years to be undone in 60 years. If anything, the inequalities have further widened in these 60 years. For 2500 years, they were made to suffer silently and you get impatient in a mere 60 years.
The move is far removed from the ground reality. Had reservation helped the children of my gardener, domestic help or driver get quality higher education, it would have made sense. The primary education system is such that their children drop out much before being able to benefit from reservation at college level.
Today those who get admission to colleges through reservation hail from a good socio-economic background, as they are second- or third-generation beneficiaries. The Government should instead focus on primary education.
Parul Bajaj,
Faridabad, Haryana
Yes. They all would have got better education if we had told them about the provisions and schemes available. If we had helped them to fill the applications. If we had taken the trouble to know the details and procedures to avail the benefits and inform them. If we had not let our miserliness appoint a child/adolescent for our chores, when he/she should have been at the school. Let us honestly admit. We don’t do anything for the depressed classes. And no scheme succeeds without people’s participation. We shift the responsibilties of policy formulation, information dissemination, efficient implementation etc to the Government. Then let them do their job to best of their abilities and resources.

Focus on primary education?

Every one knows that perfection is a mirage and in India, an impossibility. Diverting the attention to primary education, is just a tactic to delay reservations indefinitely. First, you would say primary and then secondary and by the time they achieve proficiency in that, the disparities would widened beyond repair. In any case, more than 70% of our Government's efforts go into primary education.

What one needs to understand is success of primary education is related to host of factors. It is not that you establish a school and ask students to attend. It is inherently linked to various socio-economic factors. We need multi-pronged approach to tackle it and reservations in educational institutes is one among them.
The proposal is in line with the vote-bank politics of the government of the day. If implemented, it will frustrate the youth. Students who have hitherto landed jobs on merit will get demoralised as their opportunities are sought to be curtailed.
Sankalp Shrivastav,
Karaikal, Pondicherry
Hold a referendum and this policy would get a thumping majority. Not the first-past-pole majority with which the MPs who voted for this constitutional amendment got elected. This is democracy, not vote-bank politics. The greatest good of the greatest number is the founding principle of any democracy. It is easy to blame the politicians. But we should know that they know the real India than any of the readers of English dailies.

The IIMs want to go global, increase their intake, but wouldn’t like to share a few seats for their own countrymen.

The corporate India is crying horse about merit. If they are so concerned, why don’t they establish their own institutes? They have been the single largest beneficiary of the elite education institutes. What has been their contribution to the Indian education system?

How much of funds have flown into the SSA or the Prarambhik Siksha Kosh? All that is given is to the elite institutes which anyway have a lot of funds. Again a class divide there. But even that pales in comparison to the Americans .

Every form of engineering, be it economic, political or scientific, redesigns the system for the greater good by adversely affecting a few. Similarly, social engineering would also call for the sacrifice of a few. And we should accept that just as we did not reject the previous processes.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Economic Survey 2005-2006

Lyndon Johnson once said that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else. But reading economics is just the other way round. It seems hot to others, but not you. Unfortunately, this week I faced a Hobson’s choice of reading the Economic Survey 2005-2006.

Now, don’t get scared. I am not going to give you any prodigal prophesies of the Indian Economy that I derived from the report. I am too dumb to do that. I am just going to tell you how the report on one of the most watched economies of the world is defended from being read. Yes, how the Finance Minister (Henceforth to be called as FM) and his team makes lives of innocent people like me really miserable.

Essentially, the report has two levels of defense. The outer line of defense is the presentation [Strategy 1 and 2], while verbal jugglery [Strategy 3, 4 and 5]is the inner one. The first one aims at preventing you from reading, while the second one ensures that you don’t get the picture, even if you read. Not even a faint one.

Strategy 1: All the statistical tables are to be compiled and published at the end

When those creatures appear together, they look more repulsive and no one dares to even see them, let alone read. The fonts should be microscopic to ensure that the person who reads would require a Braille version of the report next year. As many entries as possible should have superscripts like @,#,$,* etc. If you have exhausted that, then you can go for numbers. You have infinite of them.

My personal suggestion: To make the tables more disgusting, centre justify the figures. That would cause the decimal points to appear at different locations in a column, making comparisons more confusing.

Strategy 2: Avoid using reader-friendly visual statistical representation

The report has just 17 graphs and 0 pie-chart. Compare this to the 63 tables in the report and another 117 pages for tables in the appendix.

The Lesson: Make the report utterly boring and optically dangerous, by avoiding diagrams and filling it up with infinite tables with the data. For effective effects, use font size 2.

Strategy 3: Show Potentials in Failures

In 2005-06, while the direct transfers from State Governments to SEBs was Rs.11,562 crore, an uncovered subsidy of Rs.15,987 crore remained, indicating the large potential that reforms have in improving not only the electricity sector itself but also the fiscal position of the States. – Pg-177.

Electricity reforms were initiated in many states ages ago. In some like Andhra Pradesh, they began as early as 1999. More than half a decade. And still you have uncovered subsidies. That means tardy implementation. But our FM sees “large potential”. Is that what they teach at the Harvard?

Strategy 4: When comparing, use the lowest figures of your predecessor, even if the performance in all the other years were better yours

Expenditure on the social sector as a proportion of GDP has also gone up from 5.68 per cent in 2003-04 to 5.81 per cent in 2005-06 (BE). – Pg - 205

The NDA government’s spending (as a proportion of GDP) in the years 2000-01, 2001-02 and 2002-03 were much higher than the present Government. But the FM chooses the lowest figure in the previous regime to make the comparison. Further, NDA’s are actual figures, where as this is just Budget Estimates. But who cares. The Finance Ministry is so confident about Indians’ Arithmophobia that they would not look up to the tables even when the corresponding text is given right below.

Strategy 5: Liberally use various adjectives for the figures like, Actuals, Budget Estimate, Revised Estimate, Provisional, Quick Estimates to confuse people

NPE 1986 had set a goal of expenditure on education of 6 per cent of the GDP. As against this target, the combined total expenditure on education by Central and State Governments was 3.49 per cent of GDP in 2004-05(BE).– Pg -210

Wondering where that figure “3.49” propped up from?. After all, it is not there in any of the columns in the above table. Well, 3.49% is the Budget Estimate, while the table gives you Revised Estimate for 2004-05. What was the necessity to use the Budget Estimate when the Revised Estimate for the year was available? It is plain statistical fraud.

I understand that the publication is intended for an economist. But, when we talk of transparent administration, simpler procedures and effective communication, I expect that a report of such importance should be presented in a manner where any person with basic knowledge of arithmetic would be able to get the broad picture. I am sure it would not cost them a bomb to a) Increase font size of data b) Use more pie-charts and bar graphs to enable easy comparisons c) Print additional 10 or 20 pages explaining the terms and acronyms used in simpler language. It is high time that our kids are released from the fear of mathematics and our adults from that of economics.

What is worse is that it has become a vehicle for political propaganda by using mischievous comparisons and deceptive terms.

P.S. Now don’t feel the survey is absolutely boring. It has its own genre of practical jokes.

Construction work at greenfield airports of international standards at Hyderabad and Bangalore has commenced. The two airports are likely to be operational by the middle of 2008. – Pg-193

And one exclusively for Bangloreans.

The Government of Karnataka proposed Bangalore MRTS with East-West (18.1 Km.) and North-South (14.9 km.) metro corridors. The project proposal was considered by the Public Investment Board (PIB) which cleared it for an estimated current cost of Rs.5,453 crore with a Government of India participation of 20 per cent. The matter is being placed before Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). Meanwhile a Group of Ministers has been set up to decide upon the gauge and legal issues for various Metro Railway projects.-Pg-198

OK. You are asking me when that would be? That would be on Date of Inauguration of Bangalore Airport + 420 years. Provided Kumarappa’s son does not dislodge him and, the “Group of Ministers” are not disqualified or do not resign due to some sting operation or office-of-profit bogey.