Thursday, 20 December, 2007

My Toughest Prayer

    My primary school civics book emphasised the fact that the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution is one of its salient features. One of the rights provided by the constitution is the right to live. This primarily implies the following two points
  i. An individual may (not) exercise the right. A right is a kind of a privilege, and the decision (not) to utilise the privilege should be made by the person.
 ii. Live doesn’t mean medically alive. It means any citizen has the right to live with all the necessary human dignity. This interpretation was made by the Supreme Court.
    These two points together do not imply that suicides are legal (nor do I support suicide). Any right can be exercised only under certain situations and constraints (Eg: Right to vote doesn’t mean I can vote whenever I want to cast my vote!!). Hence, the abovementioned points only mean that under certain situations (on deathbed, with lot of emotional pain for family and self), an individual can exercise his/her right to live.
    If an individual can provide a power of attorney to another individual for running his/her business and voting by proxy are legal, then my contention is that an individual should be allowed to empower somebody else to exercise his /her right to live, although within defined restrictions. So, in cases where doctors see no point in trying to save life or if the doctors believe that the individual’s right to live with human dignity is severely impacted (both present and in future), then the individual (or his family as a proxy) should be allowed to die with little or no further physical and emotional pain.
    I have experienced negative affective state more than once in the past two years. It was these situations that gave me enough emotional courage to pray God (who takes his own sweet time to see sense) for the death of my loved ones. An even greater amount of courage is needed to accept this. This, along with our social setup and upbringing, restrict people from coming forward to support euthanasia.
    As already mentioned, the present constitution doesn’t bar euthanasia. But, we still need to bring in the laws to define the implementation procedures (answer the how, when, who and more such questions). And when that happens, a medico-legal jury may answer my prayers faster than God.

Tuesday, 18 December, 2007

India - Past and Future 10 years

     As I pen down my thoughts at the fag end of 2007, I attempt to recollect an India 10 years ago. That India was very different from the present India, which is all set to be a global superpower in near future.
     There are a lot of changes from then to now- a more stable central government than the Deve Gowda/ IK Gujral era; Ambanis and Mittals are many times richer; Tatas are now acquiring global giants and so on. But taking a view from the ground, there are very few changes of great impact to the economy and satisfaction of people. We see jobs available aplenty, atleast in the cities, and a huge difference in our communication pattern, something unfathomable 10 years ago. Who remembers the pagers today?

IT and economy:
    The BJP lead a shaky coalition government for much of 1998 and 1999. October 1999 not only witnessed its re-election with a comfortable majority, but also the start of a positive cold war in south India, which eventually resulted in large growth rates for the country. SM Krishna led the Congress to power in Karnataka and Chandrababu Naidu consolidated the strength of TDP in the Andhra assembly. The rivalry between the two, to make their state capitals the hub of IT services in Asia, aided by favourable business environment for investors, set the stage for the large growth rates the country has witnessed.
     Though the initial work for the (now was done by the previous regime, SM Krishna must be credited for branding the event and the city. Beyond branding, a lot of work was done. All of a sudden, Bangalore had very good roads, tax-holidays were created, new laws introduced and implemented. The IT sector started booming, mainly occupying the KEONICS Electronics City and Whitefield regions. Naidu must be credited for aiding Hyderabad continually keep pace and matching the brand Bangalore with the Cyberabad brand.
    IT/ITES sector did not create large scale direct employment. But it helped create a large indirect employment market, set higher compensation standards etc. Engineering graduates from all streams (including civil and mechanical engineers ) were roped into IT companies. Science and commerce graduates with a flair for English language got well paid jobs in the BPO sector. This growth brought in a lot of foreign businessmen, creating opportunities in the hospitality sector. Their new swanky offices, homes for migrant employees propelled the realty sector. Call centres operated for western customers, needing employees to work at odd times, and hence they were provided with transportation. That further propelled the automotive sector, which created jobs for the unskilled. The affluent (those who treat money as effluent!!) opted for new houses, cars and plastic money, boosting the finance sector. This sudden growth, which was initially restricted to the IT/ITES sector, had spread evenly amongst most of the urban sectors. Growth in one sector had a positive effect on others, resulting in a positive feedback cycle. This overall growth only increased the confidence levels of businessmen and the story goes on.

    The next big noticeable change on ground is telecommunications. Ten years back, in November 1997, I presented a talk at a school competition (all the material was actually provided by my good friend, Abhishek, today CEO of an IP management firm he formed with his friends) explaining how dial-up internet operated. Probably then, staff at the DoT knew all the internet subscribers in their respective cities.
    The year 2002 saw a huge fall in calling rates from/to mobile phones, from around Rs15 per min to around Rs2.50 per min. Today, I know of offers close to 10,000 free minutes, and some unlimited, although within the constraints. Five years back, Spice marketed its service by offering the first 30 seconds of a call free of cost!! Those days (just 5-6 years back!!!), my father was given a mobile phone by his bank, which weighed as much as today’s laptops and SMS had to be activated on request. He carried it in the boot of his bike, not his pocket!!They were a style statement of the elite.
    That probably was the biggest reason why people wanted to own a mobile phone. Unlike a luxury car, a mobile phone was the cheapest way of demonstrating one’s richness. (Loopholes in) Government policy also helped – 110% duty on handsets was withdrawn, Low service tax (8%) which gradually increased to 10% to the present 12%. But the biggest impact was from the interpretation of the guidelines by Reliance, which obtained licence for WLL CDMA services for a small fee, but provided even long distance telephony services. That resulted in a hard-fought court battle between the CDMA and GSM operators, and finally the consumer won (looking forward to the spectrum war; that could be the solution to my soaring telephone and broadband bills).

What the future holds?
    In the next 10 years, the two sectors that should shine are retail and urban infrastructure. While the next five years will surely belong to retail, I can only hope that the succeeding five years is defined by urban infrastructure.
    After telecom, Bharti (with partner Wal-Mart) and Reliance will fight again for top honours in retail. The old warhorses, Tatas and Birlas, are going to be big players in retail, as in telecom. Kingfisher is an attractive addition to retail sector. Each of these is powerful enough to influence government policies to suit their businesses. Metro, German wholesaler-retailer, has been able to influence the Karnataka (and other state governments) to allow then to procure food items directly from the farmers (and not the APMC or similar co-operative agencies, as the present laws mandated).
    Again, as in telecom, I expect to see the retail outlets to go beyond the big cities, deep into the tier-II cities. That should bring large warehouses to small towns and result in employment for the local youth, since warehouses and human resources cost a lot in the cities. Farmers, craftsmen (goldsmiths and carpenters included), small scale producers (like tailors in garment factories) will all benefit from biggies procuring their services.
So the next time you travel on a state highway, don’t be surprised to see a Bharti cold-storage facility standing tall next to a FCI godown or opposite to a Reliance warehouse. PYTs may move beyond being weather readers and hospitality staff to being salespeople at Kingfisher stores!!

    A recent report predicts that more than 50% of the Indian population will be urban by 2015, far from the primary school textbooks which quoted 1947 figures and taught us that more than 80% of India was rural. Care should be taken so that new slums won’t develop in urban areas. Providing urban infrastructure (layouts with facilities for sanitation, water, power, roads etc) for such a huge population will remain a challenge. JNURM has been initiated by the centre, but efficient and complete utilisation of resources will remain a challenge.
    The immediate need to ensure proper utilisation of funds is to bring all urban infrastructure providers (city corporations, water and electricity supply boards, layout formation bodies like the BDA, DDA etc.) directly under the centre. As long as urban infrastructure remains a state subject, local politicians will arm-twist the officials for the benefit of both the notorious species.
    Secondly, we need to look for long term solutions. Inter-linking of rivers was hailed as a near-complete solution for meeting the water and electricity needs of the entire country. Cost and scale were high; unfortunately the project didn’t take off. Politics ensured the idea was dropped from the centre along with the Suresh Prabhu, former power minister and champion for the project.

    Is the legislature listening? I know the answer.

Tuesday, 11 December, 2007

Why did I start blogging?

       It was in July 07 that I left the comforts of Bangalore to study in Singapore. I didn’t expect much change in my environment. One major difference was that I had lost the constant touch I had with some of my friends and colleagues, with whom I always discussed and debated on so many issues ranging from cricket to Narayan Murthy’s accomplishments to India’s foreign policy to politics, both governmental and at office!!

       The extrovert in me did not find much such company in Singapore. The only ones I found ‘hated’ (or only disliked) almost everything Indian!! (Currently, I am also working on my thesis on NRI’s psyche). That meant the only topic I spoke about was always comparing India with the rest of the world.

       As this went on, an ex-colleague got engaged. I wanted to congratulate her and her fiancĂ©. Not able to find his email from his orkut profile, I got it from his blog. That was the first time I happened to visit a blog. I had read a few of his posts, which he had sent me by mail, and was in awe of his language abilities, but disagreed on most of his film reviews.

       I found a blog could be a good outlet for all the nasty thoughts I had I my mind. So, I created not one, but two. From then on, my bus travel has been interesting, for that’s when I pen down my thoughts. I debate within myself - observe if my initial opinion is indeed my view on the topic – for atleast a month before publishing it.

       That’s me… Don’t forget to click on the comment link below.