Friday, August 26, 2005

FDI in Retail - Now the Prime Minister

see previous

Trying to convince...

Walmart...Waiting to grab the goodies...

The present Government seems to be truly possessed by the spirit of FDI in Retail. Even in the face of strong resistance, it is just not giving up on its Agenda.

Now, no less than the Prime Minister has started to extol the virtues of FDI in Retail and has indicated, with the zeal of a crusader, that he would focus his attention on persuading all concerned over the next few months, about the benefit of FDI in Retail. This time round, the benefit to be touted would be generation of employment.

It is hard to fathom the anxiousness of the Government in placing this item on the top of its Agenda, when it has failed miserably in attracting FDI in other prime areas such as Manufacturing, Infrastructure etc., losing out to China. It is almost as if it is guided and goaded by an unseen hand to push this item with all haste.

In doing so, it is putting the cart before the horse. Every delay in gearing up our basic infrastructure and manufacturing to meet the growing demand is going to cost the country dearly. Of what use would the FDI in Retail be if the country does not possess the infrastructure and the manufacturing capacities? Would the cause of employment generation be served better by FDI in Retail or by strengthening the manufacturing and infrastructure base?

Enough has been said to counter the specious arguments advanced by the proponents of FDI in Retail within the Government and various advisors and consultants.

The Government now clearly needs to explain to the People of India its logic and answer, devoid of jargon, the following specific, direct and pertinent questions:

1.Whether the Government realises the urgency of accelerating the flow of FDI in areas such as Manufacturing, Infrastructure etc.?

2. What efforts have been made to attract higher FDI in these areas?

3. What are the reasons for failure to attract adequate FDI in these areas?

4. What is the reason for pushing for FDI in Retail in priority and such urgency over FDI in other key areas?

5. What are the precise benefits of FDI in Retail and whether any quantification of such benefits can be made?

6. If generation of employment is a main benefit, is it possible to indicate how exactly, in which sectors, in what manner, in what quantum and most importantly, over what period would the benefit accrue?

7. If the employment generation is only within the retail sector, how much employment would be potentially lost within unorganised retail, because of FDI in Retail?

8. Would the supposed benefits of employment generation be over and above the employment that would be generated by the normal anticipated growth of the economy?

9. Which existing rules and laws would need to be changed to facilitate Foreign Entities in Retail?

10. Whether such professed benefits could be realised only if FDI in Retail is allowed and not otherwise, e.g. by domestic entrepreneurs being encouraged and facilitated in the same way as Foreign entities would have to be facilitated?

11. What would be the turnover-employee ratio in foreign retail entities vis-a-vis the domestic retailers?

12. How exactly would the Indian retailers, whether unorganized or organized, be protected?

It is hoped that parliamentarians, sensible allies and others would prevail upon the Government to fully focus at present on more urgent priority sectors for securing FDI rather than continuing to spend its efforts on a matter which can very well wait for a few years. Focus on concrete actions in the right direction will result in worthwhile benefits rather than dissipation of efforts in all directions.

Ideally, this subject should be left for the next elected Government which should seek a specific mandate in their election manifesto, not in a CMP.

next post

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Independence of India - A Legacy being Lost?

One more time, the Prime Minister of India will address the People on 15th August at the Red Fort, painting a rosy picture of the state of affairs of the country under 'their' Government and what the said Government would be doing to bring up the lot of the underprivileged, in time to come.

Ever since it became the practice to address the People on the Independence Day, successive Prime Ministers have given similar-sounding, cliché-ridden and ritualistic speeches, announcing this Scheme or that, all always supposedly for the ultimate good of the downtrodden and the poorest of the poor. Prime Minister after Prime Minister, year after year, there is nothing new. Only the names of the Schemes become more imaginative which also helps to hide the fact that many such Schemes are but re-packaged from old ones which did not achieve what they were supposed to achieve. With every new Scheme, the amounts to be expended keep on increasing by leaps and bounds- all the money obviously coming from the People, to be given to the People after the political and administrative components of the System get their 'just spoils'. 'Linkages' and 'Leakages' have become two of the more appropriate and oft used words to describe what is supposed to happen and what eventually happens with such Schemes.

The serious concern which the Politicians feel for the poor, the underprivileged and for the country in general, is equally reflected in the Election Manifestos of the Political Parties, and now, in the age of Coalition Politics, in the minimum agreed programs of the partners in Government.

People, right down to the poorest of the poor, have become used to taking these promises with cynicism and are happy if even some benefits do come their way.

It is fair to say that the country has made significant progress in virtually every sphere since Independence. But 58 long years have passed. The progress has been slow, even tardy, and nowhere in relation to the thousands and thousands of crores which have been put in.

The country is continuing to make material progress but along with that progress, the process of degeneration of moral values too is taking place in tandem. The System is getting infested with sycophants, hypocrites, opportunists and freeloaders without scruples. Politicians, public servants and business class all taken together are out to get the most out of the situation that is all pervading.

The saddest part of all this is that even the Society seems to be meekly accepting what is happening. Indeed, learning from those who are supposed to set an example for others, people in general are also becoming more and more inclined to find the easy way to material gains. Morals are no longer compromised because the benchmark of what is moral is reaching new lows.

Losing the Legacy left by the Great Leaders?

Those with a sense of history and those who have been fortunate to observe the spirit of sacrifice of the national leaders of the Freedom Struggle have long been wondering whether their Leaders' Legacy of lofty ideals and supreme sacrifice for the good of the nation and its people will be lost for ever.

The Independence of this Country has been achieved after a long, truly long struggle and intense suffering of the people. Those who fought for the Freedom must have had a Vision of what the country would become after Independence. That Vision has certainly not been fulfilled. It is unlikely to be realized with the present generation of the leaders whether Political, Social or Religious as the System has deteriorated greatly.

It is now left to the New Generation, the Gen-Next, to make this Great Nation truly Great. On this Independence Day, one year before the 60th Independence Day, let the country repose its faith in the Young Generation and hope that while achieving their own material progress, they remember to rekindle the high ideals and moral values of those who gave the People their Freedom. And let those of the previous generation who still believe in moral values and high ideals, strengthen their resolve to keep those beliefs and also encourage the young generation to chose the right path.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Mangal Pandey - Remembering the Cause

Mangal Pandey

Mangal Pandey ignited the first spark that led to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 against the East India Company which symbolised the British Rule until then.
On 29th March 1857, 26 year old Mangal Pandey, a Sepoy in the 34th Regiment, Native Infantry, stationed at Barrackpore near Calcutta, went to the parade ground armed with a musket and sword and began inciting his fellow men to join him and take arms. He fired from his musket at Sgt.Maj. Hewson and Lt. Baugh, and also injured them with his sword. He later on wounded himself with his own musket and was taken into custody. Tried on the 6th April, he was pronounced guilty the next day and hanged on 8th April, 1857.
Barrackpore in Mangal Pandey's generation 1840-1870

Barrackpore environs and entrance to Barrackpore

Barrackpore Bridge and Government House-two views

Barrackpore Government House and Officer's Bungalow

His action was to mark the beginning of the Mutiny which then exploded in Meerut in early May and thence spread to other places.
Mangal Pandey's action was for a Cause. He was protesting against the use of the new issue cartridges which were greased with fat of animals, in particular, cow and pig, that deeply hurt the religious sensitivities of Hindu and Muslim alike. As he told his fellow men, 'it is for our religion'.
Some have questioned whether the cartridges were indeed coated with animal fat as the soldiers believed. The British Imperial Gazetteer has this to say on the subject:

Mangal Pandey gave up his life to protect his beliefs for the religion he belonged to. So did other soldiers who mutinied at that time.
But nearly 150 years after he was hanged for taking arms for this Cause, his name is remembered but the Cause is apparently forgotten.
Viewed in the context of the present, people's religious sensitivities seem to have sadly undergone a sea-change. Animal fat - tallow - which at one time the religiously inclined would not consider even touching with their teeth, is now freely used, apart from soaps, in food products. Tallow is used with impunity in food products like Bakery products and as adulterant in edible fats like Ghee and Vanaspati while the Central and State Governments close their eyes. Even staunch religious organisations which pretend to protect their religion and breathe fire and fume at the slightest provocation, do nothing to stop such actions against their beliefs. And the people themselves - whether staunch Hindu or Jain - out of ignorance or indifference, seem to have little concern.
But sensitivities of the people can be unpredictable and may change. When they become alive to the issue, those in authority - the Government - will surely have to face the wrath of the people for their indolence and be held responsible not for 'culpable ignorance' as happened in 1857, but for 'culpable negligence'. It took only one Mangal Pandey to ignite the spark in 1857.

(Barrackpore Views: Courtesy British Library -Oriental & India Office Collections)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ministry of Commerce & Industry - Functioning

Surprises never cease!

In an earlier article, the pleasant experience a friend had about the proactive Minister of Commerce & Industry, Kamal Nath, was narrated.

In yet another surprise, he now has a similar experience about the officials in the Ministry who execute the policy directions and who have already been taking quick actions

It seems that these committed officials are working sincerely to improve the working of the Ministry and bring the execution of the improvements to their logical conclusion.

Clearly, there is motivation and the will to take actions in Udyog Bhavan which needs to be recognized and appreciated.


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Maharashtra and Mumbai - and the Mess

Failing the People

The Seat of apathy and ineptitude

The Chaos and the Garbage symbolizing the Administration

The disaster that struck Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra on the 26th of July and the days after that, has shown the Government in the State to be completely unworthy of the people's faith and trust.

It took just two days of heavy rains to wash away any claims the Government of the State and local authority in Mumbai, the Municipal Corporation, might have had about efficiency and to bring to the fore the mess that both these exalted administrations have created over the years.

While the initial inaction and stupor on the first day could, perhaps, be excused to a very large extent considering the sheer suddenness and scale of the nature's fury and the physical constraints of getting anything or anyone anywhere, what followed was certainly a display of crass ineptitude and absence of clarity of purpose. The actions that were taken displayed an uncoordinated effort by various Government and Municipal authorities without a clear direction and focus. The manner in which the entire effort was organized would not be adequate even in relatively minor eventualities, let alone such a major disaster that happened.

And, if such mishandling was not enough to shake the people's confidence, the various components of the rotten system already saw and started to exploit the opportunity to make a fast buck out of the miseries and sufferings of those affected.

The way in which the relief was distributed selectively, the amount of relief that found its way in the wrong hands and the lack of transparency have exposed the moral insensibility of those in whom people have reposed their faith.

Maharashtra, which has in many ways been a leading State, has disgraced itself by the imperceptive manner in which the Administration has been run, especially in the last few years. Of course, the Chief Minister of the State must carry a lot of the blame for the state of affairs. Vilasrao Deshmukh, though affable and suave and intelligent, did not acquit himself well as a successful Chief Minister in his previous term. He was followed by Sushilkumar Shinde who just could not be moved to do anything worthwhile in the State. Deshmukh has done better in his present term but clearly, what the State needs is a really strong-willed and visionary Chief Minister to pull the State out of the morass that is largely a legacy of his own party. His Deputy R.R. Patil has also been unable to show his mettle during the present crisis. Unfortunately, no other person from either of the coalition partners has the stature, the image or the capability to run the State and for the present, Deshmukh appears to be the only man for the job.

Turning again to the woes of Mumbai, both the State and Municipal Corporation do not seem to have a clue on how a Mega Metropolis like Mumbai should be administered. Nor, for that matter, does the "High Command" of Deshmukh have any idea of what Mumbai is all about. This is clear from the way the one good decision taken by the well-meaning Chief Minister on demolition of the Slums was shot down by remote control by his High Command, humiliating him and leaving him red-faced. The same High Command, when the disaster hit, began to put pressure on him to perform, once again giving directions to do this or that by remote control, after having interfered in his working earlier!

While the Politicians have a public face and have naturally to bear the brunt of the public anger over the mal-administration of the State and Mumbai City, it is high time that the People focus their attention on the faceless bureaucrats too and hold them accountable for their apathy, inertia and rank inefficiency. In a Democracy, the Bureaucracy is a key component of the System. It is the duty of the Civil servants to advise the Ministers and also to execute the decisions of the Government. The recent events have exposed the weakness and inefficiencies of the Bureaucrats who have, for so long, been taking comfort in the belief that if anything went wrong, the blame would always be taken by their Political masters. It is high time that the lethargy and callousness of the Bureaucrats in the State is shaken off by a complete revamp, not by giving extensions to Secretaries as the Government is thinking of doing.

For the present though, Maharashtra and Mumbai, both continue to be in a mess. The only way to change things is for the People to explore every avenue to make the Administration more responsive and responsible. In particular, in case the Government fails to make public a fully audited account of the money receivd and spent on relief and rehabilitation, it would be worthwhile approaching the Judiciary with a Public Interest Suit.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Indian Parliament - Yeh Mera India

Here follows a sequel to an earlier article on the functioning of the Parliament of India, the largest Democracy in the World.


Agitated LS Speaker threatens to quit

Press Trust of India
Posted online: Thursday, August 04, 2005 at 1336 hours IST
Updated: Thursday, August 04, 2005 at 1408 hours IST

New Delhi, August 4: An agitated Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee today threatened to quit after a member started walking out of the House saying he was not permitted to ask a supplementary during Question Hour.

CPI-M member Tarit Baran Topdar said despite his request, he was not allowed to ask a supplementary. When he began walking out, his party colleague Mohd Salim dissuaded him from going out of the House.

Reacting to Topdar's action, Chatterjee said, "it is amazing, disturbing... let there be a new Speaker, I shall go out of the House."

Mamata throws papers at Speaker's podium, creates commotion

New Delhi, Aug. 4 (PTI): Firebrand Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, today threw a bunch of papers at the Speaker's podium creating a commotion in the Lok Sabha after she was disallowed to speak on illegal migration of Bangladeshis into West Bengal.

The notice given by Banerjee for an adjournment motion on the issue had been disallowed by Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, earlier but she insisted on raising it despite being repeatedly told by Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal, who was in the chair, that a four-hour discussion on it had already take place.

Even as some Left party members objected to her plea, Banerjee refused to take her seat and kept repeating her demand during the zero hour.

A highly agitated Banerjee thereafter rushed to the well and started crying and threw a bunch of papers at Atwal, forcing him to adjourn the House for 25 minutes.

Mamta Banerjee throws paper on LS Deputy Speaker
New Delhi | August 04, 2005 4:28:44 PM IST

New Delhi, Aug.4(ANI) : Trinamool Congress MP Mamta Banerjee today created a scene in the Lok Sabha by throwing papers on the face of Deputy Speaker, Charanjeet Singh Atwal when the latter did not permit her to speak on an adjournment motion regarding voters list in West Bengal.

Banerjee, who is the only MP of the Trinamool Congress representing West Bengal, wanted to speak about the alleged irregularities in the voters' list in West Bengal.

Atwal asked Banerjee not to persist with her demand as earlier in the day the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, had also denied her this permission because, as per rules, there could not be two adjournment motions.

Mamta Bannerjee resigns from LS
IANS[ THURSDAY, AUGUST 04, 2005 04:08:29 PM ]

NEW DELHI: Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday gave parliament a display of hysterics, shedding tears, flinging papers at the Lok Sabha speaker's chair and finally quitting amid high drama.

The lower house was stunned and forced to adjourn when Banerjee, in a fit of rage at not being allowed to speak about illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, rushed to the speaker's chair and threw the papers purportedly the list of legal and illegal voters in West Bengal in her hand.

Banerjee had come armed with facts and arguments to raise the issue in the house, and demanded time to speak out of turn.

Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal, who was presiding at the time, said her notice to discuss the issue had been denied by Speaker Somnath Chatterjee.

An enraged Banerjee held up the lists of infiltrators who were in the West Bengal voters' list, and genuine voters.

She kept shouting and waving the papers in her hand, holding up the house for half an hour.

"The speaker (Chatterjee) should explain why he disallowed the discussion. He never allowed me to speak," raged Banerjee, even as the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Congress MPs protested that she was casting aspersions on the chair.

When Atwal called on Congress MP Lal Singh to speak, Banerjee kept shouting and refused to take her seat.

Then, to everyone's surprise, she rushed to the speaker's chair and started weeping.

As the entire house, including those in the viewers and press gallery gaped open-mouthed, Banerjee threw the lists in her hand at the chair.

Atwal adjourned the house as Banerjee screamed she would resign.

Mamta throws a tantrum, quits Lok Sabha
August 04, 2005 16:46 IST

Trinamool Congress leader Mamta Banerjee submitted her resignation on Thursday to Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee after creating a commotion in the House by throwing a bunch of papers at the Speaker's podium.

Speaker adjourns House over home minister's absence
August 04, 2005 17:28 IST

Government faced embarrassing moments in the Lok Sabha on Thursday with Speaker Somnath Chatterjee adjourning the House for a short while over the absence of Home Minister Shivraj Patil when a calling attention in which he was to respond came up for discussion.

"I take a strong view of this. I don't approve of this. I am adjourning the House for 10 minutes," the speaker announced on finding the minister not present in the House.

Opposition members shouted 'shame, shame' as the speaker adjourned the proceedings.


It is clear that after over 50 years of Parliamentary Democracy in the country, nothing has been learnt about the norms of behaviour and conduct by the People's Representatives inside the Highest Legislative Body in a Democracy. It is also certain that the country and the world will continue to witness spectacles of such atrocious behaviour for a long time to come. The Representatives of the People, instead of leading by example, will continue to find an excuse for their behaviour by shamelessly claiming that they are just a reflection of the society from which they come.

Until the Representatives of the People reach maturity in thought and action, talk of influencing the World by becoming a Super Power are pure nonsense.

Shame is not on the People's Representatives alone, shame is also on the People of this country who elect them.