June 29, 2008

life in general: (part 2) ecology conservation steps

Earlier this month (1 June), I started a series of posts in which I will put up tips and suggestions for those who are sensitive towards the protection of our planet's environment and ecology. All of them will be based on my own implementation of my sensitivity that began 3-4 years ago. My first post of 1 June talked about reducing the use of cooking gas.

This is the second part and I am going to briefly touch upon an issue of the enormous wastage of water happening all around our planet by our mindless use of water. In this water post, I only touch upon our use of water from taps, showers etc in our daily lives. There are other uses of water that I am not going into in this post (one of them relates to rainwater harvesting on which i had written a long piece in 2004). The wastage is in our keeping the taps or the showers running at a high speed that is way beyond necessary. The high speed flow of water means much a lot of water goes into the drains (see an example of such wastage in the photo to the right... i picked it up on the internet from here). When we are washing our hands or our bodies we need not have a lot of water flowing to be able to clean our hands or bodies. We can make do with half the speed of the water flow (see an example of this in the photo below to the left.... i picked it up on theinter net from here).

Homes and hotels are the two places where the wastage of water in fast-flowing water taps is the most. Even hotels that incorporate timed water taps do not help because the time given to the water flow before it stops is very high. So if one wants to just use 2-3 seconds of slow flowing water the automated water taps will still throw out 5-10 seconds of fast-flowing water.

The other thing is the time factor -- how long do we keep our taps and showers running. We can immediately stop keeping taps on when brushing our teeth or shaving (for men). We can immediately stop keeping the shower on when we are applying soap on our bodies or shampoo on our hair (i have a lot to say about cutting by 50-90% of our use of soaps and shampoos, but that will follow in a later post). We can do even better. I have seen men keeping the water taps on while combing their hair or applying a few drops of water to wet their hair. This can be curbed with immediate effect.

I think we all can easily avoid excessive and longer run of water from taps and showers. Our water footprint can easily be reduced by 20-30 per cent by doing this.

June 23, 2008

life in financial markets: no point in blaming oil speculators

My initial observation tells me that it is not correct to blame traders and speculators in energy markets for the rise in prices of crude oil worldwide. Now it is the turn of Saudi Arabia's self-imposed rulers to blame the oil speculators -- read this newsreport, one among many today.

Last week, USA's commodities market regulator, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), forced the IntercontinentalExchange Futures Europe (ICE Futures Europe) to impose position limits on the futures contracts on West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Light Sweet Crude Oil. This crude is processed by US refineries and sold to American fuel-guzzlers.

This move by CFTC followed perceived fears of heavy speculation in the futures trading causing the WTI crude prices to rise sharply. There are couple of reasons why oil speculators need not be blamed for the price hike. This newsreport highlights some.

Additionally, see below a trading volume chart (click on the image for clear resolution) I prepared from ICE Futures Europe trade data below comparing WTI crude futures with Brent crude futures and showing there is no unusual surge in daily trading volume.
From the beginning of this year to 18 June the daily volume has largely ranged between 150 million barrels per day (mbpd) and 350 mbpd. The trading, in fact, has been higher in the ICE Brent Crude futures contract that has seen daily volume go as high as 500 mbpd in the last two months. Brent crude is largely processed in northwest European refineries and sold to European fuel-guzzlers.

June 19, 2008

life in general: sunrise effect 10 km above ground!

This photo was taken by me from a window seat of the 3 June 2008 Bombay-Seoul Korean Air flight (i was traveling to seoul in south korea where i stayed for two days). The time was 5.15 am and we were above north-east India at this time.

The view is of the west/northwest side (I was sitting on the left side of the plane). The sun had just begun to rise in the East. The effect of the sunrise was beautiful on the western side! The white clouds below should not be mistaken for Himalayas!

As an aside, I found it baffling that, except me, almost every passenger on this flight who were sitting on window seats had kept their window shutters down and were sleeping! Our flight had taken of at about 3.30 am from Bombay and within 90 minutes almost all the plane passengers, except me, were sleeping!
There is so much of beauty in the views outside that a lot of air travelers fail to see! Wake up, people!

What was worse was that even when the passengers on my flight were awake by 8 am, half of them still kept their window shutters fully down for the rest of the journey (total flight time was only 7 hours).

June 15, 2008

life in journalism: the delhi bias

A majority of Indian English media publications -- (newspapers and magazines -- are headquartered in Delhi even though 40-70 per cent of the news and features content would be getting generated from their Bombay bureaus. Since the headquarter is Delhi the editor-in-chief and his 1-3 deputy editors are also based in Delhi. Headquarter is where the production of pages (design, layout etc) takes place.

Now, my observation over the past many years has been that these editors have a large bias towards stories done from their Delhi staff. This gets manifested in many ways -- preferable treatment of story ideas from their Delhi team vis-a-vie those from Bombay, better positioning of stories of the Delhi journalists etc.

Why this bias? It could be the generic Delhi cronyism and favoritism at play. Merit kicks in only later.

The above does not happen 100% of the time but I would estimate it to happen 60-90% of the time depending on the publication and also depending upon who the editor-in-chief is.

June 13, 2008

life in general: who are the real encroachers in bombay?

I share below a latest email I received from Narmada Bachao Andolan on the issue of real encroachers of Bombay and connected matters.

Being a Bombayite (born, studied and worked here all along) I have myself observed the hypocrisy of Maharashtra's government officials/ministers and Bombay's municipal authorities (BMC) on what constitutes legal and illegal. Builders and companies influence them to break development rules and all other statutory norms in order to carry on reckless construction of commercial and residential properties. The police and BMC , as their agent, then complete the circle of hypocrisy by demolishing the shanties of the poor calling them illegal.

This is the state of affairs all over India, and even other countries like China, Indonesia, Malayasia and maybe even South Korea. The law is manipulated to either benefit the affluent and influential or to deny democratic rights to the poor and un-influential.

Anyway, here is that email I referred to above:


Date: 2008/6/12
Subject: [nbapresslist] Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan Members Assemble in Thousands....
To: nbapresslist@lists.riseup.net

Mumbai Update
12 June'08

* Thousands of urban poor- un-protected workers, fisherfolk, slum dwellers, street vendors of Mumbai assemble on the occasion of first convention of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan.
* What right does governments have to demolish our homes? echoes the question.
* Challenging State's hypocrisy booklet 'Who are Encroachers of Mumbai' and a periodical 'Andolan Ki Awaaz' released amidst resolution to strengthen the struggle of urban poor for justice and dignity.

On 2nd June thousands of urban poor of Mumbai representing the more than 7000 members of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan converged at Azad Maidan to participate in the first convention of the Andolan. Women in large numbers and in majority, attended the convention that went on till 9 p.m. to discuss and strategise on issues ranging from right to housing to the encroachments of the elite, right to basic services including water, health, education and food, and the obstacles in realising the same. The Convention had attendance of unorganised sector workers, slum dwellers, fish workers and hawkers.

The convention was inaugurated by Justice (Retd.) Suresh H, and addressed by Laxman Gaikwad-leader of Denotified Tribals, Medha Thatte(Shramik Mahila Sangatan, Pune), Neera Adarkar(Girni Kamghar Sangharsh Samiti), Shailesh Gandhi(NCPRI) Right to Information Activist, Shaktiman Ghosh(National Hawkers Federation), Seemantani Dhuru(Avehi-Right to Education Campaign), Adv. Shakeel Ahmed, Neha(CEHAT), Anand Patwardhan (Documentary Maker), Sambaji Bhagat (Cultural Activist), Medha Patkar (Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan-NAPM,NBA) and others.

While inaugurating the convention Justice Suresh raised the question 'what right does governments have to demolish the houses of the poor when right to housing is part and parcel of Right to Life guaranteed under the Constitution of India?' He declared the policy of Government of Maharashtra of applying cut-off date as inhuman, illegal as well as violation of the Constitution. He gave the call of raising struggles at multiple fronts to oppose the anti-people policies of present day governments, be it setting up of SEZs or repeal of Urban Land Ceiling Act.

His call for struggle was seconded by Laxman Gaikwad, leader-activist associated with the de-notified tribes of Maharashtra. He drew the attention of those present towards the irony of how historically and even today, those who are earning their bread-butter by engaging in back breaking labour are labelled as criminals and encroachers, while those who are real criminals are holders of sets of power as MPs, MLAs and corporate heads.

Raising the issue of real encroachers of Mumbai, a booklet 'Who Are the Encroachers in Mumbai' was released on the occasion by Medha Thate. The booklet contains detailed cases of the encroachments of the elite over lands in Mumbai. The quoted cases include those of Atria Shopping Mall constructed by encroaching over land reserved for housing the dis-housed, 60 storied twin towers- illegally constructed over land reserved for a 12 meter wide road; scam of Hiranandani Gardens for which 230 acres of land has been leased out at the rate of 40 paise per acre. After the release of the booklet, members of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan resolved to enter upon one of these encroachments and demand their removal in near future. A fortnightly 'Andolan Ki Awaaz' was also released during the sammelan which will be regularly brought out by the Andolan.

The issue of Hawker's & Street Vendors was raised by Shaktiman Ghosh of National Hawkers Federation who lambasted the UPA government and respective state governments of not implementing the National Street Vendors & Hawkers Policy in spite of the orders of the Supreme Court. He drew attention towards the exploitation and harassment that the hawkers have to face even in left ruled state of West Bengal. Hyder Imam of Pheriwala Vikas Sangthana, an affiliate organisation of the Andolan drew attention towards the fact that everyday, lakhs of rupees was being collected from hawkers of Mumbai by the nexus of Police-Municipal Authorities-Politicians who are violating the citizens' right to life. While on the lands reserved for hawkers as retail markets are being encroached by the builder mafia as in Walkeshwar where a 40 storied building has been illegally constructed or be it the case of McDonalds Restaurant outside VT Station which has been challenged by Sangthana in the High Court, two sets of laws are being applied; one for the rich and other for the poor.

Urban Poor's right to basic services like housing, water, health, education and food was asserted by speakers like Sailesh Gandhi, Neha, Semantani Dhuru, Mahatam Mouraya, Kausalya Salvi, Prabjot Kaur and others. Rights of these services were forcefully reiterated by the slogans of thousands of members of the Andolan that were present for the Sammelan. Role of financial institutions and corporates like World Bank, ADB, McKinsey International, Reliance, in
encroaching and violating the constitutional and human rights of urban poor like during the implementation of Bank funded MUTP or drafting Vision Mumbai statements.

In the afternoon a delegation from the Sammelan went and met the Chief Minister, Shri Vilas Rao Deshmukh. He was made aware of the issues being raised by those present and asked to give a date on which there could be a conclusive meeting, this demand was accepted and in the next few days such a meeting would be taking place.

The Sammelan ended with those present taking a pledge to continue with their struggle of renewing cities based on the principle of equity and justice with renewed vigor and strength.

June 07, 2008

life in financial markets: equity derivatives trading in india under threat from singapore exchange?

I usually notice that when a change in a regulatory policy is made in India's equity market in response to some perceived negative impact of an existing policy. On a particular issue a wrong action is taken for a wrong reason whereas the same issue demands right action for the right reason. Stuff happens because of all this. I wrote something last week about such a case for the magazine I work for. Here it is:


Regulatory arbitrage is causing derivatives trading volume in Indian indices shift to overseas exchanges gradually but dangerously

In the last couple of weeks, despite the trading action in the Indian stock market being subdued due to the bear grip, the liquidity of Indian equity units listed abroad has risen. Some market players in India are apprehensively watching this trend as it means the revenue from brokerage, depository operations and other intermediary activities, that otherwise would occur here, is now shifting overseas bit by bit.

On the Singapore Exchange's (SGX's) derivatives trading segment, the last seven months (from November 2007) has seen multiple times increase in the value of trades and open interest positions in its listed-futures contract on India's most actively traded index – the National Stock Exchange's (NSE's) 50-stock Nifty. The number of Nifty futures traded in the first ten months in 2007 averaged at just 16,202 per month. From November 2007 to May this year this has zoomed to 744408 Nifty units per month, a 45 times increase.

There is a reason for this. Many global hedge funds and some global equity investors prefer to take country exposure through an investment in futures contracts on the leading index of that country. In the core 2005-07 period of the bull run, these investors did this for India through the Nifty futures traded on the NSE. It was done through participatory notes (P-notes) issued by foreign institutional investors (FIIs) where the underlying Indian asset was Nifty futures. These accounted for a third of all FII investments through P-notes.

The central government, in order to curb the sliding rupee due to very high dollar inflows, made the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) ban FIIs from issuing P-notes that had derivatives as underlying and impose tight limits on the rest of the P-notes. This happened in October 2007. "It is no coincidence, therefore, that the November-onwards rise in Nifty futures volumes on the SGX coincides with the Sebi ban," says Sanju Verma, head of institutional business, at HDFC Securities.

Nifty futures is one of a couple of other international indices' futures traded on the SGX. The average traded value of Nifty futures in SGX is now around 15 per cent of that on the NSE (see graphs 'Kidling tries to overtake adult') (click on the two graphs below to enlarge them so that they can be viewed clearly) and the open interest position is still higher at around 60 per cent. The same corresponding figures in the first ten months of last year used to be 2-5 per cent and 10-12 per cent.

The threat. Can the Indian market lose its liquidity and trading volumes to other markets even as global equity investors continue, by and large, to get the exposure on India they seek? "The SGX Nifty futures trading seem like a kidling now but it will ignite at some point when most investors realise they get better liquidity there," says Ajay Shah, a senior fellow at the Institute of National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. "It is premature for me to comment on the threat but if your overseas client is not trading through you in India your business will reduce," says Trivikram Kamath, senior vice president of operations, finance and technology at Kotak Securities.

It will not be a first in case it happens. "In SGX, it has happened in the past that international indices had more volumes than the home exchange," says Ashok Jain, managing director of Arihant Capital Markets, a NSE brokerage firm. Jain also weighs the pros and cons: "there is a genuine risk of business shifting overseas but we believe it will create new business and improve depth and allocation to Indian equities."

There are also over 15 exchange-traded funds (ETFs) based on Nifty or Sensex being traded on overseas exchanges in Europe and US, including on the SGX. Trading volume in these ETFs are however not significant yet to worry about. But it is picking up, at least in comparison with trades in depository receipts of Indian companies (ADRs in the US and GDRs in European exchanges).

A recent analysis done by Instanex Capital, a Bombay-based investment advisor, revealed that during October 2007 to March this year the trading volume in eight Indian ETFs listed in the US (four in NYSE and four in Nasdaq) made up for 16 per cent of the total trading in ADRs, GDRs and the eight ETFs. Its share was more than the 12 per cent share of GDRs while the balance 73 per cent was in ADRs.

Regulatory arbitrage (due to P-note restrictions) apart, increasing transaction costs can also provide an impetus to an impending transfer of domestic liquidity to international markets. Since the last one month the effect of the removal of tax benefits on securities transaction tax is being seen. "It has not only killed arbitrage volumes but impaired price discovery and led to fall in depth and breadth in the futures and options space," says HDFC Securities' Verma. "Why would FIIs want to trade in a market which is fraught with poor depth and even the cost of transacting is higher."

The way forward. BW learns that under the new Sebi chairman, C.B. Bhave, there is an openness to re-consider the ban on P-notes having derivatives as underlying. "The ban will be replaced with limits similar to those on P-notes with cash market positions as underlying," says a senior vice president, global transaction services, of a foreign-bank custodian that along with other custodians have been in extensive dialogue with Sebi in recent weeks.

Such dialogues resulted in Bhave recently reversing his own step in imposing upfront (initial) margins to FIIs for their trades in the cash market with effect from 16 June. Now, FIIs have to pay the initial margin on T+1.

For an opportunistic government, the dollar inflows problem seems to have subsided as seen from the latest relaxation in the external commercial borrowing norms. That might give Bhave a chance to persuade the government to allow it to relax the curbs on P-notes as well.

But it was also the issue of Indian hot money being routed through P-notes that was of concern to market players if not the government. Contrary to such concerns, Sebi, on 29 May, relaxed its FII regulations to allow international funds set up by non-resident Indians to be eligible for registration as FIIs in India with the proviso that they would not be permitted to invest their proprietary funds. "A well thought out approach that distinguishes between hot money and long term flows is required, though that is again easier said than done," says Verma.

In the meanwhile, the traders in many of the domestic brokerage firms look at SGX but not with wariness. The SGX opens when the Indian time is only around 7 am. They take cues from of the change in Nifty futures as a reaction to other global markets and events that happened overnight. "That Nifty is actively traded abroad only shows India is a hot destination and it is wrong to say that it is coming at the cost of volumes here," says R. Venkatraman, executive director at India Infoline.

But it is often the case that those could get hurt the most do not realise until it is too late. When NSE started its equities market in November 1994 with counterparty risks removed through the settlement guarantee it sucked in the greater part of liquidity from that on the BSE. Even though BSE followed suit after 2-3 years the comfort level of investors—domestic or institutional, large or small0—was established with the NSE. Today, the cash market trading volume on the NSE is more than double that of the BSE. The SGX threat should not be dismissed lightly.

June 01, 2008

life in general: (part 1) ecology conservation steps

I am beginning a series of posts where I will put up tips and suggestions for those who are sensitive towards the protection of our planet's environment and ecology. All of them will be based on my own implementation of my sensitivity that began 3-4 years ago. These tips will apply to affluent people earning high incomes – they could be living in cities or small towns or even villages; it does not matter because I have seen ecologically-insensitive consumption take place even in rich villagers' homes and fields.

In this first part of the series, I take the issue of the carbon (and other hazardous substances') footprint involved in the cooking of food.

Cooking is usually done using liquefied petroleum gas (in LPG gas cylinders) or electric current (in case of electric rice cookers, ovens, microwave etc). We can reduce our footprint here by cutting down on the quantity of the gas or electric power. There are various ways of doing that.

We can avoid excessive heating of our food or tea. Say a dal or any other gravy dish is being made. Once it starts boiling we can put the gas burner on low flame and switch it off completely after the spices and other ingredients have got reasonably seeped into the gravy.

The lesser the time needed for cooking the better. For this very season, we can cut down substantially on fried foods that require higher temperatures (that means burning gas on full flame) and longer cooking time. The cooking oil used here is a lot too. All cooking oils are heavily processed items made in large manufacturing units that require large power consumptions and also sometimes ecologically-damaging waste products.

It may be difficult to give up fried foods completely for those of us who love their taste and flavour, but we can reduce their consumption by anywhere between 10 and 90 per cent. We can even try doing it in phases – 10 per cent in the first 3 months, another 10 per cent in the next 3 months and so on. Alternatively, we can completely not have fried foods for an extended period of one month 3-4 times a year, our consumption will be down by 25-33 per cent in the first year itself.

Not just fried foods, but there are other dishes too that require extensive cooking. Non-vegetarian

When making tea or coffee many boil the tea leaves in water (mixed with milk for those who don't drink black tea) uptil a few minutes after the boiling point is reached. Here, there is ample scope for reduction. We can cut down drastically the post-boiling length. We can also change the way we make tea. For instance, I make my tea by boiling water first (before i switch on the gas burner I add mint leaves to the water so that is flavour can get seeped in the water).

As soon as the water starts boiling {that takes about 2-3 minutes for one cupful of water quantity (see the photo to the right, (thats water and mint leaves being readied for my cup of tea!) and 3-4 minutes for two cupfuls and so on...} I reduce the burner to low flame. After a minute, I switch off the gas, immediately put one (or more as required) teaspoons of tea leaves in the boiled water and cover the container with a lid (see the photo below). In a tea cup, I add sugar and milk (i use just one-half of a teaspoon of milk), and after 3-4 minutes I take out the lid and pour the tea in the cup through a strainer.

In this process of making tea I use less of cooking gas and also achieve another saving. When tea leaves are simmered in boiling water-&-milk the container gets grimy with the stickiness of milk and the fermented juices of boiled tea leaves. This grime is not there when you boil just water (with or without mint-leaves/other-herbs-or-spices added to it), add only tea leaves to it after switching off the gas and use the milk directly in your teacup.

Less grime means much less water required to wash the containers. Using less water is one of the ways we contribute our bit to the conservation of natural resources in more ways than one (that I will take in a later post).

To cook food we use various types of containers, pans and tawas (plates). Here we could try to use less number of utensils and container. When we use less of them we also buy less of them and when we buy less of them we reduce the carbon footprint involved in the manufacturing of those containers and utensils. Also, if we are making two dishes we can check if the same container or pan can be re-used instead of using two different ones. We can, for instance, use the same steel pressure cooker when making two gravy items (one dal and one with vegetables). After the first one is made, transfer it in a serving bowl and re-use the cooker for the second one. This also helps in reducing the water needed when we wash the utensils. The less the number the less the water and also less work for the maid that most of us hire to do the dishes and for other household work and also chemical-based dish washing liquid or paste we use for cleaning the cooking vessels.

The same can be done for the container (like the one in the picture above) in which we make tea or coffee. When we are drinking 2-4 cups of tea in a span of a few hours we can use the same container after removing the previous tea's boiled leaves (that incidentally can be

There are some who generally use less of them for cooking but buy more of larger sizes to cater to serving guests and for party occasions. I don't know what the solution could be here except that we can try to buy less of such rare-occasion dishes/utensils/containers notwithstanding little compromises we would have to make on the social front.

Even the type of containers or vessels we use for cooking can make a difference. Teflon-coated non-stick pans and vessels can be avoided because Teflon is a plastic additive and the manufacturing process involves the release a lot of noxious chemicals and hazardous waste products. For the tawa we can use earthern tawas to make rotis that does not require oil or butter and for other items the tawa can be an iron tawa instead of a teflon-coated non-stick tawa.