August 30, 2008

life in general: looking up!

Looking up? Eh?!

Financial markets in India and elsewhere looking up? Nah! Not now. It could, though, after another year or so. Till then, sit back and relax!

But what's looking up or what ought to be looking up are we humans! In our daily lives, we are all the time either looking at our computer/TV screens or horizontally straight ahead or down. Do we look up? We could do with a lot of looking up, up in the sky. The photo below is a view of the beautiful sky line outside my home window. The white clouds effect is also lovely. I took the pic at about 11 am three days back (27 August). In the photo you are looking to the south. I stay on the fourth floor of a seven-storeyed building.

August 29, 2008

life in financial markets: currency derivatives on an exchange platform

Exchange-traded currency derivatives went live today on the National Stock Exchange.

Its is a big thing for the Indian financial markets. I wrote something on it for the magazine I work for and I share it below. As I write this post (2.10 pm), the trading volume on the dollar futures contract was already a decent Rs 135 crore or US$31.54 million. Check here for more real-time price and trading info -->

My write-up:

Better for all
Exchange-traded currency futures takes off amid expectations of benefits from increased transparency and competitiveness
After much labour pangs the exchange-traded futures market has taken birth on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) on 29 August in its new currency derivatives segment with around 500 broker-members. The interesting bit is that this new baby appears to have many uncles and aunties wanting to play with it for joy and profit. The NSE had been preparing for the launch since the past few weeks since a RBI-Sebi (Reserve Bank of India-Securities and Exchange Board of India) Standing Technical Committee on exchange traded currency futures gave the green signal in its report released on 29 May this year after 13 months of deliberations.

Day traders and speculators from the existing derivatives markets in equities and commodities would be looking for volatility-based profit opportunities. The minimum contract size of $1000 (about Rs 43,000 at current rates) in Dollar futures is even smaller than the equity derivatives contracts where the minimum is above Rs 2 lakh. That makes it attractive even for small speculators.

Exporters, importers, banks and even domestic companies reliant on commodities such as crude oil, gold and copper whose prices swing as per international markets' prices are expected to either switch from—or split existing exposure from—over-the-counter (OTC) currency forward market to the new exchange-traded currency futures market. For the first time, seen in currency derivatives, banks have been permitted to have direct membership of a financial exchange unlike in the equities and commodity derivatives space where they enter through their 100 per cent subsidiaries.

Another exchange, a subsidiary company of commodity derivatives exchange, Multi Commodity Exchange, is likely to join the NSE in a month in the race for launching currency futures that also sees the Bombay Stock Exchange and National Multi Commodity Exchange following later on.

Transparency in foreign exchange dealings is expected to increase as exchange-traded currency futures will do away with all the limitations of an OTC forward market like carterlisation by banks' treasuries and forex dealers, phone-based deals, front running, pricing reporting inefficiencies and narrow participation. “Even in the spot market when companies and others go for conversion of rupees into dollars or vice versa, the exchange-traded Dollar futures will bring about transparency and competition among banks,” says Satish Menon, director of operations in Geojit Financial, an equities (cash and derivatives) member of NSE and BSE that has now also taken currency derivatives membership on the NSE. “One issue is that whichever exchange first attracts the most trading volume the most might be the only one surviving in this space.”

Certain restrictions imposed by the RBI-Sebi committee report are likely to plague the functioning of the exchange-traded contracts. First is limiting the futures contract to only dollar currency. The ones who need it the most for hedging, the exporters and importers, are increasingly exposed to non-dollar currencies such as the Euro, Yen, Yuan and Pound. “Exposures are all over the place and it's best to offer a comprehensive bouquet of products,” says Ajay Shah, senior fellow at National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. Secondly, options contracts would enable more efficient hedging and arbitraging but is not allowed at present. Participation of foreign institutional investors and non-resident Indians is not permitted.

These could hinder the success of exchange-traded currency futures market. “The right way to launch a market is to put all your kindling into the fire right at the outset,” says Ajay Shah, senior fellow at the Indian Institute of Finance. “If the launch fails, you're holding nothing and all your remaining kindling (permission for FIIs, options, Rupee/Euro etc.) is worthless.” We second that.

August 24, 2008

life in financial markets: blinkered ratan tata

The media and the affluent sections of the Indian public have put him on a high pedestal that he does not deserve. Ratan Tata, the chairman of the Tata Group (having Tata Steel, Tata Chemicals, Tata Power etc), is a hypocrite.
Two days back, he was commenting on the situation at the West Bengal-government-leased land in Singur given to Tata Motors for its Nano car project. There was an
unfortunate violent incident where some over-zealous protestors against the car plant ended up badly injuring an engineer of Tata Motors when he tried to video-record on his cellphone the protestors' entry in the factory.
So, Mr. Tata, threatened that he will
shift the factory to some other state because other states (Orissa, Maharashtra and 1/2/3 more states perhaps) were vying with him to put its Nano plant in their states. There is no justification for the attack on the company employee but Mr. Tata should remove the blinkers from his eyes and see the violence committed against many villagers at the time of acquisition of land for his factory. The police, at the behest of West Bengal government and Tata Motors, had brutally beaten up all those villagers who resisted the forced acquistion of their lands (who says capitalists like Ratan Tata respect the right to property? they don't, when it comes to property other than their own).
In March 2007, Tehelka weekly magazine had done a detailed story on the issues in Singur and Nandigram. The points made in that story are as, if not more, relevant today. I present at the end below the full story (as taken from here, here and here).
In that issue, Tehelka's journalist also interviewed the managing director of Tata Motors, Ravi Kant. When asked "Apparently the government is spending close to Rs 140 crore of public funds to acquire that land for your project. However, Tata will pay only Rs 20 crore back after 5 years of receiving the land, and at minimal interest. How is this justified? Is the government a shareholder in the project?" Mr. Kant answered as all facts-hiding companies do: "The commercial terms are not in the public domain, and therefore I will not comment on whether your facts are correct or incorrect. The land is being leased to us. It is part of the benefit, the state government is providing to match incentives being offered by other competing states." Read the entire interview here.
Surely, there are many more companies, beyond the Tata group companies, in India (such as those from the corporate groups of Reliance, Essar, Adani, DLF, Unitech, Birla, Wadia etc) and in countries like China, Indonesia, South Korea etc that are extracting high amounts of subsidies from their governments. It is long over-due that affluent urban and semi-urban consumers of the world cut their consumptions by at least half so that their reduced demand for products and services will cut these companies to size.

Here then is the Tehelka story:

Singur and Nandigram have forced renewed debate on some of the most burning questions of our time. Shoma Chaudhury travels to the hotspots to trace the roots of unrest and its lessons. Photographs by Shibani Chaudhury

The first thing you experience when you enter Singur is shock. There are reasons why many critical tensions of our time have come brimming forth in this small agrarian community. When you are there, you understand why. Singur has been in the news for eight months, but nothing in the media has prepared you for the beauty or prosperity of the place. This is not a destitute patch of barren land from which people should want to be evicted for some monetary compensation. Singur is emerald country. Even an urban cynic, unmoved by pastoral idylls, can see in an instant that this is no poor man’s burden. Land here is wealth. Singur is merely 45 kilometres from Kolkata, runs flush along the Durgapur highway, and lies between the Damodar, Hooghly and Kana rivers. Almost every villager’s house here is pucca, a secure shelter of cement and polished red stone. The fields are lush with crop — rice, jute, potato, and a myriad vegetables. And every 500 yards there is a pond swimming with ducks. Beauty never plays a role in the reckonings of macroeconomics. That could be a mistake. Human beings respond to beauty. They defend the things they love. The colour green has meaning in Singur. It lives. It has a weight and texture and smell that is easy to forget in a city. It spells generations of rootedness in land. It spells a self-sufficient way of life that people are willing to fight and die for. (caption for the photo to the right: The frontline: A women's rally in Nandigram protesting against false FIRs and arrests)

Singur first slipped into the news in May last year. Soon after the Left Front government was sworn into power for the seventh time in a row in West Bengal, the CM, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya announced that Tata Motors was going to set up a car factory in Singur. Bengal has been suffering a stagnant economy for decades. This was to be the proud flagship of a new, aggressively industrialising Bengal. In popular middle-class imagination, the Tata name usually equals progress and growth. But trouble began almost immediately. Rallies, demonstrations, petitions, and then as the government persisted in acquiring the land, escalating tension and violence. September 25 and December 2, 2006, are folkloric dates in Singur. Scores of villagers are still smarting at the memory of the police action, lathi charge, tear gas, rubber bullets and arrests. For us, in our safe enclaves, these words have lost meaning with overuse. Unless one faces the might of the State oneself, one cannot approximate the pain of wood thudding on skin, the searing burn of tear gas. One cannot approximate the fear and anger ordinary people feel on the ground. On September 25, about 7,000 workers led by the Krishi Jami Rakha Committee — a conglomeration of parties, activists, and workers’ groups — had gathered at the Block Development Office to protest anomalies in the disbursal of compensation. In the police action that followed, Rajkumar Bhool, the 24-year-old son of a landless couple, was so badly beaten he collapsed by a pond and died. Several people were injured and 72 activists, including 27 women and a two- and-a-half-year-old girl, were arrested, several under Section 307 of the IPC, that is “attempt to murder.” This incident increased the groundswell of anger. In response, the government clamped Section 144 of the Cr PC on the Singur region. On December 2, flanked by police, as the government began to fence off the acquired land, thousands of people gathered to stop the fencing. They were lathi-charged by the police and the Rapid Action Force (RAF). Women complained of verbal and physical abuse. Sixty villagers were arrested, 18 among them women. All were charged with IPC, Section 307. On December 18, 18-year-old Tapasi Malik’s body was found smouldering in the fields. Since then, Singur has continued to boil, with the government asserting that the Tata Motors small car factory would come up there at any cost.

(caption for the 3 photos alongside: The colour green has meaning in Singur. It lives. It spells generations of rootedness in land)

One might wonder why one should be concerned with local trouble over a small car factory project in a faraway place. In fact, most people in urban India reading about Singur in small news snippets say, “But the farmers are being paid adequate compensation, why don’t they move?” Or as an Indian friend from America put it, even more dismissively, “Oh Singur — that Mamata Banerjee drama!” He could’ve been speaking for almost all of India’s middle-class.

Sitting in Delhi and Bombay and Bangalore, it is difficult to imagine what’s going on in these places. But Singur, and much more powerfully, Nandigram, the other seething faultline in Bengal, are not just about “adequate compensation” and competitive party politics. They are white hot samples — symptoms — of what’s happening in every corner of India. Raigad, Kalinganagar, Dadri, Kalahandi, Kakinada, Aurangabad, Bijapur, Chandrapore, Haripur, Bachera, Chowringa, Tirupati, Mand. The underlying stories everywhere are the same. Land takeover in the name of development or big industry. Summary eviction and displacement. Inadequate compensation. Lack of informed consent. Police action and state oppression. The breakdown of democratic process. And the arrogant sense that unless you have a high, urban standard of living and speak English, you are not a legitimate Indian.

By raising the temperature then, Singur and Nandigram have brought to head several of the most crucial questions of our time. Which path to development is India taking? One custom-built to fit its complex socio-political realities, or one imposed top down? How democratic is that path? Who will bear the “pain of growth”? What will shining India do with simmering India? And most importantly, if our governments do not course correct, how will simmering India express itself? It is undoubtedly true that sections of India have seen massive growth in the last five years. We, in the urban centres, who have benefited from that economic buoyancy, we who are coasting on massive salaries and a giddy new buying power, might find it difficult to see this as lopsided growth, but the most hawkish reformer would find it hard to deny that India’s galloping gdp is being forged on an under-layer of deep resentment.
And lava always finds its volcanic mouth. Visit the first house in Singur and the stories start to flow. Srikant Koley, 31, a swarthy, muscular man, used to own five bighas of land in Gopalnagar. This has been acquired for the Tata project and now falls within the fenced-off area. From being a self-sufficient farmer, he has become a daily-wage labourer. Yet he refuses compensation. Leaning scornfully on his cycle, pointing to the rich vegetable patch around him, he says, “We hear the Tatas have spent Rs 1,50,000 crore to acquire Corus, and here it is using the government to forcibly take our land away on subsidised rates? Are they such big beggars? Our land is our wealth, it is our life’s security. I’ll gift them my land then, but I will not take money for it.” “If I sell out, what will happen to the people who work on my field,” asks 50-year-old, Pratap Ghosh, owner of three and a half acres of land, now fenced off. A giant granary towers behind him. “Who will watch out for the discontent and unrest this is going to create? We are a community, we help each other. We can’t all be absorbed by the Tata factory. If I sell, I’ll just be creating dacoits in my own house. Money is temporary, how long can it last? Land is perennial.”

Everywhere you go, the refrain is the same. Money is temporary. Land is perennial. It is true. Most people in Singur have tiny land holdings — often no more than a few cottahs or bighas, which is less than an acre. Given the fertility of the land, this is enough to afford people a proud, self-sufficient life, selling would earn most of them nothing more than a couple of lakhs, at the offered rate of Rs 8-12 lakh an acre. Where would they go with this little money? What work would they do? Most development projects have turned rooted, centuries-old communities into unwanted, roving urban populations. The Tata factory will take the farmers’ lands but not their dwellings. Why should farmers want this? As Shantana Malik, a feisty woman with a gift for acerbic doggerel, says, “Why should I sell my land and swab their floors? We have enough to feed all of us; we don’t need to become menial workers in their houses. This land is my mother. I am ready to die for it. I will fight but I will not sell.”The Left Front government and the Tatas have repeatedly asserted that the trouble in Singur has been crafted by the agitational politics of Mamata Banerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress. (See the interview with the Tata Motors MD on page 13) They could be right. Singur is largely a Trinamool stronghold and Becharam Manna, one of the main convenors of the Krishi Jami Rakha Committee, spearheading the movement in Singur, is a Trinamool leader. (Incidentally, he is currently in Calcutta Medical Hospital, brutally beaten by the police, and off-limits for media.) But as Ranabir Samaddar, director, Calcutta Research Group says, political parties cannot create a people’s movement unless there is genuine local combustion.

(caption to the photo on the left: Easy picking: Police clear up a protest in Kolkata against the Tata plant AP Photo)
That this combustion exists seems undoubted. For one, the government and the Tatas assert that hundreds of locals are already working voluntarily in the fenced off land. To a casual visitor, this seems like a false claim. The fenced area is patrolled by large contingents of police, and almost every visible worker on the field wields a lathi. Merely approaching the fence arouses startling hostility. The government and Tata Motors also assert that 600 of the 997 acres have been paid for and consensually acquired. Activists and locals assert that dissenting affidavits for 447 acres has been filed in the Calcutta High Court. Whatever the true arithmetic, the unrest in Singur has raised concerns that a neutral ear would find it hard not to be drawn into.
The most burning issue among these is the politics of land. According to Debabrata Bandhopadhyaya (ex-director, Asian Development Bank, former secretary, ministry of rural development, and the current Bihar Land Reforms Commissioner), in its bid to re-industrialise, the Left Front government is bent upon acquiring 1,40,000 (one lakh forty thousand) acres of agricultural land. This is an astronomical figure. How justified is it?
One has to travel physically to Singur or Nandigram — or any of the contentious development spots in the country — to understand the scale of what is being spoken about. Imagine your home, your life — all of sprawling South Delhi, for instance — suddenly being acquired for a cutting edge space satellite project you will have no relation with. Imagine yourself being given no room for negotiation. Imagine yourself becoming a pawn to “public purpose”. Imagine yourself being asked to move and give up your job for a paltry sum of money. Imagine yourself being asked to carve a new life for yourself elsewhere — no one can tell you where. Now reverse the situation.
Under what circumstances is the takeover of agricultural land for industry a fair transaction? Defenders of capitalist globalisation and big industry say that big projects like the Tata Motors small car factory will generate thousands of jobs and kick start a sluggish economy. But there are already 56,000 factories lying shut in Bengal, and almost 3.7 million acres of uncultivable land, argue opponents. Why not start new industries there? A survey of just 500 sick or closed industry units by Webcon (a wing of the government) has revealed almost 42,000 acres of acquired land lying unused in Bengal. What would a land availability survey of 56,000 factories reveal?
It is in this context that the unrest in Singur becomes more understandable. The government is acquiring land in Singur — which has 220 percent crop density — under the archaic 1894 Land Acquisition Act, citing “public purpose”. But what is “public purpose” about a private, profit making project, people ask, regardless of the jobs it might generate? The Left Front government is apparently spending Rs 140 crore on acquiring the land. But the Tatas will pay only Rs 20 crore after 5 years of getting the land. Why should the government incur this cost on behalf of a private company? Why is it playing intermediary? And is the price for land being offered really fair? Recently, in Rajarhat, a suburb of Kolkata, land was reportedly acquired by hidco, a wing of the government at Rs 5,000-Rs 15,000 a cottah. Today, the price of land there is Rs 10-20 lakh a cottah. The Tatas were shown four other sites. Why did they pick Singur, 45 kilometres from Kolkata?
There are other issues at Singur. Monetary compensation to landowners does not take into account the thousands of sharecroppers and landless daily labourers who are dependent on this land for their livelihood. Who will square with their dispossession, their eviction from a symbiotic community system? As Pratap Ghosh says, “Who will watch out for all the discontent this is going to create?”
In many ways, Singur has been the most interesting test case of the latent tensions roiling across the country, because all the “best practices” players have collided here. The Left Front has traditionally been a pro-people, pro-labour party. The Tatas are widely seen as one of the most ethical business houses, a company of nation builders. And Bengal itself is a highly literate state with a strong tradition of people’s movements. Their collision was bound to sediment the questions that have been lurking just below the surface of India’s new economy.
The impact of Singur on Bengal politics cannot be overestimated. It has created unlikely bedfellows of the Congress, suci, Trinamool and the BJP. But even at its whitest heat, Singur was merely the dry run to the real catalyst that has shifted political alignments and changed the tone of development conversations not just in Bengal, but the rest of the country.
Nandigram. Entering Nandigram in East Midnapore, four hours from Kolkata, is like entering a zone of civil war. At Chandramarhi, 15 odd kilometres from Nandigram, one’s car is stopped by raging cpm cadres. Fists are banged on bonnet, door handles are tested violently. Angry voices ask what one’s business is in Nandigram. A press card gets you through, but the police have to restrain the surging cadres. We have lost family members too, they shout. Write about us too. At Nandigram, the scene is a concave mirror. The area is a fortress. No car can enter. Villagers have cut off access by digging massive trenches in their roads every few hundred yards. Bridges have been broken. All night vigils are kept. The slightest hint of trouble and the sound of azaan rents the air, conch shells start to blow. Thousands gather with sticks and household sickles.
Again, no account in the media can prepare you for the physical reality. The sheer scale of the intended land takeover takes your breath away. Thirty-eight mouzas. More than a 100 villages. A land rich in rice, coconut, fish, and betel leaf. The revolt seems almost inevitable. Nandigram is Singur magnified thousand fold. There is no mistaking the groundswell. Here, no one can point at political foul play. No one can allege Mamata’s hand. Nandigram has been a Left Front stronghold for 35 years. Almost 80 percent of its population votes for constituents of the Left Front. Yet today, almost all the villagers of Nandigram are estranged from the party. Threat to their land has forged a new identity. Bhoomi Ucched Protirodh Committee — a people’s movement unlike any in recent time. Comprised of local villagers, left intellectuals, Naxal groups, Congress, suci, tmc, pdci, and the Jamait-e-Ulema-i-Hind. We will give our blood, not our land. That’s the war cry. Nandigram is an 80 percent Muslim area. But Hindus or Muslims, you can’t tell the difference. And the women are leading from the front.
There are reasons why many of the critical tensions of our time have found a volcanic mouth in Nandigram. The region has a proud history. A role in the Khilafat movement of 1921, the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, and the 1942 movement against the British. Pichuboni, their forefathers used to shout, we will not turn back. That clarion call has found an echo in what the reputed writer Mahasweta Devi calls, “the greatest freedom struggle of this new century.” Nandigram was also the crucible of the Tebhaga Movement, the legendary peasant struggle of 1946. It is trained in the politics of land. It has a ready list of local heroes to draw from: Khudiram Bose, Matangini Hydra, and ironically, the cpm leader, Bhopal Panda.
News of an impending acquisition had been doing the rounds in Nandigram since July, 2006. The Jamait-e-Ulema-i-Hind — a Muslim body led by Siddiqullah Choudhury and Abdus Samad — supported by cpi (ml) activists like Sumit Sinha, and left wing intellectuals like Pranab Banerjee and Debojit Dutta of the Forum of Free Thinkers, had been working the villages, holding corner meetings, seeking people’s opinion. Six hundred forms had been distributed asking people what their earnings were and whether they wanted to part with their land. Only 12 had consented. So on January 2, when the cpm leader Lakshman Seth and the Haldia Development Council announced the summary acquisition of 28,000 acres of land for a chemical hub and sez by the Salem Group (known for its strong links with the dictatorial Suharto regime), Nandigram was a filament waiting to catch fire.
The stories of repressive State violence and breakdown of democratic processes in Singur and Nandigram are depressingly the same. Arrests, lathi-charge, illegal detention. On January 3, a deputation of several hundred villagers went to the Gram Panchayat office in Kalicharanpur to enquire about the acquisition. They were brutally attacked by armed police at Bhuta Morh. Several villagers were injured. A police jeep also caught fire. Over the next few days, there was a steady build up of police and cpm goons across the canal in neighbouring Khejuri. On the night of January 6, fresh violence broke out. cpm cadres stormed Nandigram at Sonachura village. Four villagers including a 13-year-old boy were killed. The villagers retaliated by setting Shankar Samanta, a cpm leader, on fire. The trail of violence and counter-violence has continued unabated since. Khejuri is still a war zone. But the bleary-eyed villagers will not cave in.
SEZs have come to be the most bitterly argued economic idea in recent times. They have sent a rift down governments in Bengal, the Centre, and several other states. Their defenders tell you they are high incentive zones meant to woo big export oriented industries. In fact, they are a thinly disguised ploy for real estate profiteering. As things stand, sezs are the East India Company all over again. They are constructed to be duty free enclaves within the country that are beyond its jurisdiction. They will have huge tax holidays, no labour laws, no excise duties, no restrictions on foreign direct investment. They will have unfair advantage over companies operating in domestic tariff areas. They will be governed by independent commissioners with extraordinary powers. They will be built on huge tracts of land, running into thousands of acres, acquired often by force by the government for “public purpose”. Yet developers will have to use only 25 percent of the land for industry. A whopping 75 percent of the land can be used for other purposes. As AB Bardhan, general secretary of the cpi, says, “Nandigram should be a lesson. Which industrial project requires 10,000 acres or 5,000 acres, or even 1,000 acres? sezs are just a way of giving land cheap to developers.”
The list of negatives is even longer than that. But whichever side of the argument you are on, no one can deny that the worst thing about the sezs is the rampant pace at which they have been introduced in the country. Given their giant implications there should have been a national debate on the issue. Instead the Central sez Bill was introduced on May 10, 2005 and passed by both Houses of Parliament on May 12, 2005! In its very first meeting, the Board of Approvals cleared 148 of the 166 proposals before it!
The Finance Minister believes SEZs will lose the exchequer Rs 1,00,000 crore over the next four years and not create a proportionate spurt in employment. In fact over the last five-six years India has been witnessing jobless growth. Yet in just one year, 300 sezs in India have been cleared, 300 others are in process. Compare this with the fact that there are only 400 sezs in the world, and China — the model for our economic hawks — has only 6!
If it wasn’t for Nandigram, none of this would have come up for debate. But as violence in Nandigram spiralled, a series of pull-backs began to cascade across the country. On January 8, pm Manmohan Singh, a strong votary of sezs, promised a new humane rehabilitation policy in three months, a shocking admission that none had been in place till then. On January 19, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya announced no sezs or industrial projects would be started without surveys, land maps, and consultation with panchayats — fundamental processes that should have been followed from the outset. On January 23, media reports spoke of still other impacts in Bengal. dlf was to acquire 6,000 acres of land in Dankuni for a township and industrial park. Urban Development Minister, Asok Bhattacharya had earlier set an August 2007 deadline for “India’s largest private township.” Now, preliminary notices for only 156 acres of marshy land was issued, the rest of the land was to be “investigated”. dlf has since announced a measure of free housing and education to all its oustees! The 1,740 acre Uluberia industrial park in Howrah was also put on hold, pending “intensive survey first”. Land acquisition for the the Barasat-Raichak highway was stalled till June, while the land map is changed to avoid graves, canals, residences and fertile tracts. The sez at Kulpi has been indefinitely suspended, and Venugopal Dhoot of Videocon, who was slated to open three sezs in Bengal, was quoted in Mint on February 19, saying he would offer equity shares to the farmers his project displaces. Further, that there should be a freeze on sezs till the government came up with a comprehensive and cogent rehabilitation package for people whose land is acquired.
Events in Bengal suggest that one cannot road-roll an economic boom in India. It is idle to get trapped into simple factory vs farm, industry vs agriculture debates. Economic ideas in this country have to be more agile than that. At the height of the Singur and Nandigram unrest, an editorial in The Telegraph said, “History does not offer the option of first obtaining consent then proceeding with industrialisation. Industrialisation must take place, therefore land must be obtained. How it is obtained — with consent or otherwise, is a subject of political management.”
It is this kind of hard position that events in Bengal belie. “Development with a human face” cannot be an empty promise in India. Human faces have an uncomfortable way of asserting themselves. Two weeks after Nandigram erupted, around 150 activist groups from far flung corners of India gathered at Gandhi’s ashram in Sevagram, near Nagpur. They had come to share experiences. More significantly, they had come to merge causes. In other parts of India, groups much more militant than these are also making common cause. Their grievances are very similar: they demand democratic process. Consultation. Consent. Participation. And most of all, an effort for equitable growth.
That is the fundamental question the people of Nandigram and Singur have thrown up. Does development in India have to have only one face? Or can we find the courage of imagination to understand that wealth can have different natures?
With Shantanu Guha Ray and Avinash Dutt
Mar 03 , 2007

August 17, 2008

life in general: updates to the posts on ubuntu and china

I have just now made important additions to two recents posts -- the Ubuntu one (13 August) and the China-Olympics one (9 August). The updates can be read in the posts directly or down below.

Update to the Ubuntu post:
With the help of a googled result on an Indian linux user's attempt to connect his GPRS-enabled GSM phone to the internet on Ubuntu, I could also succeed in connecting my Nokia 6233 to the internet using Vodafone (its GPRS is active on my number) on Ubuntu. It took me over an hour of fiddling with a file 'wvdial.conf' that I had to create and edit. The nice thing in ubuntu is that you can use the Run prompt to do all this and learn at least one or two things that the programmers use.

Update to the China-Olympics post:
(...there's more deceit and tragedy happening at the Beijing Games -- read about it here, here and here. ... i also wrote something on china and olympics in the magazine i work for; it follows below after the HRW statement)
My small write-up on China & Olympics:

Olympic diplomacy

The Olympics has unreservedly shown China's ability to pull off a large event with the efficiencies rarely seen. After getting the green signal from International Olympic Committee in 2001 China's government has put in its heart and soul in upgrading the infrastructure in Beijing to host the Olympics. Dedication, hard work and economic efficiencies has paid off for China as it should.

The Olympic diplomacy is what states like to flaunt. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Germany, it was Adolf Hitler, the host country's chancellor, who said about the Olympics " also helps to connect the countries in the spirit of peace." But the reality borne out by Jews, Gypsies and other non-Aryans in Germany and that borne out by Europe from 1939 to 1945, at the behest of Germany, did not live up to this promise.

China too is failing to live up to a similar promise. Human Rights Watch, on 6 August, issued a statement that sounded like old hat but was yet telling in its tone. It stated that "..abuses of migrant construction workers who were pivotal to Beijing's infrastructure improvements have increased, as have evictions of Beijing residents whose homes were demolished to make way for that infrastructure."

August 13, 2008

life in general: ubuntu - a linux OS

At last I did it! Yesterday (12 Aug) evening, my friends Ajay Shah and Susan Thomas, helped me install Ubuntu, a Linux operating system, on my HP-Compaq 2210b notebook. It was quite smooth with us even retaining a dual boot system -- when I switch on my notebook I am asked to choose between Ubuntu and Windows Vista. Isn't that wonderful?

There are some teething problems, though. I have to find a Ubuntu/Linux-compatible internet-connection software for my Nokia 6233 handset which is my only source for internet connectivity (I use Vodafone's and Airtel's GPRS to connect to the web through my Nokia handset that is connected, via a USB wire, to my notebook).

Freedom from Bill Gates' Windows is now a reality! I am pleased with myself. And many thanks to Ajay and Susan!

Update (13 August):
With the help of a googled result on an Indian linux user's attempt to connect his GPRS-enabled GSM phone to the internet on Ubuntu, I could also succeed in connecting my Nokia 6233 to the internet using Vodafone (its GPRS is active on my number) on Ubuntu. It took me over an hour of fiddling with a file 'wvdial.conf' that I had to create and edit. The nice thing in ubuntu is that you can use the Run prompt to do all this and learn at least one or two things that the programmers use.

August 11, 2008

life in general: hinduism's hooligans are now...

The Hinduism's extremists are now creating havoc in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. Some recent news reports -- here, here and here -- highlight some of the happenings.

The phoney man, prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh (who, by the way, is not a people-elected member of Indian parliament), and his other Congress party colleagues and other Congress-supporting parties will only mouth inane statements about peace and harmony but not take a single serious step to halt the marauders of the law of the land disguised as Hindu pilgrims.

The military forces, on instructions from the central government, take not action against such subversive and anti-national forces but will take extra-legal measures (bordering on illegality in some cases) in putting down any protests by local Kashmiris. Rather than do persistent hard work in going after the real Islamic terrorists who come from Pakistan-illegally-occupied Kashmir the military forces torture the local Kashmiris as a cowardly short-cut.

August 09, 2008

life in general: china's olympics offences

To me, sports are fun to play (not to watch, though) but is not important in the larger scheme of things. Millions of sports spectators across the planet do not adequately apply their minds on the back-to-back consequences of their obsession in watching their relevant favorite sports.

Ongoing Olympics in China has come at the cost of the several abuses of its citizens' rights and further damage to its ecology. Here is a Human Rights Watch's 6 August 2008 dated note on the situation
{Update (13 August)...there's more deceit and tragedy happening at the Beijing Games -- read about it here, here and here. ... i also wrote something on china and olympics in the magazine i work for; it follows below after the HRW statement}:

Chinese Government, IOC Wasted Historic Opportunity for Reform

(New York, August 6, 2008) – The 2008 Beijing Olympics will open tainted by a sharp increase in human rights abuses directly linked to China's preparations for the games, Human Rights Watch said today. The games open on August 8, 2008.

The run-up to the Beijing Olympics has been marred by a well-documented surge in violations of the rights of free expression and association, as well as media freedom. In addition, abuses of migrant construction workers who were pivotal to Beijing's infrastructure improvements have increased, as have evictions of Beijing residents whose homes were demolished to make way for that infrastructure. Those abuses reflect both the Chinese government's wholesale failure to honor its Olympics-related human rights promises, as well as the negligence of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in ensuring that China fulfills its commitments.

"The Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee have had seven years to deliver on their pledges that these games would further human rights," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "Instead, the Beijing Games have prompted a
rollback in some of the most basic rights enshrined in China's constitution and international law."

Human Rights Watch pointed particularly to the following ongoing abuses and some of their most recent victims:
* The silencing of Chinese citizens who express concerns about Olympics-related rights abuses through intimidation, imprisonment, and the use of house arrest. For example, Ye Guozhu, a 53-year-old housing rights activist, remains in prison despite having completed his four-year prison sentence in July 2008. After attempting to organize protests against forced evictions related to the Beijing Olympics, Ye was convicted on December 18, 2004, on charges of "suspicion of disturbing social order." Ye's family has said they believe the government will hold him until after the games to prevent him from speaking freely.
* Evictions and demolitions for Olympics-related infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of residents have been evicted and their homes demolished in the course of Beijing's makeover. Ni Yulan, a 47-year-old lawyer who was disbarred and imprisoned for her work defending the rights of those forcibly evicted in Beijing and crippled by beatings she suffered in prison, is now awaiting trial on charges of "obstructing a public official" (Article 277 of the Criminal Law), which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. During the incident in question, Ni was resisting the demolition of her own home when she was hit on the head with a brick and dragged to the ground.
* Hundreds of cases of harassment and restriction of foreign media from reporting freely, in violation of China's Olympic pledge and temporary regulations in effect from January 2007 to October 2008. The Chinese government continues to severely restrict the foreign media's
access to Tibet since violence flared in Lhasa in mid-March. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for the security of all foreign journalists in China, also continues to refuse to investigate death threats made against foreign correspondents in the wake of a state media-driven vilification campaign of "western media bias" following the Lhasa violence.
* An intensifying crackdown on "undesirables" and removal from Beijing of migrant workers, beggars, sex workers, and petitioners (residents from the countryside seeking redress for abuses at the grassroots level), among others. Despite its insistence that these would be the "greenest" games in history, in July 2008, the Beijing municipal government ordered tens of thousands of migrant workers who work as garbage recyclers to leave the city ahead of the Olympics.

"The Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee have wasted a historic opportunity to use the Beijing Games to make real progress on human rights in China," said Richardson. "That failure has damaged the prospects for a legacy of enhanced media freedom, greater tolerance for dissent, and respect for the rule of law."

Instead, the Chinese government has concentrated its energies on smothering the voices of those who have spoken out publicly about the need for greater tolerance for and development of human rights.

Those citizens include:
* Yang Chunlin, a land rights activist from Heilongjiang province. Yang was arrested in July 2007 for his involvement in a petition against illegal land seizures by officials and for writing essays denouncing official wrongdoings. Yang, who had collected more than 10,000 signatures for his petition, titled "We want human rights, not the Olympics," was charged with "inciting subversion of state power."
On March 24, 2008, Yang was sentenced to five years in prison after a trial which lasted less than a day and failed to meet minimum standards of due process.
* Hu Jia, a Beijing-based human rights activist who has worked on numerous issues including AIDS advocacy. Hu was one of 42 Chinese intellectuals and activists who co-signed an open letter, "One World, One Dream: Universal Human Rights," calling for greater attention to human rights in China. On April 3, Hu was found guilty of "inciting subversion of state power," and sentenced to three and a half years in prison, as well as one additional year of deprivation of political rights. His wife and fellow activist Zeng Jinyan has been under house arrest in Beijing since May 17, 2007, along with their baby daughter, Qianci.
* Huang Qi, a veteran dissident and founder of, a website dedicated to publicizing alleged human rights abuses which occur across China. Huang was detained on June 10, 2008 in Chengdu while investigating allegations that shoddy construction had contributed to the collapse of schools in the March 12 Sichuan earthquake. He was formally charged with "possessing state secrets" on July 18.
* Teng Biao, one of several Beijing lawyers, including Zhang Jiankang and Jiang Tianyong, who lost their licenses to practice law as an official reprisal for publicly offering to defend Tibetan
suspects arrested in the wake of the Lhasa riots in March. Teng Biao first became a target for official punishment due to a letter he co-wrote with Hu Jia in September 2007. The letter was a stinging indictment of the Chinese government's failure to deliver on its promises to the IOC to develop human rights in China ahead of the 2008 Olympics. "When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing … you may not know that the flowers, smiles, harmony and prosperity are built on a base of grievances, tears, imprisonment, torture and blood," they wrote.
* Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who in June 2005 filed a class-action lawsuit accusing officials in Linyi, a city in Shandong province, of seeking to enforce restrictive population control laws by subjecting thousands of people to late-term forced abortions, compulsory sterilization, midnight raids, and beatings. In retaliation, on June 21, 2006, the Yinan County People's Procuratorate formally arrested Chen on charges of damaging property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic. On August 24, 2006, Chen was found guilty of these charges and sentenced to four years and three months in prison. Chen's final appeal was rejected on January 12, 2007 by Linyi Intermediate Court.

"The crackdown on activists, the increase in evictions, the harassment of journalists, and the 'sweeps' from Beijing are all worsening because of the Olympics," Richardson said. "Only by releasing these people and ending this intimidation can the Chinese government and the IOC salvage the integrity of the Olympics."

My small write-up on China & Olympics:

Olympic diplomacy

The Olympics has unreservedly shown China's ability to pull off a large event with the efficiencies rarely seen. After getting the green signal from International Olympic Committee in 2001 China's government has put in its heart and soul in upgrading the infrastructure in Beijing to host the Olympics. Dedication, hard work and economic efficiencies has paid off for China as it should.

The Olympic diplomacy is what states like to flaunt. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Germany, it was Adolf Hitler, the host country's chancellor, who said about the Olympics " also helps to connect the countries in the spirit of peace." But the reality borne out by Jews, Gypsies and other non-Aryans in Germany and that borne out by Europe from 1939 to 1945, at the behest of Germany, did not live up to this promise.

China too is failing to live up to a similar promise. Human Rights Watch, on 6 August, issued a statement that sounded like old hat but was yet telling in its tone. It stated that "..abuses of migrant construction workers who were pivotal to Beijing's infrastructure improvements have increased, as have evictions of Beijing residents whose homes were demolished to make way for that infrastructure."z

August 03, 2008

life in financial markets & general: marauders in disguise!

The latest issue of Down To Earth magazine (issued dated July 31, 2008) has covered in great detail the issue of Posco (a South Korean steel company) plants in Orissa. Its an enlightening read and connects to many of the events I have highlighted in earlier posts of mine here.

The story, on the magazine's website, is spread across a few pages --
here, here,
here, here, here and here. Below, at the end, is a summary of the story in question. Alongside, is an map-image of the company's site in Orissa taken from one of the pages in the links given above. The story on the South Korean company is not the only major one that is reflective of the issues raised therein. Vedanta group (Sterlite Industries, etc.) and their operations in Jharkhand, Orissa and Goa is another representative of the deadly trend.

In my understanding, India's Congress party-led government in India in its existing term (having completed four out of five years) has been criminally responsible, through its mindless pampering of industry, for the devastation of
the livelihoods of remote, tribal, rural people in many states in the country and also devastated fragile ecologies in many nature-rich parts of the country. Not that the BJP or other parties would have fared any better. As I have said before, as an Indian citizen and resident, I am trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Here is the Down to Earth's summary of the story-in-question:

1,620.361 ha of discontent

Special economic zones and sit-ins. Mega-projects and marches. Public-private partnerships and pitched battles. Precociously, because they are desperate, state governments are willing to hand land, forest, water over to industry.
Raucously, because they are really desperate, people all over India have begun to use all available means to contest the usually coercive intrusion of the State into their lives, and livelihoods.
Consider, as symptom, the Orissa government’s deal with Korean steel-making giant POSCO. The devil here, as ashutosh mishra reports, lies only in the details. It is credible to ask: is violence the inevitable effect of corporate investment, indigenous or foriegn? Is deliberate sellout the only route state governments can take to attract companies?
What vision is it that has completely blinded the State to its brazen loss of credibility? Who matters, people or voters?
These questions are neither rhetorical nor emotional. Merely see the countrywide scenario arnab pratim dutta has compiled. India’s new road to growth, interpreted by the State as an imperative to simply industrialise, today leads…where?

August 01, 2008

life in journalism: fragile egos of editors in indian media

Many editors (editor-in-chiefs, executive editors, deputy editors) have fragile egos that is causing great harm to journalism in India. Readers of newspapers, magazines and viewers of television news channels don't get to know of it. In fact, even publishers of many publications and TV news companies do not bother -- they are only interested in profits (or less losses) no matter what else happens within the organisation.

So the above-described editors get away with treating the journalists and junior editors unfairly and at times with contempt. I have said this in some of my earlier posts here but I will say it again -- there is no accountability, in Indian journalism, of the Editor-in-chiefs, Executive Editors and Deputy Editors as far as their handling of their editorial staff is concerned. I don't know about other countries but as an Indian journalist I know that the Indian media will never truly serve the readers and viewers unless these editors are made accountable to their editorial staff.

To elaborate, I say they have no accountability simply because there is no one above them to audit their behaviour. Many publishers, as I said above, would care less if the journalists are treated unfairly as long as the advertisements keep coming. Sucking up to companies and politicians efficiently seems to be the only qualification many publishers want from their top editors.

There are exceptions to the above but they are very far and few and even they are not consistent.