February 23, 2010

life in general & financial markets: (part 2) excessive-consumerism-driven ugly mining

(continued from part 1 posted in October 2009...)

Mining of natural resources is the most problematic area with fake capitalists, in conjunction with corrupt government functionaries (politicians and bureaucrats) and local thugs, exploiting the lax environmental laws of countries like India either openly or through the loop holes.

Early this month, a news report (an entire cut-and-paste copy is given at the end below) stated that some mining officials in the eastern Indian state of Orissa (in the northern part of the state, just south of the state of Jharkhand) stumbled upon 600 tonnes of iron ore that was illegally mined from surrounding forest areas (see the red-circled portion in the first map below).

These were stockpiled in two railway yards in the state at Banspani in Keonjhar district and Juruli in Sundergarh district. Among several mining sites, Tata Steel and one Aditya Birla group company have their mining plants around Banspani (see the second map below). Now, a news report (also reproduced entirely at the end below) states that these massive tonnes of iron ore have disappeared.

Quite likely, the state government, with tacit understanding of the central government, is involved in this theft.

(click on the maps below to see them enlarged & clear)

600 tonnes of iron ore seized in Orissa
2010-02-03 16:30:00
Mining officials have seized at least 600 tonnes of iron ore in Orissa's mineral-rich Keonjhar district in a continuing crackdown on illegal mines, an official said Wednesday.
'The ore was seized from Thakurani reserve forest area. About 200 tonnes of iron ore was seized today (Wednesday), 400 tonnes of ore was seized Tuesday,' Deputy Director (mines) U.C. Jena told IANS.
Investigations into illegal mining in Orissa by various state and central agencies started after some politicians alleged in July that some mines were operating without licences.
Jena said the mining officials have seized more than five lakh tonnes of iron ore worth about Rs.50 crore from various places in mineral-rich districts of Keonjhar and Sundergarh since July. The officials have also seized about 6,000 tonnes of manganese ore from the region.
The district head quarters of Keonjhar is located at a distance of about 235 km from state capital Bhubaneswar. Sundergarh is its nearby district.

Illegally lifted iron ore disappears in Orissa
Sunday, 21 February 2010 02:59
Bhubaneswar, Feb. 20: At least 3,600 metric tonnes of iron ore illegally mined from forest areas and stockpiled at two railway sidings — Banspani in Keonjhar district and Juruli in Sundergarh district — has mysteriously disappeared.
The precious mineral — roughly estimated to be worth Rs 150 crores — is suspected to have been lifted by a big racket allegedly having political patronisation.
Although Joda deputy director mines (DDM) has written separate letters to inspector-in-charge of general railway police station Rourkela and Bhandhamuda police station, no one action has been taken against to identify the culprits.
What raises doubt about the state government’s seriousness to apprehend the criminals is its complete silence over the issue. Although on January 21, the DDM, Joda, stumbled upon the illegally lifted mineral stocked at Bansapani and Jurui, he did not seize it. Instead, he kept mum on the issue and informed the police nine days after on January 30, allowing the plunders to transport iron ore to the targeted destinations. Sources said the illegally dispatched iron ore was lifted from forest areas and some mines which were recently shut down after much hue and cry by the Opposition.
"I think no amount of exposes can awaken the Naveen Patnaik government to check the ongoing indiscriminate loot of the state’s mineral resources. He does not care to act. This exposes the real man in Naveen," senior BJP leader Bijoy Mohapatra told reporters at a crowded press conference here.
He reiterated his demand for a probe into the multi-crore mining scam by the CBI.
Akshaya Kumar Sahoo

February 21, 2010

life in general: bt brinjal & other GM foods

Many sections of the Indian media have been plugging for Monsanto and other companies that are into genetically-modified (GM) food seeds. Indian Express newspaper, self-declared upholder of journalism of courage, has been the most miserable, highlighting the support for GM food by notorious crooks and corrupt politicians such as Sharad Pawar and Kamal Nath

The claims of high-yield and pest-resistant of genetically-modified food such as brinjal are not necessarily true or sustainable. Worldwide experience, such as that with BT cotton, suggests that yields do not stay high and that pest attacks are not eliminated.

Since there is no adequate surety of the benefits one has to look at what harm can be caused. The biggest harm of BT foods is the strangulation of bio-diversity. A former managing director of Monsanto, TV Jagadisan, in an interview in a latest issue of a weekly magazine (Tehelka) (the entire interview from Tehelka is presented at the end below) had this to say about the risk of GM foods on India's bio-diversity:

"India’s biodiversity will be gravely tampered with. For example, we have more than 2,400 varieties of brinjal in the country. Brinjal is a highly cross-pollinated crop. So if you have Bt brinjal growing in some field, its pollen can easily get transferred by wind or insects to other fields. Monsanto has itself filed suits against many people in Canada for growing Bt cotton without license, but for no fault of theirs. It’s the wind and insects that had carried pollen and created Bt cotton in their fields! Monsanto vs Schmeiser is just one famous case in Canada. The court judgment went in favour of Schmeiser. The same thing will happen here in India. They say 30 meters is sufficient to separate BT and non-BT brinjal. I don’t believe that. There’s no way anyone can control the gene flow because you cannot control wind and where insects will fly. And once that cross-contamination takes place, our entire biodiversity will be at stake. Our native brinjal has a wonderful property – it can control Type II diabetes. We don’t even know what properties Bt brinjal will have once its genetically transformed."

GM food, in my view, is likely to cause much more harm than any potential benefit. What is worse is that the government of our country is not making it mandatory for any GM producer to label their food as 'GM'. At the very least, we, the consumers, have the right to be informed of the type of food we buy.

Here, then, is the interview in Tehelka magazine:

‘Go Aheads Came On Monsanto’s Data’

Of all the voices that opposed the introduction of Bt brinjal, one was most significant — that of 84-yearold TV Jagadisan, the former MD of Monsanto India. Talking to SHOMA CHAUDHURY at his Bengaluru flat, Jagadisan, who was with the company for 18 years and served as managing director for South Asia for eight years, spoke of all the reasons to fear Bt brinjal. He may have retired 20 years ago but here’s an industry insider talking about the disturbing way in which corporates and governments function. Excerpts:

How long were you with Monsanto and what position did you hold there?
I was with the company for 18 years. I joined as a marketing and development manager and was promoted to general manager. In my last eight years with them, I was the managing director for India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. I retired about 20 years ago.

At Minister Jairam Ramesh’s public consultation over BT brinjal, you expressed serious concerns about the way government regulatory bodies give clearances. Can you elaborate? In your time as MD, Monsanto India, what products were cleared?
I was responsible for introducing several herbicides in India. Butachlor, which is a rice herbicide (brand name Machete); Alachlor (brand name, Lasso); Triallate (brand name Avadex BW). For all these we had to submit data to the Central Insecticides Board for approval. None of these government regulatory agencies have the facilities, time or resources to do the testing themselves, so they routinely rely on company data. This was true not just for Monsanto but all companies. When regulatory bodies rely on company data to give clearances, naturally companies like the data to appear favourable to themselves.

With something like BT brinjal, this becomes very disturbing. Unless long term tests are held independently by bodies like the ICAR and IARA, there should be no hurry to introduce it. In my opinion, in fact, there’s no need for BT brinjal. India cultivates brinjal in about half a million hecatres and produces over eight million tons every year, so there’s no problem of low production. Yes, there is pest incidence, the fruit and shoot borer no doubt does cause damage, but there are other methods for controlling that. Simple home remedies like neem oil emulsion can control this pest. There is absolutely no need to move towards BT brinjal.

These industries are very opaque. What was the internal culture of Monsanto like? Did you really conduct any internal tests at all?
Yes, as far as herbicides are concerned, we did do some internal tests, but sometimes we used to just produce foreign data -- not location specific Indian data -- and the Insecticides Board just accepted it. They had no means of verifying what we gave them. We did some demonstrations, but we never had any controlled plots for research or anything elaborate like that.

Would you say any data was fudged during your time?
Not in my territory, or jurisdiction; what happened abroad I cannot say. But you can generally take it that any company that’s got to give data for getting approval for its own product will naturally like to make it appear favourable. That’s common psychology.

Bt cotton must have been developed during your time. Did you have doubts about that as well?
It was being developed in St Louis while I was there but it was introduced in India after I left, so I don’t know that much about it. But it’s public knowledge, that it’s not all roses. Some farmers say their yields have doubled; others have committed suicide because it failed. There have certainly been failures after its commercial release. Particularly in 2002, the crop failed, the pest incidence increased. They said the wrong variety of cotton had been chosen for BT technology and, later on, they improved it. But you see nature will take its own course. If you try to control something, something else will proliferate. Bt cotton was engineered to control the bollworm, but mite incidence went up. Other pests proliferated. Even bollworm has developed a resistance. So pesticide use came down in the beginning but has started going up again.

There is concern about farmers having to buy new Bt seeds every season.
Exactly. The terminator gene. This is supposed to be a gene that allows seeds to grow only once, and seeds coming out of the crop cannot be resown and will not germinate. I don’t know if Monsanto really put that into Bt cotton or which crop it was introduced into, but it’s public knowledge that with Bt cotton, farmers have to buy seeds every season at a very heavy cost. That’s against Indian culture. In Indian agriculture, farmers generate their own seeds for the next season. With Bt, he can’t do that – he has to go back to the company to buy new seeds.

As MD, weren’t you privy to these things?
When I talked to colleagues, they spoke of this terminator gene. But I can’t say for a fact. What one does hear now is that Bt cotton seeds are much more expensive and I hear Monsanto has got 63 companies which produce Bt cotton seeds and it collects royalty from them. That is published information. I have no first hand knowledge of it.

Monsanto creates herbicides and pesticides; Bt seeds are supposed to resist them. Isn’t that a conflict of commercial interest?
Monsanto developed a herbicide called glyphosate to kill weeds in crops but found that it destroys soyabean also. So they created a genetically altered soyabean that can resist glyphosate. So you make a herbicide to kill the weeds, then you make a seed to resist that herbicide -- so it’s making money on both sides! (Laughs) Later I heard even that soyabean is not so successful. Yields are coming down. That’s what published information says.

Apart from dangerously inadequate government clearances, what are your other concerns about Bt brinjal?
A whole lot of concerns. For one, India’ biodiversity will be gravely tampered with. For example, we have more than 2,400 varieties of brinjal in the country. Brinjal is a highly cross-pollinated crop. So if you have Bt brinjal growing in some field, its pollen can easily get transferred by wind or insects to other fields. Monsanto has itself filed suits against many people in Canada for growing Bt cotton without license, but for no fault of theirs. It’s the wind and insects that had carried pollen and created Bt cotton in their fields! Monsanto vs Schmeiser is just one famous case in Canada. The court judgment went in favour of Schmeiser.

The same thing will happen here in India. They say 30 meters is sufficient to separate BT and non-BT brinjal. I don’t believe that. There’s no way anyone can control the gene flow because you cannot control wind and where insects will fly. And once that cross-contamination takes place, our entire biodiversity will be at stake. Our native brinjal has a wonderful property – it can control Type II diabetes. We don’t even know what properties Bt brinjal will have once its genetically transformed.

So we are back to inadequate testing and malafide government clearances?
Yes, we need independent long-term trials, thorough research and peer reviews to get a clearer idea of harm and good. In this case, it’s the first time such technology is being introduced into a regular food crop. Yet there have been no trials for birth defects in successive generations. Lab rats fed on GM soyabean have apparently developed ulcers and tumours in their kidneys and liver. That’s what published research says. Approving Bt brinjal for commercial release the way the GEAC was set to was like letting a genie out of a bottle.

In your opinion, is there any need for Bt brinjal at all?
No, BT brinjal’s entry point is itself suspect. The Knowledge Initiative Commission set up under the PM has got three companies as permanent members, among them Monsanto and Dow Chemicals. So naturally they push their point of view. Bt Brinjal was just the entry point. There is talk of BT rice, wheat, potato and what not. If this had gone through, very soon the whole country would have been Bt-ed! When Hillary Clinton came recently, she made no bones about the fact that she was here with the sole purpose of bending India’s agriculture policy to American interests.

Defenders of Bt crops say it’s necessary for our food security. Two decades ago we were applauding the Green Revolution. For a while, with increased pesticide use, crop production went up. But then the land degenerated and we now think of it as a mixed experiment if not complete failure. So it’s not good to think of all this only in terms of short term gain. You remember the thyladomide case? Foreign companies would like to introduce a product as quickly as possible, make money as quickly as possible and get out as quickly as possible. It is our government that has to be more cautious and protect our interests. That’s where our government and regulatory bodies fail to do their duty.

Why are you speaking up now? Why not earlier?
There was no occasion for me to talk until Jairam Ramesh held his public consultations. I have not spoken against Monsanto per se, but against BT technology. I have a lot of doubts about it. I am expressing this as an Indian citizen.


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 07, Dated February 20, 201

February 18, 2010

life in general: al-queda/taliban & maoists are the other side of the terrorism coin

One side of the terrorism coin is the state itself. The other is the private, renegade groups on the lines of Al Qaeda/Taliban and India's Maoists. Both are doomed to fail as human qualities of goodness and peace increases and sustains.

In the last one week, the violence by such groups have killed innocents. Just today, according to one news report among many, India's Maoists have murdered about 10 villagers in the eastern state of Bihar. A few days back they had gone a killing spree, shooting dead around 20 policemen, in a town in the eastern state of West Bengal.

A few days back, a high-intensity bomb exploded in a bakery in Pune city in the western state of Maharashtra and killed around 10 people, mostly college students. This was, very likely, an act of a new recruit of the Taliban-like extremist groups operating mostly out of Pakistan. Al-Queda is also active in its plans and American cities are still at risk (although I do not think 11 September 2001 involved only Al-Qaeda and I think there was an involvement of the Bush regime to bring down three buildings on that day).

These renegade groups put forth the rationale of revenge -- say, something like "your country/government has killed our innocent people and we are only seeking justice". But what these private groups forget that justice is not got if served on those who are not directly responsible for the pain of the people they claim to represent. What they indulge in is nothing but murder and is nowhere close to being any kind of justice.

These groups will not succeed. What will succeed, however, is a persistent and non-violent approach to seeking justice. The same amount of money and passion used by extremists if channeled in non-violent and legal direction then a positive outcome is guaranteed.

February 11, 2010

shareholders of mcx, bse & nse

I have compiled a list of shareholders of two equity exchanges and one commodity derivatives exchange in India. Here they go:


Shares* % of total

(in million) shares
Financial Technologies (India) Pvt. Ltd. (Bombay) 25.45 31.38
Fid Funds (Mauritius) Ltd. 7.20 8.88
State Bank of India 4.20 5.18
Euronext N.V (London/Paris/Brussels) 3.91 4.82
Merrill Lynch Holdings (Mauritius) 3.91 4.82
Citigroup Strategic Holdings Mauritius Ltd 3.91 4.82
Corporation Bank 2.84 3.50
MCX Esop Trust (Bombay) 2.60 3.21
The National Bank for Agriculture an Rural Development (Bombay) 2.50 3.08
ICICI Trusteeship Services Ltd (Bangalore) 2.48 3.05
Passport Capital Llc (where from??) 2.34 2.89
IL&FS Trust Company Ltd (Bombay) 3.91 4.82
National Stock Exchange of India 2.00 2.47
GLG Financials (Bombay) 1.56 1.93
Bennet Coleman and Company (Times of India Group) 1.51 1.87
611 other entities/individuals 10.77 13.28
Total equity capital 81.08 100.00
* - having face value Rs 5 per share


Shares* % of total

(in million) shares
Deutsche Boerse AG (Germany) 5.10 4.96
Singapore Exchange Ltd (Singapore) 5.10 4.96
State Bank of India 5.02 4.88
Life Insurance Corporation of India 5.02 4.88
Acacia Banyan Partners Ltd (where from?) 4.02 3.90
Dubai Financial Group LLc 4.02 3.90
Caldwell India Holdings Inc (where from?) 4.02 3.90
Atticus Mauritius Ltd 4.02 3.90
Bajaj Holdings & Investment (Bombay) 3.01 2.92
MSPL Ltd (Bombay) 1.20 1.17
Nadathur Holdings & Investments Pvt Ltd (Bangalore) 1.13 1.10
Bank of India 1.06 1.03
Central Bank of India 1.06 1.03
Bennet Coleman and Company (Times of India Group) 1.06 1.03
S. Gopalakrishnan (Infosys official) 1.06 1.03
Isheta Investment Pvt Ltd (Bombay) 1.06 1.03
Blue Star Diamonds Pvt Ltd (Bombay) 1.06 1.03
TGS Investment & Trade Pvt Ltd (Bombay) 0.53 0.52
Suryaprakash Singapur (Bangalore) 0.40 0.39
First Global Stockbroking (Bombay) 0.39 0.38
Bang Equity Broking Pvt Ltd (Bombay) 0.39 0.38
Arjav Diamonds India Pvt Ltd (Bombay) 0.29 0.28
Kotak Securities (Bombay) 0.26 0.25
Anagram Stockbroking (Bombay) 0.26 0.25
2,663 other entities & individuals (mostly BSE broker-members) 52.35 50.89
Total equity capital 102.88 100.00
* - FV Rs 1 per share


Shares* % of total

(in million) shares
Life Insurance Corporation of India 5.17 11.49
State Bank of India 4.70 10.44
Infrastructure Development Finance Company (Bombay) 3.69 8.20
Stock Holding Corporation of India (Bombay) 3.08 6.86
IFCI (Bombay) 2.32 5.16
NYSE Group (New York, US) 2.25 5.00
GA Global Investments Ltd (where from) 2.25 5.00
GS Strategic Investments Ltd (Goldman Sachs, US) 2.25 5.00
SAIF II-SE Investments Mauritius Ltd 2.25 5.00
IDBI Bank 2.24 4.98
SBI Capital Markets 1.95 4.33
Azim Premji (chairman of Wipro) (Bangalore) 1.35 3.00
MS Strategic Mauritius Ltd 1.35 3.00
Norwest Venture Partners Mauritius 0.95 2.11
Citigroup Strategic Holdings Mauritius Ltd 0.90 2.00
General Insurance Corporation of India 0.74 1.64
National Insurance Company (Calcutta) 0.64 1.42
New India Assurance Company (Bombay) 0.64 1.42
Oriental Insurance Company (Delhi) 0.64 1.42
United India Insurance Company (Madras) 0.64 1.42
Canara Bank (Bombay) 0.62 1.38
Financial Technologies (India) (Bombay) 0.45 1.00
Bank of Baroda 0.39 0.87
Saturn India Ltd 0.36 0.80
Indian Bank 0.30 0.67
HDFC Standard Life Insurance Company (Bombay) 0.22 0.49
Narendra Baldota (of MSPL, Hospet) 0.22 0.49
Fidelity India Special Situations Fund 0.20 0.44
MSPL Ltd (Hospet) 0.19 0.42
Union Bank of India (Bombay) 0.18 0.40
S. Gopalakrishnan (of Infosys) (Bangalore) 0.17 0.38
Kotak India Growth Fund 0.15 0.33
Fidelity International Opportunities Fund 0.15 0.33
Oriental Bank of Commerce (Bombay) 0.14 0.31
M3 Investment Pvt Ltd (Vapi, Gujarat) 0.14 0.31
JM Financial Ltd (Bombay) 0.09 0.20
JM Financial Ventures (Bombay) 0.09 0.20
Saturn South Asia Ltd 0.09 0.20
Reliance Strategic Investments Ltd 0.08 0.18
15 other companies 0.77 1.70
Total equity capital 45.00 100.00
* - Face Value Rs 10 per share

February 07, 2010

life in general: surreal-looking afghanistan-iran mountains

Around a year ago, 30 January 2009 to be exact, as I was in a flight from Bombay to London for an 1-week official trip to London, I saw the mountains that come in the border region of Afghanistan and Iran. They looked surreal; as if they were from some other planet.

I share below two pics I took of these mountains from the plane window along with one pic I took of the flight path, at that time, on the TV screen near my seat.

February 01, 2010

life in financial markets: mini-bubble bursts, at least for the time being

I wrote about the mini-crash in stock markets worldwide last week. Here goes:

Mini-bubble bursts, at least for the time being

It is becoming a quarterly feature. Global equity markets had crashed between 5% and 10% in the second half of October 2009. The second half of this month has seen the exact same story. The BSE Sensex and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index were the worst hit with a crash of a little over 7% in a week (see graph below, click on the image to see it enlarged & clear).

A jittery Chinese central bank, uncertain stimulus packages and un-inspiring corporate fundamentals were the major driving factors. But an actual liquidity shake-up was the turning point that made the markets fall continuously for about six trading sessions. "Emerging economies like India had attracted significant foreign equity flows in 2009 and reversal of a part of these flows have likely contributed to some correction in the Indian markets." says Dipen Shah, senior VP-private client group research at Kotak Securities.

The first half of January saw staggering net foreign institutional investor (FII) inflows, collectively on the NSE and the BSE, of Rs 3,042 crore on a single day on 11 January, and an aggregate net inflow of Rs 5,447 crore for the month till 11 January. The tide turned dramatically thereafter and the next 11 trading sessions saw Rs 8,855 crore worth of net outflows. The domestic institutional investors picked up Rs 6,509 crore worth of these outflows but the Sensex still tanked by about 7% in a week as of 27 January.

High global liquidity had sustained the equity markets for over two months till mid-January. There were warnings in November last year that 'dollar carry trade' was causing the liquidity overflow and may not sustain for long. Donald Tsang, chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, had stated in November last year that the US Federal Reserve’s policy of maintaining near-zero interest rates near zero was leading to excessive speculative capital which could cause the next global crisis.

Warning of the dangers of 'dollar carry trade' Nouriel Roubini, professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, in a column in London's Financial Times, wrote that "traders are borrowing at negative 20 per cent rates to invest on a highly leveraged basis on a mass of risky global assets that are rising in price due to excess liquidity and a massive carry trade."

Many Indian market participants, however, rubbish the speculation that fears of an unwinding of 'dollar carry trade' due to a strengthening dollar (against other currencies) will lead to further liquidity outflows from global markets. "The equity markets run their own temperatures and had perhaps come too far too fast," says Jamal Mecklai, head of Mecklai Financial, a forex consultancy firm. But, cautions Saurabh Mukherjea, head of India equities at Noble Group, a global equity research firm, "Yes, money will flow out from global equity markets if the US Fed chairman, Bernanke, were to really say that this it the end of low interest rates in the US."

Domestic corporate fundamentals have been neutral. An Enam Securities research, dated 20 January, revealed that out of 41 top companies that had disclosed their quarterly figures for December 2009 about 15 companies saw a decline in net profits as well as net sales. The remaining saw a lukewarm growth.

"Even around the world there were high-profile corporate cases of earnings disappointment and valuations had come to a juncture where earnings had to grow a lot to sustain the high stock prices," says Mukherjea.

Global markets, including India, had recovered on Thursday, 28 January, but the next few weeks will see subdued levels and choppy conditions.