Dec 232013

This column appeared in the DNA on the 14th of November

If Campa Cola had created so much buzz when it was a soft drink manufacturer, it would probably still be in business, selling aerated water to the consumer market. Alas, that was not to be the case. Campa Cola, for those born post the liberalization era, was one of the largest soft drink manufacturers in India. It made its mark at the time when Coca Cola departed India in the late 1970s. It was also one of the first victims of Pepsi and Coke re-entering India. The land allotted to Campa Cola was acquired by builders who constructed upscale apartments. The builders had permission to build apartment blocks of six floors each. Many of the buildings are much taller. The tallest one is 17 floors high. All this happened a long time ago, and like much else in India there was a ‘nod-nod, wink-wink among all concerned’.  Banks give loans, owners buy properties, electricity connections are given, tankers supply water, and it all proceeds as though everything is normal and legal. The modus operandi is as follows: File a plan, get municipality approvals based on the plan, begin construction, violate all that is in the plan, and then pay a small fine to regularise the construction. It happens all the time. There are posh localities in the suburbs of Mumbai that still get water via tankers, five years after residents have moved in, because the entire complex is yet to get an OC (Occupation Certificate) from the BMC. And more often than not things like this gets regularised — someone knows someone, who knows someone, and for a little compensation (for greasing palms and getting through the bureaucratic labyrinth) everything gets fixed. Except that in the case of Campa Cola houses it did not. The current fracas is over 35 floors that were constructed without permission, occupied without an Occupation Certificate, and which was ordered to be demolished by the BMC.

Naturally, the residents were shocked. They refused to move out. Upper middle class agony, expressed in fluent English and anglicized Hindi makes for great news television. It makes audiences identify with those portrayed. And, more importantly, it makes news anchors outrage in an even shriller manner. Suddenly, the residents of the Campa Cola Compound were no longer the educated, well-heeled, well-connected individuals who had access to lawyers and could check contracts and building paper work, but innocents who were duped by a corrupt system. And once the media got into the fray, so did the politicians. To give him his due, Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan refused to pass an ordinance that would halt the demolition. But, the rest got onto the bandwagon, including his own party members. Suddenly, a bunch of people who should have known better while they were busy breaking the law, were portrayed as babes in the wood. The very same people who would otherwise rant when illegal slums and pavement dwellers began using the same analogies to defend their illegal constructions. ‘we have always lived here’ ‘our children grew up here’ ‘where will we go’ ‘our entire community is here’.

Any house owner in Mumbai (possibly elsewhere too) will tell you that buying a flat is fraught with tension. The chain of ownership is often vague, and very often there are situations where buildings have neither Occupation Certificates, nor No-Objection certificates. Most of us are not used to reading technical documents in archaic technical language, and most just glance at the requisite paperwork to see if it is complete before buying. But, ignorance is not a defence against breaking the law.  And when you strip the Campa Cola Compound case of all the emotion, the tears and the angst, all you are left with is one thing: The law was broken, and those who broke the law may get away with it, with the media whipping up outrage to dissuade the law from taking its course. At the time of writing this column, the Supreme Court — reacting to media reports — has stayed the demolition.

In April this year, the residents of Golibar, a slum in Mumbai, were protesting for the same reason.Their homes were being demolished to make way for buildings. They had occupied the land since the mid-1960s. Television news did not care. Demolitions are proceeding as per plan. In June this year, slums at Ejipura in Bengaluru were demolished after residents were evicted in an area they had lived in for decades. Media coverage was nowhere near as sympathetic.

It seems that the middle class likes the idea of the rule of law when it is applied to others. It is quite comfortable breaking the law, and sheds copious tears when it is caught. The sentiment is simple — the rich get away with it because they have influence with those in power. The lower middle class and poor get away with breaking the law because they are the mass, and political parties need mass votes. Given that the middle class have neither the political influence nor the numbers, it does the next best thing — use the media, made up of people like them, to amplify issues. And it has worked.  While in the occasional case like a Jessica Lal when the media got it right, the fact remains that this sort of coverage of raw emotions has repercussions in terms of the rule of law. Think back to the hijacking of IC 814 and ask if the media had not constantly broadcast and amplified the heart-rending anguish of impacted families would the Government of India have been placed in such a ridiculous position?

Two sections of India that most often talk about declining morality and increased lawlessness have in the last week gotten together to do both: The middle class and the media. It is pointless to point fingers elsewhere. If you want the rule of law, you start by following it, not by breaking it, because others do just that.

May 282012

My column in today’s DNA

Dwight Eishenower, the former American President, was asked about his Vice President’s (Richard Nixon’s) contribution to the Presidency. His response was “If you give me a week, I might think of one.” This is the quote that came to mind when thinking about the achievements of the United Progressive Alliance’s second stint in Government. That is not to say that they have made no positive contribution – it is just that a combination of the scams and the paralysis has wiped out anything good that may have been done from our collective memory. So on the 3rd anniversary of UPA 2 a A to Z of issues :

Authority – no Government in the world can rule without authority. That authority is not just legal and moral, but also the capability to stand up and say – I am the Government, and this is my job because the people elected me. To be able to govern in the next two years, the Prime Minister & his cabinet need to exert authority. Or Go.

Budget – It is all right to spend if there is a plan in place to grow and earn. The current finance minister is old school socialist and happy with spending. But, there seems to be no plan to earn. No plan to grow. Only to spend. Next two years focus on growth.

Coalition – and management of diverse parties. The people, who are supposed to manage it, have failed. This coalition is more to prevent work than to get work done. Get them on board. Or Go. .

Deficit – See B above. If you spend without earning, Deficits – and large ones at that – will result.

Exchange Rate – the best thing to do when your currency starts to seek a new level is nothing. You would expect a Government led by an economist to know that.

F for … well this is a family newspaper, and one cannot really expand the F word here. Sufficient to say that that most feel that is what has been done to the country and the economy.
Governance – Governance is seeing Government in action. Not Government inaction.

Higher Power – The buck stops at the Prime Minister. Or it should. Having a higher power that second guess decision making does no good as far as either the Party or the country is concerned.

Inflation – when you grow you will have inflation. If you check that inflation, you will deflate growth. That is what has happened.

Jokes – it is bad for authority and legitimacy of a Government when it becomes the butt for jokes. The solution is not to ban jokes, but get work done.

Kapil Sibal – See J Above. The man whose defence of the Government made people more convinced that they were trying to hide something.

Legislation – that is pending because the government mangers cannot come to an agreement with their coalition partners or the opposition. See G for Governance above.

Mamata – the person no sane government should touch with a barge pole. Her dogma will be the death of the Indian economic dream. Dump her now.

National Advisory Council– or the Non Accountable Counci. A bunch of civil society big wigs, whose heart overwhelms their brain.

Opposition – see M above, and T below.

Prime Minister – whose silence is deafening.

Questionable Deals – Is there any deal that this Government has done that is not questionable. Do they have logical answers rather than pulling up the drawbridge ? Can they share those answers with the people?

Raja – the telecom minister who took a policy aimed at increasing tele-density – the first come first serve policy – and murdered it, while seniors in the cabinet did nothing. If you auction all resources the cost of doing business will increase.

Sonia Gandhi – the power behind the throne. Who along with the NAC (see N above) formulates welfare policies and prevents the Government from achieving growth that will pay for those policies.

Trinumool Congress – see M for Mamata above. With allies like this one doesn’t need an opposition.

UPA2 – it isn’t United, it is regressive rather than Progressive, and the Alliance seems all but dead.

V.K.Singh – General. The nicest thing that one can say about his tenure as COAS is that it is over. Done with. Thank God. But, another example of total mismanagement by the Government. (check A for Authority)

We the People – see F above.

X – marks the spot where people vote. And if state elections are any indication, the people are unhappy.

Y – the economist’ term for national Income. Dear UPA2 – focus on all aspects of that, not just government spending.

Z for Zero Loss – the incredibly arrogant response to the 2G scam – see K above – that convinced people that something was dreadfully wrong.


Dec 192011

This is from the Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh’s Facebook Page :

The Cabinet, presided by Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh on Sunday night, gave green signal to the draft National Food Security Bill after a brief discussion

Once the law is implemented, the food subsidy bill is expected to rise by Rs 27,663 crore at nearly Rs 95,000 crore, while foodgrains requirement would go up to 61 million tonnes from 55 million tonnes, as per the Cabinet proposal.

The Indian National Congress had promised food law in its manifesto for 2009 election and President had announced this in her address to the joint session of Parliament in June 2009.

In rural India, up to 75 percent of the people will be covered, with at least 46 percent under priority households (which is same as below poverty line families in the existing public distribution system).

Up to 50 percent of people will be covered in the urban centres, with at least 28 percent under priority category.

The bill seeks to provide 7 kg of rice, wheat and coarse grains to per person per month to priority households at Rs 3, Rs 2 and Rs 1 per kg, respectively.

This is much lower than the rate at which foodgrains are currently supplied to poor through ration shops.

Under present PDS, 35 kgs of wheat and rice per month is supplied to 6.52 crore BPL families at Rs 4.15 and Rs 5.65/kg, respectively.

General category would get at least 3 kg of grains at a rate not exceeding 50 percent of the minimum support price.

At present, about 11.5 crore APL families get at least 15 kg of wheat and rice per month at Rs 6.10 and Rs 8.30/kg, respectively.

The proposed law has been under consideration of an empowered group of ministers, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, since September 2009.

Smt. Sonia Gandhi led National Advisory Council (NAC) and an expert committee headed by Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) Chairman Shri.C Rangarajan had also submitted their recommendations on the bill.

Can see the next election slogan : 1 2 3 or it could be 3 2 1

I only wish that it comes in with targeted delivery – directly to the household, an overhaul of the PDS system and economic reforms v2 to pay for these. Hope this does not mean more tax – nothing worse than taxing yourself into a recession to pay for welfare.

There are a 1000 loopholes that come to mind, but I can’t see anyone – in power – seriously objecting to these. Not unless they don’t mind losing elections. The key is going to be in delivery. Would be very interested to know how they plan that.

Some questions that would need to be sorted out are:

a) How do you decide BPL. I know a figure has been set. But, how does a family/individual prove that they are BPL ? 

b) How are you going to deliver the food to the households? Is it via the ration shop? is there some other mechanism? what is this mechanism?

c) If the government is going to buy and sell grains – and in effect becomes the monopoly food aggregator and reseller – what happens to food prices for the rest of the country – those not covered by the FSB? is this going to push people APL down to BPL? We are not talking about huge economic differences between the two. 

d) Instead of subsidised food why can the Government not look at a cash transfer, once a month/once a fortnight/ at regular intervals. Let people figure the food they are going to eat. I understand that the NAC opposes this because they are afraid that the men will use the money for alcohol, but the monies can be given to the female. Besides, there is nothing to prevent him from selling the food to get the booze. or indeed selling his wife. The Government is not nanny. Not its job to keep people away from the bottle. 

e) How, for example, are the urban homeless going to be targetted to receive food. Will they receive food? Where will they cook it ? 

f) How frequently are the food transfers going to take place – once a month, once a fortnight, every quarter … how is the government going to store the food? 

g) How is this going to be paid for ? Is the government going to print more money ? is it going to raise taxes? Is it going in for growth. 

For the record, i don’t oppose welfare. I believe that if we have aspirations to be a great nation, a just society – you can’t have over half your population going to sleep on an empty stomach. I also know that this 50% is below the radar of market forces. Non people. non consumers. My concern is two three  fold ,

  •  the food should reach the intended.
  •  The cost of reaching the food to the intended should not pauper a new set of people – those just above poverty line. 
  • you don’t open up one more avenue for leakages & corruption.   
Sep 232011


The extended drama that took place at the Ram Lila grounds is over. The main protagonists – the Government & Team Anna,  have both gone home to regroup and renew. Team Anna is using its newly gained status as media darling to make more demands. The Government is lurching into more crisis. But the key issue remains that of the Jan Lok Pal Bill and should it be passed and in what shape or form

The debate on the ‘Civil Society’ movement as well as the Jan Lok Pal Bill is work in progress. It is the first time since L.K.Advani spearheaded the Ayodhya campaign – also ‘civil society’ – have people been so keenly involved in having such publicly expressed opinions and positions. It was impossible to be neutral. Naturally, anything in the real world resonates, and is amplified, in the virtual world.

On a platform like twitter, people argued for and against the Anna Movement logically, emotively, abusively, rationally and irrationally, in 140 characters. The debate was no holds barred. 140 characters were wisely used – to spar, and to cut, to debate, to converse, and to link to other sources that backed your view. Battle lines were clearly drawn. There were new alliances. Old ‘friends’ broke up. Most conversations revolved around the events unfolding at the Ram Lila Grounds. But, it wasn’t as simple as Pro Anna or anti Anna. The debate on-line was multi layered.

On the  For Anna side were:

The India Against Corruption members. Articulate and balanced, they logically presented their side of the story. The gave you figures, and their interpretation of those figures, to tell you about the extent of corruption. They remained flexible on the IAC version of the Jan Lok Pal bill saying it could be debated in Parliament – even though the people on the ground, at that time, were inflexible.

The Rightwing BJP supporter – who wholeheartedly supported this movement because they believed that the UPA government in general, and the Congress party in particular, had it coming to them. They believed this to be the moment when the tide turns against the Congress in favour of the BJP. Many had invested time and energy supporting the movement. Most of them felt let down when Mr.Kejriwal said that the movement will not share the platform with the BJP or any other communal organisation.

The Something is Being Done Brigade – The view, here, was simple. There is something wrong with the Indian system. Something needs to be done to put this right. Someone (Team Anna) is doing something, and therefore unless you have something else in mind, you should not oppose this something. If this sounds confusing, it was.


The Anti Politician Lot – these were those who believed that all politicians were ‘chor’ who had looted the country for the last sixty years, and you need strong laws to keep them under control.


The Abusers –   These were people who would abuse people in the choicest terms for being ‘anti Indian” and ‘pro corruption’. They would begin by engaging and then by heaping vitriol, and finally by extremely violent personal abuse. Most of these, lovingly called “Annatards” by the rest of us, were blocked.


On the  Anti Anna side were:


The Constitutionalists –  The Constitution of India is supreme. Parliament is the body that is responsible for legislation. The Government of India should not give into protest fasts because they will set a bad precedent with every group with claims fasting to achieve their objective.

The Reformists –  India is corrupt because there are too many rules and laws. Cut these down and bring in Reforms 2.0. Liberalise the economy. Cut down red tape and corruption will automatically decrease.

The Anti Jan Lok Pal Bill brigade – These were people who were all right with the fast and the overall aims of the movement – highlighting corruption, but were against the Jan Lok Pal bill in its current state and form. They believed the Bill stamped on Federalism, created a bureaucracy that was unwieldy and worked on the principle that someone was guilty until proven innocent.

Rightwing BJP Supporters – this included many who believed that the BJP is going to walk into a trap designed to muddy the waters, and divert attention from existing issues.

The Congress Supporters – These were few, but they were there. Their argument was that the Government is cutting down on corruption. They asked have you ever seen so many political and corporate bigwigs in prison. The Government is doing its best, this is a RSS conspiracy to sabotage this Government.

The Dalit Voices – the Dalit voices organised on-line to oppose this bill. They believed that a bill like this would be the first step to bring in anti reservation measures and the reduction of rights of Dalits.

The Change from Within Brigade – the view that corruption wont die with an Act. We as individuals must refuse to pay bribes.

And finally there were those who took the middle path – let all bills be discussed and the Act that emerges will be stronger and more effective for the people of India.

do drop a line if there are more …

Dec 102010

Yesterday, Parliament didn’t work for the 20th day in a row. It was disrupted from doing any business. I almost expect the headlines, in the next few days to say — “today MP’s did work” ….

What does that mean – that means, that the Government that the people of India have elected to power to deliver a certain set of goals – could not deliver what it is meant to do, because the Opposition – or the bunch of people, that the Indian voter did not think fit to exercise power – decided that this is the way to bring about their agenda.

What are the issues:

The Opposition Stand
The opposition parties – the BJP and the Communists – want a Joint Parliamentary Commission (JPC) – to look into the allocation of 2G licenses. They believe that there were massive kickbacks involved in the process. They claim that the loss to the exchequer in forgoing the auction process (which was followed in the 3G allocation) cost the country some lakhs of crores. They claim it is the single largest loss to the exchequer in history. The CPM is slightly flexible  on the JPC. the BJP is not.

Do I agree with the Opposition’s stand – yes & no. there needs to be investigation. However, where I disagree with them on disrupting Parliament.

There, in my view, is this petulant childlike  obstinacy on the JPC, only the JPC and nothing but the JPC – and where their behavior scares me is that if we don’t get our way, we won’t let you – the State – discharge its duties. And, we shall hold our breath, throw a tantrum and generally be disruptive till you do exactly what we want. Furthermore, the three JPC”s held to date have really not done too much except muddy the issue more – the first, for example, was on Bofors, the second on insider trading and the third on pesticides in Colas and ground water pollution…

My major objection with the opposition stand – The Opposition in India is behaving like the opposition in the Weimar republic – in discrediting the system – not the Government -and paving the way for a more unilateral system…..

The Government Stand

The Government – the Congress and its Allies – say yes there were irregularities. But they say that the loss was presumptive. What does this mean – it means that had it been auctioned x would have been  earned, but since the UPA didn’t follow auctioning and went in for revenue sharing – this is not the loss, for there is money going to be earned in perpetuity. But, the UPA admits that there were irregularities, says that it will be investigated bur refuses the JPC. It has set up a one man committee to investigate the issue

note: Presumptive loss – the best analogy i can give is on gender. Lets’ say you – dear reader – are a woman. As a woman you are a presumptive male – for, If your father had contributed the other chromosome ( Y) you would have been a man:)
In economics, this is also the opportunity cost of making a decision – in life this is the road  not taken

Do I agree with the Government’s stand – Yes and No. Yes – it is a presumptive loss. No – that they behaved like ostriches on corruption and flouting of the system. and i am also bugged with the fact that they tried to brazen this out till the heat got too much.

I personally want to see the loss recovered, the matter investigated, the accused investigated and the guilty punished. It matters not whether it is a PAC, a JPC or a XYZ.  What I would be unhappy with is a coverup. I am unhappy that the Government has taken so long to figure out that something was drastically wrong in the process, even more unhappy that it has taken so long to get out of collective hibernation to take action.


The Congress needs to understand that it is in Government. And this is for a 5 year period and not perpetuity. You cannot hide behind ‘coalition dharma’ – if the coalition partners are that dirty, dump them and call for elections. You have not been elected to power -you have been elected to Govern – it is time that began happening….

The BJP needs to understand that the people of India didn’t want to elect it to power or to govern  twice in succession. They need to ask why. Is part of it their own petulant behavior? Their desire to flout the system and take to the streets and disrupt everything if they don’t get their way. Maybe the BJP needs to dump its leadership and find people who are rational and in step with the mainstream electorate – not fossils who are as compromised as anyone in the UPA….


Finally, if I – the voter – want a change from the UPA at the centre what is my choice ….. a political party that behaves like a 3 year old spoilt child in a mall ???