Archive for August, 2010

BB: ‘Black’ is ‘Berry’ much back!

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 August 31st, 2010 Ushamrita Choudhury

After, apparently, some assurances from the Canadian government, and after much deliberation by Research In Motion (RIM), the Indian government has agreed to let the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) operate in the country. RIM’s BB, one of the world’s most popular smart-phones, has approximately one million users in India. Given the present status of the country’s economic prowess, and the adoption of advanced technology in the business sphere, RIM certainly has a firm future in India.

The Indian government, concerned over the domestic security situation, insisted that the Canadian company yield its ‘secret formula’, namely, the BES, in an un-encrypted and readable format to security agencies. The uptight stance taken by the government on BB’s highly-secure enterprise services emanates from confirmed threats to India’s security situation, and as of today, RIM has been given a two-month reprieve for providing a permanent solution to BES’s services, sans the security threats ‘embedded’ in the smart-phone’s enterprise solutions structure.

When customers purchased BBs, they mustn’t have even imagined the potential these sleek devices have to wreak to havoc and destruction. These smart-phones were used in nearly every stage of the 2008 terrorist attack that left part of Mumbai crippled.

Really, I would never have anticipated that something as innocuous as a BB could be used for such sinister motives. Yet, when the government sought a total ban on BB’s enterprise services, it wasn’t quite justified. For all the ‘security issues’ the BB poses, it is a complete device which facilitates seamless communication, between individuals and businesses alike. Business transactions are expedited faster, even when these transactions are carried out while in transit.

RIM defended the BB enterprise services saying it actually added value to a firm’s operations, and enabled greater productivity at the workplace. Several businesses, small, medium and big, rely on services such as the BES to fulfil their official communication needs.

Corporate data that is exchanged over the BES is so secure, that even the manufacturers of the smart-phone cannot access an individual’s mails and data through any ‘master’ code. Even so, why should a productivity-enhancing product be rendered almost useless because of some incident in the past?

Agreed, today’s anti-social elements are tech-savvy, and they are succulently funded to afford the best technologies to address their irrational needs. In this sense, isn’t it obvious that if these elements don’t have access to the BB services, they’ll scout for some other such service?

Hopefully, two months hence, the RIM-Government stand-off will culminate in a logical manner. Sacrificing business productivity and efficiency for the sake of the nation’s security would be acceptable had there not been any other way of accessing the crucial data which is transferred over the BES. Finally, RIM has consented to establish a server in India which will allow the government to monitor and intercept data exchanged through BB’s super-secure network.

As for the yuppy BB customers, they can be relieved that the ‘Instant Messaging’ (IM) service will remain ‘secure’ for the next two months, at least. A highly-regarded form of tech-nosh, the IM service provides free messaging facilities to several youngsters looking for constant connectivity through cheap, in this case, free, and exciting features.

Being a BB user myself, I am becalmed that there has been a co-operative attitude in handling a situation which would have otherwise turned into a lose-lose situation for both parties. While RIM would have lost out in an expanding market, and Indians would have lost out on enjoying a substantial technological feat, the government would have earned the flak of several ‘socially-healthy’ people who use the smart-phone for furthering their own lives, and subsequently, for furthering the growth of the economy.

Facebook fatigue

Thursday, August 26th, 2010 August 26th, 2010 J Jagannath

Exactly a day after I wrote an anti-Facebook rant in this blog space, my account in the social networking site got disabled. A few questions instantly crossed my mind while I was mourning the death of my digital alter ego: Is Mark Zuckerburg the new-age bearded mullah who issued a digital fatwa against me? Should I have sought refuge in Salman Rushdie’s sock drawer?  Facetiousness apart, in my case Zuckerburg will not have the last laugh.

Here’s how. I feel liberated by the fact that I don’t need to update my status with a Bertrand Russell quote that I might comfortably pin over my desk or an Updike poem that would befit my epitaph. I’ve realised that I am this passive aggressive status update guy, who wants to show his estranged high school flames what a brilliant quote hanger he has turned into.

The ‘Like’ button was my crack cocaine. Whenever my 160-odd friends don’t ‘like’ the latest foreign article or the elusive indie song that I post on my Wall, the withdrawal symptoms set in. What else, I place one more link filched from the news aggregator sites. I can now concentrate on my work for time immemorial at a stretch without having to refresh my page every five minutes to see if anyone ‘liked’ my latest post or not.

With benefit of hindsight, the reality has dawned on me that a tweet-size review of latest Bollywood drivel or recommending the just-released Sigur Ros album is not exactly altruism the way, let’s say, donating blood is. It needed a bolt out of the blue to make me understand that for every page or group that I ‘like’, I am actually walking into a corporate’s trap, who will place ads accordingly. It’s almost as if it’s not ‘my’ Facebook profile. It is Facebook’s profile about me. Whoever said benign corporate is an oxymoron!

I really had to stop wanting to look at other people’s photos and updates. I was almost stalking them, spending hours a day looking at their pages without actually saying hello. I felt detached from my Facebook buddies because I rarely directly contacted them. This kid is tired of his new toy. Many others are not, as yet. According to comScore, Facebook attracted 87.7 million unique visitors in the United States in June. Traffic to two of the most popular blog-hosting sites, Blogger and WordPress, is stagnating, according to Nielsen, a media-research firm. By contrast, Facebook’s traffic grew by 66 per cent last year.

If blogs’ ability to absorb the dime-a-dozen knee jerk reactions isn’t pathetic enough, the Facebook is spawning a totally different beast — slacktivism. Urban dictionary defines it as: “One of those feel-good internet campaigns that doesn’t actually help anybody or has political impact.” Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of the main opposition leaders in Iran, has 128,000 Facebook followers. Too bad that joining such groups is being deemed as the hippie equivalent of burning money in a trash can. Regina Spektor nailed it with the beautiful lines in ‘Hero’: “And we’re going to these meetings. We’re not doing any meeting”.

I wonder why there’s no campaign against Facebook’s corporate interests that saw its erstwhile beloved Scrabble application, Scrabulous, pulled amid copyright issues. The Facebook fatigue seems to have caught up with its users though. According to the website www.insidefacebook.com: “Facebook’s growth slowed down in the United States in June, following a burst of activity through April and May. The country picked up only 320,800 new monthly active users in June, compared to the outstanding 7.8 million it gathered in May.”

You, the Facebook user, will feel the fatigue when you realise that a News Feed full of constantly updating ‘friends’, like a room full of chattering people, is no substitute for a conversation. Meanwhile, ‘friends’, e-mail me.

Not just a click away

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 August 25th, 2010 Lipi Mohapatra

Online job search can be tricky. And it’s not as easy as just a click away. While the simple step beings with knowing what opportunity you are looking for, often it takes a set of consecutive efforts. And when you are a fresher, it becomes a little more challenging.

Harveen Singh Bedi, senior vice president and business head Quadrangle and Naukri Resume Serivces says that for one fresher job approximately 300 applications are received and companies usually respond only to the shortlisted applicants.

And here’s an important tip that Bedi gives that as a fresher you need to keep applying to all the relevant jobs. Also apply to only the jobs where you fit.

For example, if 60 oer cent are cut off marks and you have 59 per cent, then the chances are that your CV will be dropped electronically.

For freshers beginning their journey into the corporate world, it is important not to be a regular run of the mill product. Hence, to being with you should have clarity of career aspirations. Knowing your strengths will help in creating the resume accordingly.  A well written resume that highlights your competencies is the way to go.

Sanjay Modi, Managing Director (India/ Middle East/ South East Asia), Monster.com says that getting noticed is the biggest challenge that a fresher faces.
Modi suggests that jobseekers can take the help of services provided by online players that help them stand out of the clutter. Special resume services help to reach out to the leading placement consultants across India. Certain services provided by job portals help job seekers market their strengths, potential and accomplishments.

Indeed, such services make the resume stand out in employer search result with special showcasing making it more likely to be viewed.

jobs

One of the basic mistakes a fresher makes while uploading the resume online is not giving due importance to key words. Bedi recommends that one must go through the list of keywords mentioned in the Job Description and make sure they are incorporated in your CV.

The key to getting best results all agree lies in uploading CV, and then filling in all details with utmost care for getting relevant job alerts.

Testing times for medicos

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 August 23rd, 2010 Sunaina Vasudev

One of the government’s recommendations for improving standards of healthcare in India is through an exam for medical graduates before they can practice nation-wide without restrictions. Ostensibly, this is to prevent doctors who are not trained adequately from practicing beyond the borders of the state which allowed them to undergo that half-baked medical training and graduate. There is no talk of enforcing a basic quality of medical training with sufficient exposure to clinical environment and diagnosis such that the medical student on completing 6 years of training plus internship is a reasonably competent general practitioner. No, all the Indian state/ Indian medical education administrative circus can think of is one more exam and this in a time when we have pathetically low population coverage by doctors in this country.

Every semester or year, a medical student goes through a rigorous examination system which includes theory, clinical (bedside) and viva examination. This is administered by the university which is standard for all medical colleges and I fail to see how the new exam would be any different. I agree standards differ but that is a function of quality of testing and examiners and is easily established by having a list of approved examiners defined by some basic criteria like teaching experience (currently used) and no proven complaints on integrity (a must in these time when you can buy into and out of a medical college even as you can buy your way to laying the foundation for a medical college itself).

The examinations are rough as such and the dreaded viva where your life is in the hands of one single examiner is one of the main but largely uninvestigated factors in the etiopathology of ulcers in the fraternity. However, the clinical exams and vivas are practical at least and simulate the real life environment that a practitioner will be thrust into. One can debate whether a three minute extreme stress situation can be an effective gauge of ability but that’s for another soapbox.

However, the theory exams actually do very little to actually test the ability of the student to be a successful GP (with success translating to effective diagnosis and treatment and not pecuniary in nature). The real transformational magic is in the training you receive, the number of patients you treat and the diversity of cases you handle. No matter how much you mug for your exams it is only when you see a severe anaphylactic (allergic) reaction to a drug prescribed, can you really understand the sheer terror of it and after you have jogged your memory for how to react to it and done that or seen it done before you by a senior, can you do it almost reflexively the next time you see it happen. It needn’t even be so drastic. Just simple diagnosis and treatment measures from malaria to jaundice to food poisoning or even chronic diseases are best learnt through practical exposure to patients given the diversity of presentation of symptoms and reactions.

This is what you need to ensure when we talk about effective medical training. You need effective teachers and adequate clinical experience with busy hospitals and full departments. You have to mandate the teacher student ratio, clinical time and monitor that the teachers teach when they are supposed to. There have to be adequate number of cadavers for dissection so anatomy isn’t just book learning. The instruments and equipment have to be matched to what is available in hospitals and clinics so one can shorten the technical leap for medical graduates when they get their degree.

All of this can also be regulated if one puts effort into it but that would translate to higher capital expenses for teaching colleges and hospitals. Given that medical colleges are really seen as cash cows by politicos in most states it probably is easier to mandate another exam for graduates who are really too few to be heard and don’t carry any cash clout (you would laugh if you heard how much an intern or a resident gets paid). Even as you complain about falling standards of healthcare spare a thought for these students who have a really hard life in college and out of it and another exam will only make it tougher even as it offers no guarantees of improved healthcare for any or all in this country.

Mother of all conspiracy theories

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 August 22nd, 2010 Aditi PhadnisAditi Phadnis

I’m speechless. Reproduced below is a piece by Zaid Hamid, a Pakistani security analyst, and he says India is responsible for floods in Pakistan. This has to be the mother of all conspiracy theories.

the tone of the article is matched only by Indian analysts who predicted Pakistan would never accept flood relief from India because it was Indian. All wrong! Anyway here’s the piece. what do you think ?

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—There is a very sinister aspect to the floods in Pakistan that no one is discussing in the media. While there were rains and flooding in some rivers of the country, the size, scale and the gush of water suddenly pumped into these rivers defies logic. This is especially true considering that rains have slowed down since the breakout of the floods on 29 July.

It is two weeks since the rains stopped but water continues to rise in the rivers Indus and Chenab. There was no flooding in India or in Afghanistan. Never before have rivers in all the provinces of Pakistan flooded at the same time without a similar act affecting the upstream, the source. While some parts of the country, like some areas of Khyber Pakhtun Khwa saw flooding in 1929, the simultaneous floods covering all of Pakistan and in all of the rivers flowing in from Afghanistan and Indian-occupied Kashmir is something truly unprecedented.

This speed and quantity of the gushing water and the short span of time in which it picked momentum preclude the possibility that water from melting glaciers are solely responsible for the floods.

There is no evidence that suggests that glaciers decided to melt at a faster speed just in time for the heavy monsoon rains.

There is every likelihood that what we are seeing today is that the Indians and the US-backed regime in Kabul are using water as a weapon for the first time to deluge Pakistan. There is no doubt about it.

From an initial look at the data, it seems that a natural spill of heavy rain was exploited by releasing water reservoirs in Indian-occupied Kashmir and on river Kabul. Let’s remember that the Met Office in Pakistan had already forecast heavy rains almost ten days before the first downpour. Different people received this news in different ways. Pakistani politicians, inept and incompetent as usual, slept over it. The anti-Pakistan terrorists based on Afghan soil and supported by several countries used this information to exacerbate terror against Pakistani citizens in the southwestern province of Balochistan, knowing that the State machinery would be distracted.

Interestingly, even when it comes to water, it is Indians where are sitting to the left and right of Pakistan’s borders. The dam on Kabul river is handled by Indian personnel, while tens of dams choke Pakistan from the side of occupied Kashmir.

RIVER KABUL

In February, the Obama administration organized a meeting for senior government officials in Kabul and Islamabad who handle agricultural issues. The meeting was strangely held in Doha, Qatar, on US request. The agenda was to force the Pakistanis to grant agricultural concessions to the US-propped government in Kabul, without Pakistan getting anything in return.

But in the meeting, Mr. Zahoor Malik, a senior Pakistani bureaucrat leading the Pakistani delegation, raised the issue of an Indian company with close links to the Indian government building a dam on river Kabul near the border with Pakistan. It is not clear what the Americans and Karzai’s officials had to say about this. There is a track record, however, that the incumbent pro-US government in Islamabad has often swept such issues under the carpet in order not to jeopardize Washington’s support for the Zardari government.

All major rivers flowing into Pakistan including the Indus are blocked by Indian-built dams.

US and British officials often defend India and dismiss Pakistani concerns as ‘conspiracy theories.’ Some Pakistani analysts accuse elements within US government and intelligence of using Afghan soil against Pakistan.

But imagine this: India, a country that faces a debilitating conflict over Kashmir with Pakistan, goes to build tens of small and medium sized dams on all the rivers flowing down to Pakistan, and everything is supposed to work out smoothly? Not possible, even theoretically. But luckily Indian actions on the ground more than strengthen Pakistani concerns.

After the first wave of floods, the other rivers were flowing normally and no extraordinary rains followed. But suddenly Chenab and Indus Rivers overflowed and the flow picked up speed, turning into a flood. India’s Baghliar Dam in occupied Kashmir opened its flood gates to cause a tragedy in the plains of Pakistan [Sindh and Punjab]. While Sarobi Dam – the Indian-maintained dam near Kabul – controls the flow of Kabul River entering Pakistan.  The same thing happened here. Monsoons did not lash Afghanistan and there was no flooding there of any magnitude. But again, strangely, water flowing from river Kabul into Pakistan dramatically picked up speed as water levels increased turning into a flood. The speed with which this transformation occurred could have happened only because of one of two reasons: massive rains in Afghanistan or because Sarobi Dam released large amounts of water over a sustainable period of time.

PAKISTANI POLITICIANS

ANP, a US-allied party with strong links to Kabul and New Delhi and ruling the Pakistani northwestern province, has always opposed the construction of the Kalabagh Dam which would have saved thousands of lives and property had it been there. The ANP has argued that building the dam would drown the city of Nowshehra. Ironically, ANP’s lie was exposed when not only Nowshehra but also Charsadda drowned without the Kalabagh Dam being there and thanks to the artificial floods created in Kabul River by ANP’s Indian and Afghan patrons.

[Earlier this year, Washington and New Delhi came to ANP’s defense on the Kalabagh Dam project by lobbying the World Bank to refuse Islamabad’s request for funding the dam. The Bank obliged and said it can’t fund the project due to Indian objections.]

OUR RESPONSE

 How Pakistan responds to this latest Indian water war and aggression is something that remains to be seen. What is confirmed is that the incumbent pro-US government in Islamabad is useless when it comes to defending the Pakistani interest. To be fair to this government, this unusual situation in Islamabad started under former President Musharraf and continues with the current ‘elected’ government with amazing continuity. This water aggression has proved more lethal than the TTP [so-called Pakistani Taliban] and the BLA insurgencies, both of which were started from the Afghan springboard to punish Pakistan.

Pakistan has taken another serious hit, more from its corrupt rulers than external enemies. These Indian Dams now need to be destroyed. India has declared war on us by exploiting and orchestrating these floods.

Shortchanged?

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010 August 17th, 2010 Rrishi Raote

The new rupee symbolHow many of you readers like the new rupee symbol?

I don’t (despite a caveat, which we’ll get to). Here’s why.

It is extremely predictable

Everyone knows what a Devanagari “r” looks like. It’s an elegant letter, but is that enough? If you think about it, the other major currency symbols come with a lot of history. There are several hypotheses regarding the origin of the $ sign, for instance. Was it from an 18th- and 19th-century abbreviation for the Mexican peso? Does it recall the Spanish “pieces of eight”, the ones that were mined in Peru and shipped across the Atlantic to Europe to pay for Spain’s wars and fuel a worldwide 16th-century price boom? Does it have something to do with the Greek god Hermes? There are more — lots more.

The sign for the UK pound sterling, £, originates from “L” for the Roman libra, a unit of weight. The word comes from the Latin for “weighing scale”. So it is well over 2,000 years old.

The euro, €, is, and looks like, something delivered by a committee. E for Europe. But also € from the Greek letter epsilon, or Є. So it is even older than the £. And at least it looks interesting in different fonts.

The yen sign, ¥, is boring. Fortunately, we hardly ever need to use it in India.

It is not user-friendly

You can make the $ with two strokes of a pen — one wiggly one and one straight down. Satisfying.

You can make the £ likewise with two strokes, one wiggly, one straight. Even more satisfying to execute than the $, though handwriting experts may cavill that the last stroke doesn’t point egotistically straight down the page towards the writer.

The € can also be dispensed with in two strokes, and happily the straight stroke (as in the £) leaves your pen heading rightwards, which is convenient for starting the next word or number.

The rupee sign? This will take all of four laborious strokes. A curve, a diagonal slice, and two short horizontals. You try assembling all these strokes correctly while writing in a hurry. And nobody writes slowly and painstakingly nowadays.

What’s more, while writing, not many people like sharp angles. They are less easy to execute than curves. Which is why the Devanagari “r” usually gains a little loop in the middle where the curve meets the diagonal. That will turn four strokes into three. But now imagine a rupee sign with a loop and two horizontal strokes. Yuck.

Do a scribble shortcut, and leave out one of the horizontal strokes. Now you have a traditional Devanagari “r” with one horizontal line. That would look like a vowel sign added to the consonant: “ru”. That is no longer a symbol, it is an abbreviation.

The ¥ is boring. It takes at least three strokes, and also fails the handwriting test.

It bothers and tricks the eye

Have you seen the rupee sign in print? It’s quickly taking over in the print media. It is not well designed.  In headlines it looks remarkably blocky next to the elegant shapes of the professionally designed fonts we use. In text it cannot properly be made out because the two horizontal strokes obscure the lovely curve of the Devanagari “r”.

What’s worse, when you place it before a number, it looks at first glance like a “2″, especially for one accustomed to reading Hindi numerals. So, what used to be “Rs 5,500″ will now look at first glance like “25,500″. That is a design problem.

The $ does not look like a 5. The £ does not look like an L. The € does not look like an E. (It looks like half an egg.) The ¥ is boring.

It is unrepresentative of India

Yes, Devanagari, alongside Roman (English), is the most widely used script in the land. But that does not make it representative of the nation. So why should the Devanagari “r” stand for the Indian rupee? I happen to think the Telugu “ra” is beautiful. The Bengali “r” has promise. The Tamil “r” is intriguing. Why not any of those? Indians not familiar with Telugu, Bengali or Tamil would then be able to see the rupee sign for what it really is: a symbol.

If none of the non-Devanagari signs are politically palatable, then how about English? We use it all over. Why not fool around with the well-established R?

For that matter, why not dispense with alphabets altogether and invent a pure symbol?

Too difficult, perhaps, because (and here we come to the caveat)…

The other designers seem to be asleep

The official rupee sign may not be so bad after all. Do please have a look at some of the other designs (here’s a larger image). Terrible! If those were the kinds of options the government had, then thank you very much after all, Udaya Kumar — he designed the chosen sign.

What do you think?

United socialist states of America

Monday, August 16th, 2010 August 16th, 2010 Sunaina Vasudev

There are rumblings in blogs and rumour mills that the US President Obama is considering forgiving mortgage loans for distressed homeowners who are negative net equity ( homes cost less now than when purchased  and homeowners will probably have to step up to cover that deficit as loans get reassessed). An estimated 15 million US mortgages - one in five - are underwater with negative equity of some $800 billion, according to analyst John Mauldin in his newsletter.

The move should resonate with India’s socialist polity and the architects of the much maligned farm loan waiver (the impact of which is showing up in Nonperforming loan ratios this quarter for several banks) will cackle should the rumours play true (especially with the hauntingly familiar timing, as they come just ahead of crucial mid-term elections where the Democrats are expected to take a severe routing). One can only wonder about the changing times in this bastion of Capitalism and free markets and if you were a prudent renter after taking a call on home prices in those turbulent years, you would be kicking yourself hard…..again, if you had rented through the boom and not cashed in on it in the heady years.

Naturally the magnitude of the rescue will mean more deficits to be repaid at a later date at ever higher rates of interest, given the lingering doubts about the quality of revival in the US economy and strong talk of the possibility of a double dip. Little do children in the US know, as they play in their backyards, the burden they will have to carry and more importantly repay. With the ripples flowing out through linkages across the world, one wonders what form the global impact will take and what our children will have to face, if not ourselves.

Is the CD Deshmukh Memorial Lecture a political event?

Friday, August 13th, 2010 August 13th, 2010 Rajiv Shastri

Going by Dr Subbarao’s contribution this year, it certainly seems to be. This speech, if one were to take it at face value, exhibited a complete lack of awareness regarding monetary matters which drew a sharp & detailed rebuttal from Ila Patnaik.

However, I believe that the speech was made with a very specific intention. While a large chunk of the speech was dedicated to it directly, with the RBI Governor detailing the reasons why he believes that the RBI should be the coordinating regulator, the rest of the speech dealt with the proposed environment in which this should happen, albeit indirectly.

Discussions concerning the RBI’s role in the economy came to a head recently with the government replacing the ULIP Ordinance with The Securities and Insurance Laws (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2010 [PDF]. This Act provides for the establishment of a joint body to reconcile and rationalise jurisdiction disputes between the four regulators (RBI, Sebi, Irda and PFRDA) by a joint committee which apart from representation from these regulators, will have the Union Finance Minister, The Finance Secretary and The Secretary (Financial Services) in the Ministry of Finance as members with the Union Finance Minister chairing it. In a concession to the RBI, The RBI Governor will not just be an “ex-officio member”, as stated in the ordinance, but the “ex-officio Vice-Chairperson” of the Joint Committee. The Committee will then follow any procedure it considers suitable and inform the Central Government of its decision within three months. The decision will be binding on all regulators.

The RBI has always believed that it is far more important than any of the other financial regulators, and with good reason. After all, RBI decisions touch far more lives, and exert greater influence over the economy, than those of other regulators. However, in expressing the underlying reason for this “seniority” the RBI often, intentionally, mixes its up. This was evident in Dr. Subbarao’s speech as well.

He takes the RBI’s current responsibilities and builds a case for such seniority being formalized by law at a time when the scope of the RBI’s responsibilities is being intensely contested. To say that the monetary authority should also be the prudential regulator for banks as they are the primary channel for transmission of monetary policy is denying current reality. Financial system risk is no longer restricted to banks and non-banks, including Mutual Funds, play an important role as well. The monetary authority, therefore, needs to have authority over all forms of financial risk in the system. The RBI tries to achieve this by making a case for increased power. I think it is better achieved by reducing it. Let me explain.

RBI’s role as a monetary authority would be enhanced if it were to delegate all prudential regulation, including that of banks, to other regulators, specializing in various types of financial risk. As a monetary authority, its role can then be strengthened by giving it the power to supervise the functioning of all regulators without undue favoritism. Currently, with bank & NBFC prudential regulation entrusted to the RBI, it has a tendency to favor these over other financial intermediaries, which in reality, works against efficient transmission of monetary policy as was evident in the events of late 2008. In this case, the RBI was very willing to look at the problems faced by banks, but agreed to assist the mutual fund industry only after intense discussion and convincing. The result was financial mayhem. The suspicion RBI harbors about the intentions & regulatory framework surrounding other financial intermediaries is an outcome of its regulatory ownership of banks & NBFCs. It believes other regulators to be deficient not because it knows them to be so, but because it believes that it does a far better job than them. If we take this competitive ego out of the picture, the monetary authority will be far better placed to manage systemic financial risk.

But for such a monetary authority to be empowered to this extent would need it to be accountable for its actions. After all, we cannot have an unaccountable body overseeing all prudential financial regulations and this is where the rest of the speech fits in. Dr Subbarao, using archaic arguments, goes to great lengths to avoid any form of accountability for the RBI. He maligns the concept of inflation targeting as detrimental to the RBI’s other aims, namely development and financial stability, without defining a target for either. If the RBI wishes to support growth and control inflation in a financially stable environment, it can specify the target and relative priority for each and justify every action on this basis. If it believes that inflation in India comprises mostly of factors exogenous to monetary policy, as Dr Subbarao states in the speech, let it define the inflation it is willing to target. Many central banks do the same by ignoring food & energy prices (both exogenous factors) and focusing on managing core inflation But it needs to come forth and say what it wants to manage, define a target and justify all actions on that basis. This would also lend greater discipline to RBI’s decision making and reduce the scope of personality driven monetary policy which is common under the present system.

By avoiding any form of quantification, the RBI wants to gain control over all financial regulations without any form of accountability. Without the increased power it strives for as well, it is evident that the RBI needs to be more accountable in its role of monetary authority. With increased power, it would be critical. As mentioned earlier, its a two step process. We need to create a Monetary Policy & Financial Stability Board in which the current RBI Governor and two relevant Deputy Governors assume the role of Chairperson and Members of the Board respectively. Chairpersons of other regulatory bodies like Sebi, Irda and PFRDA should also be inducted on this board. The RBI, or what is left of it, should be headed by the senior-most remaining Dy. Governor. Similarly, other regulators can be led by the senior-most of their second line. However, this arrangement is only to ease transition, after which all members and the Chairperson of this board will be appointed by the Central Government. All regulatory bodies should then function under the supervision of the Board which takes ownership for monetary policy and financial stability with measurable targets and complete accountability.

The RBI’s current stance is working against the emergence of a cohesive regulatory framework for the financial market as a whole. To designate a particular regulator as senior increases the risk of financial market development being skewed towards the industry it regulates. It’s not a risk India can afford to take.

But the speech was disappointing at another level as well. The CD Deshmukh Memorial Lecture is an event many look forward to, anticipating words of genuine wisdom. Well, this year, we got a political statement in the garb of wisdom. Extremely convenient wisdom.

The blogger is an independent macro-economic consultant and has been a part of the debt market for over 15 years. He also blogs at www.rajivshastri.com. Views are personal

Formal Twist

Thursday, August 12th, 2010 August 12th, 2010 Lipi Mohapatra

Attending a formal corporate gathering last week got me thinking about the corporate dress code for men nowadays. In the gathering were some who subscribed to the traditional dress code. A select few were those, who pretty much had the essence of a mixologist in the way they blended formal attire with a little peppiness. The entire combination was very much formal, but characterised high spirits and pertness.

The environment at that conference looked like a Thank-God-It’s-Friday Conference, though in a demure way. This made me immediately reach out to a friend of mine who I think is a savvy dresser. I needed some perspective.

Corporate dressing for men has got a twist. Concocted by the new breed of young managers, formal dressing in office is no more restricted to the traditional black and whites. The colours are now flowing in, interspersed with red, aqua blue and peach.

Plain choices are no more the pattern. Pink and purple are, my fashionista friend declared. He added that one need not be brash. But, if you are carrying something offbeat, a little incorrect, but carrying it with arrogance and certainty, you can get away with it and nobody will think you are out of place. At least, people around you start to think that you are original and not dated.

As far as shoes are concerned, other than wing tips, slip-ons and oxfords, boat shoes are also making their way into the formal dress code world for men. In this, the most versatile colour for office wear still being black.

My friend adds that the basics of white shirt teamed with black pant remaining the same, it’s acceptable for men to experiment with colours.

Though, I still doubt how far he may be true.

For, dress codes are also dependent on the industry and particular office culture.

Ask the youngsters, and they say - so what if it’s office and corporate, you must exude as if you are having a real whirl enjoying your work everyday. And they way you dress gives that impression.

The author is Director, IILM - Business School, Mathura Road, New Delhi

CWG: Playing with our money

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 August 10th, 2010 Joydeep Ghosh

Kalmadi, Darbari… and whoever else is managing the Commonwealth Games is making… oops, has already made a mess of it. And success or failure of the event does not count.

Every debate on television channels only highlights our lack of preparation. The debate between Congress’s Manish Tewari, BJP’s Kirti Azad, Ashwini Nachappa and Sanjay Jha in CNN-IBN was quite disgusting.

The way Tewari and Azad were screaming at each other at the end of the show was pretty cheap. In fact, the latter was quite controlled for most of the show before he lost it.

But there is something quite funny about the Congress. When anything goes wrong, their spokespersons are quick to point out that it is the UPA government’s problem. I don’t know how they will react if something goes right.

Well, can’t blame them either. In the last one year, there haven’t had many reasons to celebrate. Despite the 200-plus seats and 2,000-point salami by the Sensex on their victory, things aren’t too rosy.

Since then, only bad news has dominated. Naxal killings, railway accidents and Bhopal gas tragedy have taken up most headlines. On the economy front, things are not so good either. Inflation is up, so are interest rates and the Sensex’s stuck.

So money-making is no longer easy unless you are a crook. And the CWG mess proves it. Hiring treadmills at double to price, inflated costs on building stadiums… even toilet papers have not been spared. That too, for a series of sporting events in which we figure nowhere, internationally. And ‘Mahim ka Champions’ don’t count.

Yes, we are decent in a couple of them and have even won Olympic medals. But in most others, we are laggards.

And the blame lies with organisers, not sports persons. All the sports associations are manned by people who have no knowledge of the game. It’s not good enough to “have played basketball in college” or ‘following World Cup Football on television’.

Anyway, am I paying for this nonsense? Yeah!

But I don’t remember paying a cess. Like there was an education cess, why wasn’t a CWG cess introduced? At least, I would have known that I am being officially looted.