Tuesday, May 16, 2006

No going back on 27% quota for OBCs: Arjun

No going back on 27% quota for OBCs: Arjun
Long back in class IX or X I read this thing about bacteria and their behaviour. If you mix various species of bacteria together and keep them around for sometime, they somehow find their own kind and form "colonies". In India these colonies are termed "vote banks" and species would translate to "caste".

India may have advanced and people many have become internet savvy but when we log on to internet we go to shaadi.com and search matches based on "caste". In short, we are still living within the caste system...

Its therefore imparative that democracy in India be an extension of the same system. As the OBCs are more cohesive and organised than upper castes, I do not see why they should'nt have more clout in deciding the fate of this nation. Its not limited to education alone, its extends to employment as well.

The only way to address this issue is by making govt role in higher education less relevant. This can be achieved though pvt participation in education. If we look back, if can clearly see a sea change in our higher education (professional education) fee structures. For the last 10 years or so, govt. contribution to higher education is constantly decliling. Educational institutes have increased the fee several folds and yet it we havent seen much pushback from the society. Parents who spend thousands of rupees training their children for competetive exams can clearly afford the higher cost of education. In the past few years, with banks aggressively going retail way, education loans have become more affordable and accessible. Also, we are seeing proliferation of private educational institutions (engg. / medical colleges) in almost all the states implying higher education is affordable...

Going by above observations we can set up educational institutions that do not take any aid from the govt. and therefore not required to implement quota system. Today, the quality of these institutes is a suspect, but if the biggies in the industry decide to back some such institutes, I'm sure the quality of education can be improved to match the best in the country. The west has done it and I do not see why we can't do it here.

So instead of crying foul over reservation issue, lets move ahead and create meritocracy through pvt participation in professional education.

Monday, April 17, 2006

HDFC Bank Q4 Profits Rise By 30%

Aditya Puri is a respected man in the Indian Banking Industry. Yet I cant but get piqued by his bank's 30% YOY growth
I wonder if its not a case of window dressing results to meet a preset target. I may be completely wrong on this one. In fact it may be entirely possible for any business entity to grow by a predetermined percentage quarter after quarter, year after year. But it sure sounds eerie to me.

Lets just take an example. I start off a business. Over a period of a year I produce some financial numbers while I added new branches and new customers. I join the quarterly dots and come about with a trajectory. The next year and the year after, is it possible to chart exactly the same trajectory by joining dots 30% above previous year dots while performing activities that may be different from what I was doing a year ago. Eerie.....

I'm sure, over long terms the numbers will all match out i.e. maybe over a 5 year period the CAGR may actually come out to be 30%. To my untrained eye it surely seems to be financial wizardry... Maybe if ever an investigation is carried out, many skeletons may come rolling out out the cup-board.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

City Limits, from Silly Point

Agony of Mumbai lover is captured well in this article. Every year(at least for the last 5 years) the city roads are dug up every year after the rains as a ritual and Mumbai progresses through the traffic snarls to the next monsoon. One year they were laying the Gas Pipeline. The next they were laying fibre optic cable. Then they decided to Concrete the road and out came all the utilities buried under the tar road. I could see kilometers of orange fibre optic cable bouncing off trees and street poles. Some time back some hardworking labourer plunged his shovel in Mahanagar Gas pipe under the pretext of broadening the road. The damn thing caught fire and there was a huge traffic blockade on Andheri Kurla while the firemen fought the flames.

I understand that all this digging of roads is to create an "illusion of progress". The only prompt activity in the entire project is the digging. Activities such as clearing the debris after digging or consolidating the utilities after digging or laying or road or cleaning of road after it are after thoughts.

Why do we pay a contractor to dig the roads? I have a better idea. We can lease roads to farmers for at least one season. They would pay BMC oddles of money. Dig the road for free, to plant the crop. Irrigation will be provided by the broken sewer. By the time the utilities guys come in to consolidate the farmers would have harvested the crop.

Once I saw a PCO standing proudly as a lighthouse of hope to encroachers in midst of all the digging. On all sides the land was dug up about 2 feet but the PCO was left untouched. To make a call you had to stand 2 ft below the PCO. If you were just 5'2", too bad. Standing in the pit you could not see the dial and so you'd request the PCO owner to dial the number for you while you stood in the pits. Reminds me of First World war clippings where the soldiers lay in the trenches ready to pounce on unsuspecting enemy. Maybe we can suggest Mumbai as a location for any war movies being planned in Hollywood.

What irks me most is the manner in which the work is completed. There is not even a pretense of planning. Along the road where ever ther are no encroachments the digging begins promptly. On a 2 km stretch of road I saw a dozen 25 meter stretches of disconnected 3rd lane. Maybe the contractor forgot to join the dots. So now we had the project status 95% complete and yet the road is absolutely unsuable. In any case I do not think the additional lane would have helped the traffic flow as where ever a new lane was added or concretized, it was promptly taken up by trucks, tempos and autos to park themselves. I fail to understand the economics for creating 1000 cr worth of concretized free parking space.

Well so it is. Mumbai lives in its own illusion of progress. I've been to Shanghai and I think our PM is either a day dreamer or a rhetorical street politician to have promised a Shanghai to Mumbaikars.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Is Delhi Metro a Costly Mistake

I do not understand why are they flogging Delhi metro, terming it a mistake before allowing it to settle. According to me metros are the only way a mega city can overcome the growing pressures of population. The references are also misleading.

I've stayed in Tokyo and I've spent some time in Shanghai. The former already has a network of more than 34 lines crisscrossing the city and the second one is building it. Metro can work well only when its well connected to people's working place and place of residence. That can be seen in Tokyo. You can travel between any two points in the city using the rail network. Also you need not walk for more than 500 mts to reach a railway station. That kind of accessibility drives usage.

In Shanghai they are still building the Metro. Currently there are 4 lines operational. In the next 5 years they will build another 5 lines to cover city in a mesh of tracks. In Shanghai also a lot of people walk, ride a battery operated bicycle or ride a bus to their place of work. Metro is more expensive than any of the above and yet the metros are bursting at its seams during the rush hour. If you exclude the rush hour, even Mumbai sub-urban rails are not fully utilized.

I am not sure of what should be average capacity utilization of a metro for a day, but I suspeect it could not be more than 30-50%. 100% util would not be for more than 3 hrs in the morning and 3 in the evening. For the rest of the day it could be substantially less. I believe such networks should be built considering the peak load they will have to supportand not the average.

I agree with the point that for the rail system to be successful the feeder system should be perfected. Unless people have easy access to the mode of transport they may not use it. Take a look at Mumbai. Every major station has a bus terminal nearby that connects the station to offices and residences. Though I've been to Kolkata I'm not sure if their metro has a good feeder system.

Its wrong to assume that people will not travel by metro if its expensive. I think convenience, time of travel and accessibility also play a very important role. I'm not suggesting that you charge an arm and a leg (figuratively) for a metro ride. So long as the cost is similar to lets say shared auto, people will use it.

When it comes to a government choosing between building hospitals, schools and transport systems my vote would go to transport system. Its easier to build the first two and to get private participation for them, but to build a decent public transport system, only the govt can do it.