Here, I intend to write what comes to my mind about India. This could be about anything, politics, religion, movies or remote happenings. Feel free to check this blog for updates, who knows some could be of some interest to you.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Rupee symbol and my sour grape syndrome

I like a lot of things about the new Indian Rupee symbol except for the line in the middle that almost looks like an imitation of euro or Yen.

Well, it is also a story of the fox crying 'sour grapes' for me. As everyone would know at least by now that there was a competition announced by the Govt of India for the public to submit designs for the symbol. The Govt should have outsourced this entire event to a private company, the public hardly knew about such a competition. Even the announcement and the winner were not well publicized or celebrated...I still remember the way Euro's symbol was announced.

I came to know of the competition just about a few weeks before the last day and tried my imagination on it, of course trying to follow the rules published in a little pdf file in the governemnt's web-site still available here. One of the confusing guidelines was #5 "The symbol should be applicable to standard keyboard. The symbol has to be in the Indian National Language Script or a visual representation.". Not many (I did talk to others who read this or forced a few of my friends to read and interpret it to me) understood this and the general thought was that it wanted the design to use keys available on the standard keyboard...so with these mis-understandings, me on the drawing board came up with my symbol and write up, see below how close/far it is from the winner.

Constraining my imagination for the guidelines, my version used "R", "\" and "." of standard keyboard (of course must need some Fn/Ctrl software control to place them right)

My key points on my design write-up were:
  1. R - stands for 'Rupee' with the "\" tail when seen ignoring the vertical left leg resembles the hindi 'Ru' for 'Rupiah'
  2. The vertical leg of 'R' stands for 'I' or India, together it is Indian Rupee.
  3. The dot on top has the deepest meaning.This dot is a salute to all the women of India who have been the little finance ministers of every home for centuries as a wife, mother, sister or granny. They indirectly run the nation. Coincidentally, the country has a woman as the President when this symbol is released. So it is appropriate to salute our women in a symbol that will represent our country everyday all over the world henceforth.
Though I kick myself for losing the opportunity but there's no one to blame it on but me. This went down like an untold Love. Yes, I never submitted my design, it was my laziness to run around visiting banks for the Rs. 500 demand draft to be sent that made me not send this entry. A great lesson, one among many others to remind me that you cannot expect the fruit unless you move your feet and participate first...lest end up crying 'sour grape'

Monday, June 14, 2010

Indian Police-Terrorists/Beggars in uniform?

I am not happy with this title of this blog post but neither am I happy about the state of the custodians of Law and Order of the country.

We all talk of rooting out corruption in all the government functions and have a clean country and for decades have not even identified where to start with it. My take, it is the Police department that should be fixed at first.

Generally only when there are concentrated issues going out of control, the home minister or the Prime Minister convenes a meeting, re-iterates the importance of clean Police department to the states and ask them to work on it...no action plans, no deadlines, no accountability neither is there any transparency in the progress. It just feeds the media of a few weeks of debates and articles in print about 'Police reforms'.

Are we really serious about it?

If we look back in history for the origin of the present Police department. It is during the colonial rule, to be specific, post 1857 the 'first war of independence' or my preferred term for it 'Sepoy mutiny' that the British established the police Act of 1861 which is till date the official Act of the Indian Police. It is apparent that the Police force was created to protect the people in power and definitely not the public in distress then. True to it's original purpose, the department still is loyal and works for the people in power though we have moved from feudal age to 'democracy'.

Corruption is so rampant in the force that the term 'honest-police officer' is seen as a great example of oxymoron.

Almost everyone in the force when they join are ambitious and strive to do good and correct all bad things they saw from outside. However, the saturation of corruption in the system swallows their motives like a black hole. The corruption career starts with not minding little gifts, turning a blind eye to wrong doings of superiors and graduating to deliberately breaking the law for personal gains from when on the vicious circle acts on its own into bribery, fake encounter, illicit use of weapons, sexual harassment and custodial crimes...list not complete. Major part of it goes to the reason that the Police is still controlled by our 'very able' politicians who misuse their power to appoint or transfer as a reward or punishment to help them for their or the ruling party's selfish purposes. This goes back to the Police Act and why it was formed.

At times it makes one feel that the town is better off without the police, than with them. It definitely applies to places around the country's capital. Some of the official surveys shows that up to 80% of people who interacted with the police reported them to be corrupt. Over 60% have to either use illegal means (commonly, pay money) or use political or other influence to get things done. It is a common sight on the road that when 2 vehicles are involved
in minor accidents the parties involved decide to sort out the issue before the traffic police officer arrives. They know that their financial loss will be in multiples if the police is involved. I know of a an incident first hand where the traffic police had stooped to the level of accepting a 'coffee-bite' chocolate, yes, remember the 'coffee-bite' toffee OR coffee ad...? (a real good toffee) to let go one of my friends who made a 'U' turn where he was not supposed to. If not for the uniform, I really find it difficult to differentiate between the beggars in the traffic signals who put their hand in front of you and the traffic cops who put their hands in front of every truck or auto-rickshaw for a petty amount. It's a bit scary to see that they no longer try to even hide it and its become a part of their job.

The basic mindset of the police force must be changed. They no longer exist to protect the crown by crushing the crowds but to serve and protect the crowd (public) who is now scared to talk to a police man, forget visiting a police station to register a complaint voluntarily. Filing a FIR (First Information Report) the basic official police complaint required to take the case forward is legally is a nightmare task in any police station for the common man.

Our policemen are so under trained, ill equipped and out of shape that they cannot command respect from the people. We must have regular rigorous training exercises mandated for all policemen to have them in shape and fit to fight the ever growing bad forces failing which they must be moved to other jobs in the force or any appropriate area. Strict physical fitness levels must be expected and tested for once every 3-5 years.

Citizens are expected to complain to the police if they have problems but are lost when the problem is the police itself. Unless the care takers of the Law are not fixed, the Law will be left uncared for and the system will erode from inside which will not be visible until the entire structure collapses.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

NOTA - None of the above

For a system to be effective there must first be a high level of participation. To see good participation, there must be good clarity of the benefits. Our election process is more a "must hire" process than really giving people the power to register a clear NO to all of the candidates running the race. We call it the process of choosing the "lesser evil" and it leaves us with no better option.

By implementing the "None of the Above" (NOTA) option in the ballot paper/voting machine we can definitely take a big step towards getting a more eligible representative. The inability to express and register their disappointment of all the candidates is why the common man refrains from stepping into the polling booth. We even have a flawed system of recording the details of people who go to the booth but do not want to cast their vote to any candidate. In such situations, for accounting purposes the officers are supposed to write down the details in a separate register. This procedure goes against the basic rule of 'secrecy of ballot' and gives away the voters preference (to refrain). Some choose to pick their ballot paper, go to the covered area and not mark on any of the candidates but drop a fresh paper into the box giving opportunity for malpractice during counting.

It works like, if NOTA option which is proposed to be the last option in any Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) or ballot paper gets the majority, there will be re-election and the candidates must be changed by all parties. The rejected candidates cannot contest for that term in the constituency.

Let us see some of the good things possible with this option enabled.
  1. Improves participation by getting more voters to the voting stations on election day.
  2. People can decide the party's choice of candidates instead of the current form where the parties decide their candidates based on their internal process, which again is based on a simple highest bidder process. There are different prices decided by each party for each election.
  3. Even an unopposed candidate must get the voters consent.
  4. Voters will have the power to decide the number of terms the same person can be in power
  5. Lesser blank votes reduces election malpractice by whatever possible percentage

Of course, it comes with a cost of re-elections until an acceptable candidate is chosen but tell me if you are ready to incur losses for the entire term with an incapable "lesser-evil" politician in power than pay a premium to find a better one ?

I am not saying that this is the one solution to solve all our woes but will definitely be one step in the right direction for democracy.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Financial Literacy

"Experience is the lesson that nature gives us when we are bald" - Chinese proverb

This perfectly fits when we think about the financial literacy of our countrymen. A traditionally conservative culture. The default wisdom passed on for generations is that education leads to stable job which demands hard work resulting in a decent salary that needs to be spent with great prudence and 'savings' is the mantra. Nothing more than this piece of mind is given to the thousands of fresh graduates who pass out of our colleges joining the lakhs of worker ants already in the field hard-wired in their brains with again nothing but, the same thought.

I discount for a moment the very few who graduate with a degree in subjects related to economics and a few who postpone plans to participate in the job race and take-up higher education on these streams.

Everyone saves money for future needs but the approach is to save surplus money without preparing household budgets, without prioritising personal financial goals, without properly allocating investments in different asset classes and without understanding the real rate of return,after adjusting for inflation. Well, how many who earn a salary really understand the term 'inflation'? India has one of the highest savings rate in the world - our gross household savings rate, which averaged 19% of gross domestic product (GDP) between 1996-97 and 1999-2000, increased to about 23% in 2003-04 and has been growing ever since. Unless the common person becomes a wiser investor and is protected from wrong doings, wealth creation for the investor and the economy will remain a distant dream. We need to convert a country of 'savers' into a nation of investors.

Thankfully, the landscape is changing, though very slowly starting from Urban India. At least 'savings' is no longer seen as the tool to financial growth. The younger generations are more savvy about the opportunities in the marker at least lured more by the ability of equity market to pay higher returns at a shorter term. Urban population is very comfortable with credit cards and gone are the days when you are looked down upon if you owe money to someone else. The social status now is gauged by how much one owes to others, in other words how many credit cards one flashes and the life style one could purchase from borrowed money. While these avenues are encouraged, along with it comes the know-hows of the right ways of using these. Not many who use credit cards understand how it works. Not many who purchase a car on credit understand how the system works. With many private players in the fray, aggressively marketing personal loans, credit cards and the growing demand for money has increased the importance of Financial literacy.

Indian Government, just like many other countries like UK,Malaysia or Singapore has come up with various methods to improve the financial literacy of its citizens. One such effort is credit-counselling. Many banks have dedicated centers focusing only on educating people. Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is stepping up efforts to provide enough information to investors not just about the benefits but also about the risks and costs involved in every medium of investment. One of my favorites used to be RBI's initiative to explain things in very simple terms http://www.rbi.org.in/FinancialEducation/

Financial literacy is the ability to know, monitor, and effectively use financial resources to enhance the well-being and economic security of oneself, one's family, and one's business.

Financial literacy can make a difference not only in the quality of life that individuals can afford, but also the integrity and quality of markets, product offerings by financial institutions. I even foresee that it will go to the extent of regularizing things like our most corrupt real-estate market by demanding greater transparency so that mortgage backed securities (MBS) could be packaged as retail investment products. Knowledge is power, it will help consumers demand better quality products that will benefit them and also help them make informed decisions and not get carried away by sugar coated pills, ending up in something like the recent notorious mortgage crisis of US, the consequences of which rocked the entire world.

In my opinion, the final 2 years of all streams of under-graduate studies MUST have one subject on financial literacy. A medical practitioner has no need to know the internals of a microprocessor so does a civil engineer does not need to know the chemical composition of the liquid fuels used in a ballistic missile, but all of them being active participants of the economy MUST be equipped with the knowledge of economics.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

AB family and the C grade gesture

This happened when Amitabh Bachchan and family came out of the polling booth during the past election. It is a common practice for celebrities and wannabe celebrities to pose with their ink mark showing their support to the election process, democracy and also to encourage their followers to participate in the election. I stress here on the word 'followers' for the reason these VIPs having a crowd, I must say a huge crowd of followers, it is expected of them to act responsibly in public places and in front of the press and cameras. Every move of theirs is published and talked about and their existence thrives on the same popularity. It is not a comfortable place to be but it is something the celebrities longed for once and worked hard to reach, once there they must learn to be responsible to the society that took them to the top.

First blame goes to the election commission who chose the tall finger instead of the traditional index finger to paint the indelible ink when one cast their vote. I am still looking for the reason why this suddenly changed. But the gravity of crime is proportional to the damage done. A huge list of VIPs gave the birdie that day but they didn't even get a glance, includes the Chief Minister of the state and his wife. Unless I had mentioned it here I would have left everyone who read this post guessing about who this other couple is. If someone says that the AB family didn't know what this gesture meant otherwise, it will make me roll in laughter...for God's sake don't give me that.

I AM a fan of Amitabh, Jaya and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan ONLY for their on-screen talent but it doesn't mean I will support for all that they do off screen too. I definitely expect more responsible behavior by the first family of Bollywood.

Is Madame Tussauds watching this? With two of the individuals in the picture already in the Tussauds' gallery, this will come out to be a great clebrity family statue in wax on display world over with the father, son and daughter-in-law gesturing to the world and the mother having a great laugh.