swachh bharat abhiyaan: 7 point metric

Just do a small experiment, don’t clean your room for a week, throw your laundry around, tilt your paintings & decos and you yourself will notice a perceivable difference in your attitude & emotions. Now imagine the entire country has been in the state of disarray for centuries. I cannot even extrapolate what benefits we can accrue by cleaning it up.

Hygiene is important not only for aesthetic and psychological reasons, according to UNO it has tangible economical benefits too. A substantial portion of productive manpower is lost due to illness and weakening due to chronic diseases caused due to consumption of unsanitary water, food and air. The degradation of environment due to human waste imposes additional cost to the consumers who need to clean their food, water and other natural resources before consumption. Foul smell and uncleanness triggers our primal survival instincts. Several research has proven that youth brought up in clean & green neighborhood are less prone to acts of vandalism & crime. Also hygiene is one of the most important criteria for tourism and even investments/expansions or even procurement decisions.

India has has a long history of clean and hygienic practices.  Even the religion degrees Hindus to take bath daily, daily clean the house before putting the rangoli/white powder drawing in the front yard. These were followed in the times when the rest of the world practiced weekly/monthly baths. However somewhere down the line we forgot to develop on these noble thoughts.

Modi’s mission of clean India is an amazing policy initiative whose benefits will accrue across demographics, industries & pan India. I have a simple metric to gauge to gauge the relevance of any public policy:

1. Is it tangible? The benefits/results of the movement can be gauged by individuals themselves.

2. Does it inspire? It primarily involves changes in attitude & behavior and can easily become a self sustainable engine.

3. Who benefits? Unlike subsidies that benefit only those who have connects/well to do, there is no license/document requirement to enjoy the fruits of the initiative

4. Can it provide some short term low hanging results immediately to sustain the momentum: 2nd Oct drive itself was a great showcase story.

5. Does it improve the socio-economic mobility? (help the poor to overcome adversity that limits their ability to achieve “pursuit of happiness”) The poor will benefit the most from improved sanitation, lesser instance of diarrhea, cholera, malaria, good toilets, clean drinking water and food.

6. Intangible benefits: Cleaner environment and improved state of public resources (streets, rivers, air, public places etc.), better health.

7. Investment requirement is also minimal. Hence it is unlikely to be reversed/slashed by the subsequent government.

The only other policy in the past 3 decades that had such remarkable impact on this 7 scale metric was mid-day meal which aimed at eliminating child malnutrition and poor school attendance due to pressure from the family to earn (child labor). I am hoping that this policy will make India a cleaner and greener place.

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Lease not Buy

Everyone realize that cost of ownership of a car is probably as high as maintaining a white elephant. Not only there are regular EMIs to be paid but also weekly fueling bill, 6 monthly service workshop bills & annual insurance payments to be made apart from any additional accident or breakdown repairs. Why can’t I lease the cars rather than buy one and pay a single comprehensive payments…. eg: pay 5,000/- and drive as much as you want for a month all inclusive (except maybe gas/petrol/diesel)

Tesla’s electric cars come with a less than a $ per mile leasing and an unconditional 9 year warranty (even covering user error).

Xerox photo-copiers were available at pay per copy lease. Meaning that customer does not have to pay separately for hardware, refills, paper or repairs.

Even Rols Royce leases aircraft engines at thrust per hour, “pay per flying hour” model.

America sells state of the art defense installations to Canada at PSI (performance -based product support integrator) mode or optimised weapon system support (OWSS). NATO & UK procures arms at Through life customer support (TLCS) contracts.

So from most mundane to state of the art flight and military hardware is available on leasing then why not Cars? Earlier the argument was that people will switch off their odometer/speed gauge to hide the distance traveled, but now there are so many GPS based telematics & navigational tools that can be screwed to the car to make this difficult.

Today the manufacturer has to make many compromises to keep the initial cost low often at an expense of higher upkeep cost. Parking sensors & collision detectors are not very expensive yet most cars don’t have it. My Realtor used to say that installing double ceiling and insulation in the house would reduce the air-conditioning bill by half but nobody want to pay for installing it. Maybe a leasing model will help us get rid of this myopic view and help us make greener, more reliable and economical cars.

Impact of Indians

This week’s economist had an interesting article on Detroit. The opening line really catched my attention. ” City seems filled with people working for exciting startups, a bit like Silicon Valley but with fewer Indians.” Recently yoga pants are making a fashion statement and forcing every jeans manufacturer to rethink their sales & branding strategy.

The entire world is acknowledging the impact Indians are having world-wide but why not in India?

Living in India, I constantly get bombarded with claims about Indian IT, analytic brain, technology, engineering etc. But is it true? Name one Indian product, brand, idea (developed in the recent past) that has had a transformation impact on a global scale? The usual response is to deflect the question.

I always get reminded of my teacher’s pet phrase: “You guys can achieve anything you want… provided you have the aim, determination & right environment” Not sure which of the 3 ingredients is lacking, but surely NRI or people who have emmigrated are more successful.

PS: Yoga, Ayurveda, Buddism and all the other ancient ideas were long forgotten in mainland India and were re-invented abroad. Hence I don’t give Indians credit for it.

Mobo Money: Tap & pay

Carrying small change is always a trouble in India. Esp. Years of inflation has resulted in a user having to carry 60 One Rupee coins to buy something worth a dollar. Some of the smaller denomination coins have been smelted because the metal in them was worth more. Cash-handling in India is so cumbersome that the owner often has to work as a cashier rather than a minimum wager as in most developed countries.

All this makes India an ideal market for a tap and pay solution. Also with the country having one of the highest cellphone tower installations and one of the cheapest telecom costs the market is ideal. Digital payments also install a healthy transparency & billing volume visibility for the owner making it difficult for the employees to pilfer the cash-register.

Many companies & educational institutions have been using ID cards for the cash-less payment in their premises. The RFID chip in the card, photograph of the user & the monthly salary/settlement cycle makes it an ideal. However due to integration issues and the fact that most ids are not compatible with each other (across different organization) this solution has limited applicability outside the premises.

Mobo-Money is TechM initiative to solve this problem. They have launched a sticker which can be affixed anywhere (mobile/id cards etc.) and have received RBI’s approval as a wallet. Hence can be used as universal payment device for all petty transaction.

 

The product is still in its alpha launch stage and is being tested in the Tech Mahindra (TechM) premises across the nation. The few issues that I faced were:

1. Manual process: Rather than automation reducing the human effort involved in billing, there are still no self-help Kiosk for automated recharge/online recharge

2. The POS does not have a printing mechanism. This makes results in additional attention of the cashier and not saving their time.

3. Unlike the metro cards, these RFID don’t have the balance information. This creates an issue because the server connectivity (over cellphone network) has a latency similar to that seen in Credit card payments… but it is a lot more frustrating when you are waiting for a 10/- (20 cent) payment.

4. Too many sms are going around (on each loading and on discharge). This would be adding a lot to the transaction cost.

5. One of the cafeteria merchant was complaining about the delay in payment. Most vendors and food stall operators work on daily cash & carry model with working capital of 1 day only. Any delay at this end would hurt their business quite bad.

6. Lack of overdraft/credit facility would mean that there would be an additional burden of keeping track of the balance and last minute recharges.

7. Although they are talking of features like online recharge & mobile recharge, I was unable to use them. Also I faced some issue in checking my balance online.

8. Classic chicken and egg situation. The utility/value of this RFID chip increases when more merchants are integrated. Right now I doubt it has any use beyond the cafeteria but things might change by next year.

THE REMAINDER THEOREM

Guest post by T. R. Ramaswami

Many statistics are pouring like tears from vested interests to make the BJP victory look less impressive than it is. In fact, in all bipolar contests the BJP has trounced the Congress. One such table shows that the BJP has achieved a single party majority with the least percentage of votes. The table is amusing. It goes from 1952 to 1984 and then jumps to 2014. That itself tells the magnitude of the victory. The table has also been economical with the truth. It should have a column showing how many parties contested the elections. The Congress votes until 1984 are now split between the NCP, BSP, SP, TMC, RJD, JDs, BJD and many more. Until 1984 the main other parties were only the Left and the two DK descendants. The Congress followed the British policy of divide and rule by allowing the political structure to fracture as it suited its interests. However, as in economics, even in politics, the divide and rule policy appears to have a law of marginal utility. Divide too much and you will become the remainder. That is exactly what has happened. The equation has shifted. Now after having tasted blood will the parties that were originally part of the Congress come together again? Let the Congress try for an amalgamation – if it can.

ELECTORAL SOCHIFICATIONS

The election has thrown up so many issues – each can be an article. Rahul Gandhi not to be blamed as he was not PM candidate? OK, he was unfit to be PM candidate, but was he not the leader of the election campaign? If not who was? Moreover, who fights elections – party or government? What started in 1969 when Indira Gandhi neutered anyone with a political base and made personal loyalty the key factor, is now complete. The Congress wanting to be everything to everyone is now nothing to anyone except to the family. It was an ice-cream carton – party size, but to be enjoyed by one family. A democracy was slowly converted into a hereditary wombocracy.

Although the BJP has a majority and pre-poll alliances, post poll alliances must not be allowed. Post poll alliances must statutorily banned and pre-poll alliances formally documented and registered with the EC. The President, EC and the Judiciary must ensure this so that the elections are not a tamasha to get 800 million out of the way so that 550 can decide who loots the country in what proportion.

The role of NOTA has been minimized by deliberately castrating it. Make it potent it with a provision that if NOTA wins in a constituency, all lose their deposits, and see what happens. Only when NOTA can reject everyone, democracy will be in the hands of the voters. If first past the post is undesirable then only NOTA can ensure a true winner.

IMMEDIATE PRIORITIES

The next government needs to begin work on some long overdue national and social reforms. The first is an amendment to the Constitution relating to citizenship. Indian citizenship is too cheap. Many are o not aware that Indira Gandhi and Mujibur Rehman signed an agreement that refugees who came before March 1971 will NOT be repatriated. Evidently this was to get more so-called “secular” votes. Only “Natural Indians” alone would be eligible for ALL Constitutional posts and those involving security. A Natural Indian is one whose both parents were Indian citizens at the time of his/her birth and who has never held the citizenship of any other country even for a single day. That should settle the hash of not only false Gandhis but also Farooq Abdullahs and Navin Patnaiks. Next, if we are secular then we need a secular civil code. Let us formulate one and throw it open WITHOUT COMPULSION to all Indians. Let ALL Indians be allowed to segregate religion from personal life. There are many who want to boot mullahs, bishops and purohits out of their lives. In one generation religion and caste will cease to be a vote garnering issue. The government must affirmatively demonstrate that it is the executive and legislature that run this country – not the judiciary or the EC or even the CAG. Lastly let subsidies and reservations come with riders – like limits on number of children eligible, preferably no children. Why allow poverty to be perpetuated? What about loss of voting rights? The country needs people who work for a living. Not those who vote for a living or need votes for a living.

Xenophilic Indians

I wonder why there is so widespread adoption for anything foreign and apathy for local. Why are we so ignorant or ashamed of our own culture and heritage?
Last week I went to Concorde Manhattan, an apartment complex in Electronic City Bangalore. The project had 10 towers each named after a great person. Unfortunately none of the names were Indians.
Outside Bollywood & cricket, almost all celebrities became widely popular first abroad then domestically (rather than the expected other way around). Notable names being Mahatma Gandhi, Amartya Sen, Arundhati Rai became overnight celebrities only after the rewards and recognition abroad. Some of the most famous Indian industries flourish because they don’t do any business in India. Take Lakshmi Mittal or IT Companies of the world. Even in Bollywood, no viewer will watch a movie unless the movie has western clothes, songs shot abroad. A month ago, I met an NGO activist Harish Hande during the recent I5 talks in this campus. He sadly admits that his NGO is neither the best nor the most revolutionary. Yet he was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award only because he is eloquent in English and has worked so hard promoting his company Selco internationally.
English language skills has become the only scorecard to judge how a person, the universal language for the high class gentleman. Your family and friends will hold you in high esteem if you work for a MNC. If you happen to be working for an Indian company, then number of foreign trips will determine how successful you are professionally.
Many products carry a tag “export quality” signifying that produce for the local market is inherently inferior. Even traditional Indian practices and philosophies gained relevance abroad before we Indians even understood its value. No wonder even today we use the western names which has ‘a’ attached towards the end of Yoga, Ayurveda etc. rather than the original Indian name. At ISKON, which is probably the biggest temple in Bangalore, they Chant “Hare Rama! Hare Krishna!” not “Hare Ram! Hare Krishn!” because of its international image.
Why is it that we are constantly and often blindly following foreigners? Can’t we make a judgment for ourselves? Why is it that local talent and ideas are being starved domestically in our quest to adopt anything foreigners. I would like to end this note with the famous story of a couple on the donkey.

A man and wife along with their donkey were returning from the forest. The man was riding the donkey while the woman was walking. The passing-by commented on how the inconsiderate man was making his wife toil in the hot sun. So the wife mounted on the donkey which was immediately followed by comments on how the man was henpecked and cuckold etc. Frustrated they decided that both of them would ride on the donkey. Now the passing by commented on how heartless the couple was and how they are doing to over-work the donkey to death. So both of them decided to walk. No, wonder the donkey ran away and the couple was too tired to pursue. Gist is that its important to listen to others, but there is no wisdom in blindly aping the society.

China’s Iron rice bowl policy

Poor are hardworking, they are very calculated (i.e. they plan their expenses and never waste money on frivolous trinkets), they are very versatile & adapt to the situations and they don’t mind even travelling far and wide to meet their goals. Yet for generations they are poor. Why? They were born poor and are now trapped into a vicious circle. If you belong to a country with predominantly poor/marginal citizens, a lot of them farmers on hand-to-mouth sustenance, what would you do to transform the country?

It’s not an overnight job, China formulated their Iron-Rice Bowl policy way back in 1949 and today they are reaping its rich dividends. There have been several theories around what Renaissance started in Italy, Why industrial Revolution started in England, Why in the early 20th Century America became the industrial powerhouse and why Japans overtook them. But I am yet to read about one single theory which says why China has become the manufacturing hub of the world. Because what China did was transformational and it changed the entire DNA of the country most economists don’t like to acknowledge this reality.

The viscous cycle that I was talking about was education & healthcare. Without proper education the masses don’t have the tools and knowledge to offer anything more than unskilled manual labor. But if the children work instead of going to school then they can never be truly educated. I am sure there are a couple of exceptions, but generally child laborers are destined to work their entire life as unskilled daily-wagers. China has 100% literacy while in India 1/3 of the people still cannot read or write. Furthermore we have created a pseudo-caste system revolving around English. So that anybody who is not convent educated and fluent in English will always feel inferior.

The second element of the viscous cycle is “Healthcare”. I have rarely met any poor family that is not able to save a considerable percentage of their daily income on a regular basis, while most middle class families would take lifestyle loan and show little or no financial planning. This fund enables them survive not only the rainy day but also improve their earning capacity through productive assets (vehicle, shop, land, cell-phone, etc.) So over a decade through diligence & discipline most families can escape poverty. However more often than not you would see is that a disease or injury would force the family to dip into their savings and borrow heavily to pay for the medical treatment. This unfortunate & unforeseen hardship sets the family back by 10-15 years and often leads to splitting of the family so that individuals could survive and escape the debt burden. Hence in absence of a strong affordable public healthcare program, no poor can even dream to be happy. In China I have seen expats & senior officials of rich companies often going to public hospitals. In India…. Anybody who can afford will find out reasons of not going to a public doctor (I was an exception, my daughter was born in a government hospital)

It’s been 67 years since India’s independence but are we free yet? Do we have the culture and environment around me which enables us reach our fullest potential? Is the system around us empowering us for “pursuit of happiness”? India is on the verge of the next General Election and these are the questions that are bugging me. A few slogans don’t amount to anything unless the systematic rot in the system is addressed.