Politics & the Nation
  • India's show at Oscars.  Looks like this is the best ever year for India at the Oscars.
    • At the time of posting the Oscars show is live on TV.  Even as I keep switching between screens, we can't help but rejoice the fact that Slumdog has notched up eight Oscars.
    • Till the other day you would not have recognized these names: Freida Pinto and Dev Patel.  Now I know, almost all of you know who they are.  The lead actors in Slumdog.
    • AR Rehman got two of the awards for Best Music and Best original song.  AR Rehman is only the third Indian to receive an Oscar, the others being Bhanu Athaiya and Satyajit Ray. Athaiya won an academy award in the best costume design category for the 1982 film Gandhi and Ray was awarded an academy honorary award for his contribution to world cinema in 1992. 
    • Two other Indians who were nominated for Oscars for this film are: Gulzar and Resul Pookutty. Gulzar is nominated alongside Rahman in the best song category for Jai Ho and Resul Pookutty is nominated in the sound editing category.
    • Two Indian-themed documentaries are also up for the Oscars this year. The Final Inch by American documentary makers Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant is about health workers travelling throughout Uttar Pradesh, urging parents to vaccinate their children against polio. 
    • The second, Smile Pinki made by American filmmaker Megan Mylan is a heart-warming tale of a poor village girl called Pinki whose cleft lip made her a social outcast until she meets a social worker who changes her life.  
    • Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957) and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (1988) which were India’s official entries to the Oscars made it to the nominations in the same category but no Indian film has gone all the way. Deepa Mehta’s Water was Canada’s official entry for the foreign language category in 2006 but again it only made it to the nominations. Vidhu Vinod Chopra also did the country proud when his documentary An Encounter with Faces was nominated in the documentary short subject category in 1979. 
    • Noting about Oscars, can we also not recollect something about Razzies?
      • They are a spoof for Oscars.  Giving awards away to the year's worst performing films.
      • They are founded by John Wilson.
  • Were India and Pakistan close to reaching an agreement on Kashmir?
    • If newspaper reports are to be believed, this was so.
    • In the period between 2004 and 2007 both the countries have reported to have exchanged lot of non-papers on the issue and have almost finalized the deal.  The deal consisted of creating an autonomous region for Kashmir that allowed people from both sides of the LoC to move around freely and conduct commerce and trade.  Reportedly this was sold by Musharaff successfully among the top brass of the Pak army.  But the deal fell through with the fall in the stock of Mr. Musharaff.
    • BTW how would you define a non-paper?
      • It is diplomatic jargon for a negotiated text that bears no names or signatures and can serve as a deniable but detailed basis for a deal.
  • In the wake of the Satyam scam, do the MNC audit firms need to be banned from India?
    • In a very relevant debate on the issue, two experts speak their mind.  Some excerpts:
    • The ICAI can only punish individuals and there is no way the conduct of erring firms can be subjected to any regulatory mechanism. Parliament needs to empower the ICAI, and through the Companies Act set up a speedy and practical mechanism to regulate and control the unscrupulous activities of MAFs and grant a level playing field to Indian CAs. 
    • A ban on accounting firms may neither be practical nor prudent, if equal reciprocity is granted under Most Favoured Nation Treatment principle of the WTO. The safeguard lies in users and society who have to make multinational accounting firms redundant if they do not mend their ways.
    • Two important aspects of regulating the audit firms revolve around the availability of choice and accountability.  Audit choice can be increased by: reducing barriers to entry (for example many institutional investors demand a Big Four auditor at the time of investment); changing the perception of corporates that the Big Four are the only audit firms that can service them; and looking at changes at the regulatory level such as joint audit, which has worked very well in France for the last many years. 
    • There is a definite need for greater accountability of audit firms. All of the Big Four are networks operating as independent units in each of the countries they operate in. This implies that if some mishap occurs in one country, such as Satyam in India, the global operation cannot be held responsible, accountable and liable. On the one hand, these firms advocate that they use their international systems, techniques and experience and on the other hand, they tend to localise accountability. 
Finance & Economics
  • Rising credit card defaults make banks invade the savings bank account of customers
    • It is reported that these defaults have risen by over 2% in 2008 taking the gross default rates to 10 to 12% of the turnover.
    • It is estimated that the average monthly credit card spend by consumers in India is around Rs 4,000. 
    • There are currently 25 million credit cards in the country, but only 40% of these are actively used. 
  • Ever heard of NCLT?
    • The National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) that was to subsume the Company Law Board, the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction, as well as jurisdiction of high courts over mergers and acquisitions is yet to be formed. A case challenging the constitution of the NCLT filed in the Madras High Court early 2003 is now before the Supreme Court.
  • ONGC stikes oil in KG basin?
    • It is reported that the discovery took place in the block KG-DWN-98/2. ONGC is now accessing the reserves. It will inform the upstream regulator directorate general of hydrocarbons (DGH) after the assessment of the reserve. An announcement on this is expected in a month or so.
    • ONGC roped in Statoil of Norway and Petrobras of Brazil as equity partners in the KG-DWN-98/2. Statoil and Cairn India hold 10% each in the block. Petrobras holds 15% while ONGC holds the remaining stake. 
  • Move over navaratnas; it is time for mahanavaratnas
    • The department of public enterprises (DPE) has reportedly decided to wait for a year before bestowing higher functional and financial autonomy to nine top performers among 18 navratna companies by carving out a new category of mahanavratnas. 
    • The Planning Commission had recommended mahanavratna status to Bhel, Bharat Petroleum, Hindustan Aeronautics, Hindustan Petroleum, Indian Oil, NMDC, Power Grid Corporation, REC and SAIL. 
    • Mahanavratna status would have given these companies freedom to make investments up to 50% of their net worth—the sum of its equity capital and reserves—while the investment cap on a single project would have gone up to 25% of their net worth. The tag will also have given them greater functional autonomy for forming joint ventures. 
  • Expanded Chiang Mai
    • Japan, China, South Korea and 10 Southeast Asian nations agreed to form a $120-billion pool of foreign-exchange reserves that can be used by countries to defend their currencies amid the deepening global recession. The amount is 50% more than the $80 billion proposed last May, and an expansion of the current arrangement called the Chiang Mai Initiative that allows only bilateral currency swaps. The nations’ finance ministers and government officials jointly announced the decision at a meeting in Phuket, Thailand. 
    • Read more about this in this report.  Important.  You shouldn't miss it.
Language Lessons:
  • coda: Noun
    • The closing section of a musical composition
    • eg: "Jai Ho." These words are a bouncy coda to Slumdog Millionaire...