Politics & the Nation
  • Article 243D of the Constitution and why is it in the news:
    • WITH last Thursday’s Cabinet approval of the proposal for 50% reservation for women in panchayats, a significant step forward has been taken on the issue of women’s empowerment. This decision to enhance the reservation for women in village councils across the country — around 2,52,00 of them — from one-third to 50% will entail an amendment to Article 243D of the Constitution.
Finance & Economy
  • Pepsi decides to hold its board meet in India
    • PEPSICO will hold its annual global meet for the first time in India, marking only the second occasion that the $43-billion beverages and snacks company will take the event outside the US.
    • The mid-November three-day event, coming five years after the board met in Mexico, demonstrates India’s importance in the company’s future, said PepsiCo India chairman and CEO Sanjeev Chadha.
    • The company has made $1 bn investment in India till date.
    • Take a look at the composition of the board of this high profile company!
      • The high-profile names that make up PepsiCo’s board includes Shona Brown, senior vice-president, business operations, Google, Ian M Cook, president & CEO, Colgate-Palmolive, Dina Dublon, former executive vice-president and CFO, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Victor J Dzau, president & CEO, Duke University Health Systems, Ray L Hunt, CEO, Hunt Oil Company, Alberto Ibarg├╝en, president & CEO, John S and James L Knight Foundation, Arthur C Martinez, president and CEO, Sears, Roebuck and Co, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president & CEO, WETA Public Stations, James Schiro, CEO, Zurich Financial Services, Lloyd Trotter, partner, Gen-Nx360 Capital Partners and Daniel Vasella, chairman & CEO, Novartis.
  • What is a zombie bank?
    • A bank with little or no net worth, but treated as if it is a viable institution.
  • Namibia to fuel our nuclear reactors?
    • It is the sixth largest producer of Uranium. Australia, the largest producer of Uranium in the world is dilly dallying on Uranium supplies to India in spite of the clearance from the NSG.
    • Therefore, India is forced to look at alternate sources of supply. Namibia came to the fore in this regard and its President Mr. Hifikepunye Pohamba is currently on a visit to India to sign an MoU on mining. The MoU is expected to cover not just Uranium but also other minerals like copper and diamonds.
  • America's socialism
    • Joseph Stiglitz has always been a hard-hitting writer when it came to criticizing American administrations. He now finds fault with the bail outs extended by American administration to banks, insurance companies and automobile companies. Take a look at it here.
  • Wedding dogged by going bust
    • We have heard about some wedlocks bringing bad luck to one of the partners or their families. But ever heard of wedlock that brings bad luck to all those who are associated with the wedding? This is exactly what happened to Kenneth Porter and Karen Cauwood’s wedding day.
    • It almost turned into a disaster after almost every company involved in their big day celebration went bust. First, the hotel booked for their reception was put into administration, second, a shop supplying bridesmaid dresses went bust and third, the airline taking them on honeymoon collapsed. Despite the bad luck, the couple still managed to get hitched. “Everybody who's dealt with us has had bad luck. It's been a nightmare. But the wedding was perfect,” Porter said. The couple had also paid for tickets to see Michael Jackson as a post-honeymoon treat but the King of Pop died suddenly.
  • Force India creates history
    • It heralded the entry of India err an Indian promoted motor sporting team into the international speed racing sporting circuit by securing points for the first time in 30 attempts.
    • The Indian team finished second at Belgian Grand Prix, just 0.9 seconds behind the Champion Kimi Raikkonen.
    • Take a look at the timings recorded:
      • Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) - Ferrari 1hr 23mins 50.995secs
      • Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) - Force India-Mercedes +00:00.939
      • Sebastian Vettel (Germany) - RedBull - Renault 00:03.875
      • Robert Kubica (Poland) - BMW Sauber 00:09.966
      • Nick Heidfeld (Germany) - BMW Sauber 00:11.276
    • For those of you who are clueless as to what is Force India, it is the motor racing team from India and is promoted by Vijay Mallya, the liquor baron from the South of the country.
Language lessons
  • jilt: Verb
    • Cast aside capriciously or unfeelingly
    • eg: "jilt a lover or a bride"
  • pony up: Verb
    • Give reluctantly
    • eg: The taxpayer has had to pony up billions, and has provided billions more in guarantees — bills that are likely to come due in the future.
  • ersatz
    • Adjective: Artificial and inferior
    • Noun: An artificial or inferior substitute or imitation
    • eg: But this new form of ersatz capitalism, in which losses are socialised and profits privatised, is doomed to failure.


Finance & Economy
  • Higher education boom in India?
    • According to industry estimates, the higher education market will grow three-fold in the next 10 years to cross the $20-billion mark, as India looks to churn out seven million fresh graduates to feed its growing economy.
    • By the end of 2008, about 43% of higher education institutions and 30% of enrollments in India were in the private sector.
  • Swine flu comes down in Southern hemisphere
    • The World Heath Organisation said on Friday that swine flu infections are declining in the Southern Hemisphere as its seasonal flu period comes to an end and the pandemic shifts back north.
    • More than 2,00,000 people worldwide have caught swine flu and at least 2,185 died of it, according to WHO. The real caseload is much higher because countries are no longer reporting individual cases.
  • Natural odours may keep mosquitoes at bay
    • Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide emitted in human breath. But two odours (1-hexanol and 2,3-butanedione) have been found to strongly inhibit carbon dioxide sensitivity in mosquitoes. Researchers are exploring the possibility of blunting their ability to sense carbon dioxide, and the idea has come from studying fruit flies.
    • These findings are critical to come up with an environmentally safe mosquito repellent to which Culex mosquitoes may not be able to develop resistance. Culex mosquitoes cause dengue in humans.
Science & Technology
  • Discovery finally lifts off on third attempt
    • Space shuttle Discovery and seven astronauts blazed into orbit on Friday (Saturday in India) on a spectacular midnight flight to the international space station, hauling up a $5 mn treadmill named after a TV funnyman (Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert) and thousands of kg of more solemn supplies.
    • In all, the space shuttle will deliver about 7,700 kg of gear to the space station. The experiments include six mice that will remain at the orbiting complex until the following shuttle visit in November. Part of a bone loss study, the mice will be the first mammals — other than humans — to spend a prolonged period at the space station.
  • CCI finds bid rigging is rampant
    • THE Competition Commission of India (CCI) has found that a raft of government departments are losing thousands of crores of public money while procuring goods due to faulty bidding systems.
    • This assumes significance for the simple reason that public procurement accounts for nearly 13% of the total gross domestic product (GDP).
    • Bid rigging is a form of fraud in which a commercial contract is promised to one party even though for the sake of appearance, several other parties also present bids. The bids end up suiting a single player.
    • Besides affecting the end consumer’s interest, these anticompetitive practices take a toll on the public exchequer as public money is flushed out to wrong hands.
  • Micropension scheme attracts two more states
    • MADHYA Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have joined the Micropension Scheme, the country’s first public-private initiative aimed at providing pensions to lowincome workers in the unorganised sector. With this, the number of states that have joined the scheme has risen to three. Rajasthan is already a member with more than 40,000 workers enrolled.
    • Workers above 18 years of age can join the scheme and are entitled to a retirement income from the age of 58. Although the scheme encourages workers to save as much as they can, it accepts a minimum contribution of Rs 50 per month.
    • The partnering state government matches the individual contribution. The government benefits because the scheme reduces the long-term budgetary pressure to provide old-age benefits.
Language lessons
  • scupper: Verb
    • Wait in hiding to attack; Put in a dangerous, disadvantageous, or difficult position


Politics & the Nation
  • Advani and the BJP in deeper trouble
    • It is not just the salvos being fired by Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh. Now it is Brajesh Mishra too who is seen firing at the BJP leader LK Advani and on the latter's claims that he is not fully in the know of certain decisions relating to the Kandahar episode.
    • Take a look at this news report. The troubles for BJP appear to be nowhere near end. It urgently requires a messiah to save it from itself!
  • 3G and WiMax spectrum floor prices fixed
    • A MINISTERIAL panel has fixed Rs 3,500 crore as the minimum bid price for the auction of third-generation (3G) wireless spectrum, evoking dismay from telecom companies that see it as exorbitant.
    • The empowered group of ministers (EGoM) headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee also fixed the base price for WiMAX spectrum for wireless broadband services at Rs 1,750 crore.
    • The government expects to garner around Rs. 25,000 crore from the auctions.
  • Debate on nuclear tests' success
    • Mr. K. Santhanam, a scientist who was working directly under Dr. Abdul Kalam in 1998 when Pokhran II tests were carried out set the cat among the pigeons by saying that the yield from the tests was far below the expectations and that because of that India should not rush into signing the CTBT for which there is increasing pressure from the US and other countries.
    • However, Mr Santhanam’s assertion that the yield of the hydrogen bomb was much lower than what was claimed clearly challenges the government account of the time about the bombs yielding 45 kilotons (45,000 tonnes) of conventional explosive. At the time, western experts had also questioned the success of the tests saying it could not be more than 20 KT.
    • But Dr. Abdul Kalam said the tests were successful. Let's wait and see whether the controversy dies a natural death.
  • Women get 50% seats in Panchayats
    • In what is touted as a major step towards gender equality the government has approved 50% reservation for women in panchayats.
    • Taking a leaf out of Bihar’s book where CM Nitish Kumar pioneered the empowerment of women at the grassroots in 2005 by being the first to give them equal representation in village panchayats — a move that paid his party rich dividends in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll — the Centre will now replicate the Bihar model for local bodies across the country.
    • The proposal cleared by the Cabinet on Thursday entails amendment to Article 243D of the Constitution to raise the one-third reservation provided to women in panchayats to 50%.
    • Apart from Bihar, the other three states that are already implementing gender equality at the panchayat level are Uttarakhand (where the quota of seats for women is a whopping 55%), Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
    • Rajasthan has also announced 50% reservation that will be implemented in the next panchayat election in early 2010. On Wednesday, Kerala announced 50% reservation for women in panchayats and other local bodies.
Finance & Economy
  • New foreign trade policy announced
    • The foreign trade policy (FTP), announced by commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma, extended the focus market scheme to 26 countries and introduced a new market-linked focus product scheme for another 13 markets to encourage exporters to explore new areas to make up for a fall in demand from traditional markets such as the US and Europe, which contribute about 40% of the country’s export receipts.
    • THE new market-linked focus product scheme offers incentives for export of select items to 13 identified markets like Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Australia and New Zealand.
    • It also promised dollar credit to exporters and allowed dutyfree imports of capital goods for select industries such as engineering, chemicals, electronic products, pharmaceuticals, textiles, handicrafts, plastics and leather products, subject to an obligation to carry out specified amount of exports.
    • The Duty Exemption Pass Book scheme has been extended up to December 2010. Income-tax benefits under section 10 A for the IT industry and under section 10(B) for 100% EOUs have also been continued for another year, until March 2011.
    • WTO estimates that world trade will decline by 9% this year.
  • Some stats on our irrigation area
    • The net irrigated area, as a percentage of the total sown area, is the highest in three states --Punjab around 92%, Haryana about 82% and Uttar Pradesh 80%.
    • But, there are only eight states — apart from the three mentioned above, the other states are Delhi, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttarakhand — that beat the national average of 42% of net irrigated area.
  • Formula One racing in the country hits roadblock
    • The 2011 Indian Grand Prix has hit a roadblock with the promoters of the event failing to get the government nod for remitting the money they owe to the UK-based Formula One Administration.
    • The high ranking officials in the Sports ministry are reportedly not convinced that payments to the tune of Rs. 200 crore need to be paid by the Indian organizers to the UK based Formula One Administration.
    • JPSK Sports is organizing the Indian Grand Prix. It was slated to debut originally in 2010; but later it was postponed to 2011 as it faced some teething problems about land and organizers.
    • Indian motor racing lovers may have to wait a little longer to savour their favourite sport.
Language lessons
  • railroaded: Verb
    • Compel by coercion, threats, or crude means
    • synonyms: dragooned, sandbagged
    • eg: He further warned the government against being ‘railroaded’ into signing CTBT, as India should conduct more nuclear tests for security.
  • set/put the cat among the pigeons
    • to do or say something that causes trouble and makes a lot of people angry or worried
  • plonk: Noun
    • A cheap wine of inferior quality
  • skimp: Verb
    • Work hastily or carelessly; deal with inadequately and superficially; Limit in quality or quantity; Subsist on a meagre allowance; Supply sparingly and with restricted quantities
  • savoir-faire: Noun
    • Social skill
  • niggling: Verb
    • Worry unnecessarily or excessively; Argue over petty things
  • mortarboard
    • An academic cap with a flat square with a tassel on top; A square board with a handle underneath; used by masons to hold or carry mortar
    • eg: With every academic worth his mortarboard revisiting Keynes today, primarily to figure out ways of improvising on the original recession-busting formula, the need for rapid addition of irrigation and other water-related infrastructure takes on a special urgency.


Politics & the Nation
  • What's in a name?
    • Is there a difference between Sayed and Saeed, except for the obvious spelling difference?
    • Yes. Sayed is a title used by those who trace their ancestry to the Prophet Mohammed, while Saeed is a common name, reports a news story in The Hindu. The story was referring to the goof up that occurred in Interpol's red corner notice for nabbing Hafiz Sayed, the mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attacks.
Finance & Economy
  • UNIDO to lend assistance for setting up industrial clusters
    • The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) has joined hands with India to launch a series of new industrial projects worth $9 million to benefit industry.
    • An agreement to this effect was signed in Vienna by the Secretary DIPP, Ajay Shankar, and UNIDO Director-General Kandeh K. Yumkella, according to an official statement.
    • Under this Integrated Cluster Development Programme, clusters selected are: auto-component at Pithampur (Madhya Pradesh), Chennai and Pune; machine tools at Bangalore; foundry at Belgaum and Coimbatore; chemicals at Ankhleswar and leather at Kanpur.
  • What are level 1 ADRs and why is Government considering the move to allow their issuance by Indian companies?
    • THE government is reportedly examining a proposal that seeks to relax rules governing American Depository Receipts (ADRs) to allow Indian companies access the US market through level-1 ADRs, which need very few regulatory disclosures.
    • Level-1 issues do not involve issue of fresh capital, but allow overseas companies to diversify their investor base and build a presence in the US market that may help them raise capital later.
    • India currently allows only level-3 ADR/GDRs, which involve capital raising and listing on regular overseas exchanges and greater disclosure levels, including costly compliance with US laws.
    • Level-I ADRs, the most liberal form of depository receipts, allow non-US companies to access sophisticated investors in the US market with minimal reporting requirements from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
    • Companies issuing level-1 ADRs are listed only on the over-the-counter (OTC) exchanges in the US and do not have to comply with the rigorous US accounting standards, US GAAP. A majority of ADRs currently being traded are issued through level-1 programmes.
    • This kind of ADR/GDR issues, which do not entail any inflow of capital into the country, allow companies to build their brand before making an actual float on the stock exchanges to raise capital.
    • Under market economy, this option should be available to companies.
    • But with a committee headed by Planning Commission Member Saumitra Choudhary opining that the time is not ripe for introducing level 1 ADRs and the fact that they do not generate any value for the country, opinion is divided on their introduction.
    • Take a look at this graphic to know more about funding options available to companies.
  • How serious is undernutrition an issue for us in India?
    • Take a look at these facts and figures and you will appreciate it:
    • Roughly 45% of the under-fives are under-weight and there have been no signs of improvements over the last seven years. A recent World Bank study says that the loss of human potential due to under-nutrition would lead to a GDP loss of 2-3% and can lead to a 10% reduction in lifetime earnings. Also, the nutrition related factors are responsible for 50% of the 2.1 million under-5 deaths in India each year.
    • What are the factors that contribute to undernutrition among women and children in India? What should the government do about it? For answers to these questions, you must read this article that appeared in today's ET. Worth a read.
  • Should India accept internationally-mandated restrictions on carbon emissions? Is such acceptance in its national interest? If you are asked to cite three reasons objecting to this proposition, would your objections read like the following?
    • First, while the facts of global warming and green house gas (GHG) emissions as its cause are widely accepted, scientific evidence linking GHG emissions to increased frequency or intensification of catastrophic events such as hurricanes and cyclones is lacking. Evidence linking global warming and glacier melting is similarly weak: the Gangotri glacier has been receding since scientists began to keep its measurement in 1780.
    • Second, granting that a connection between global warming and increased incidence of rains, floods, heat waves, rising sea levels and even cyclones and hurricanes exists, mitigation by India in the next two or three decades is neither necessary nor sufficient to arrest global warming and its consequences. The richer world consisting of the US, Europe, Japan, Canada and Eurasia account for slightly more than 50% of the current carbon emissions. Adding China brings the proportion over 70%. In contrast, India accounts for less than 5% of the global emissions.
    • The argument that mitigation is not feasible without participation by India is a political one: as a bargaining tactic, the US Congress refuses to undertake internationally-mandated mitigation obligations unless India accepts them as well.
    • Finally, if India accepts mitigation commitments early on, it will remain woefully inadequately prepared to face the vagaries of nature that would visit it even absent any additional GHG emissions. But if it manages to postpone the commitments until 2040 and stay course on growth and poverty alleviation, it would be able to provide significantly improved protection against the adverse natural events in the early as well as later decades.
    • For a more detailed explanation of the above excerpts, read Arvind Panagariya's article in today's ET.
  • Bolt thunders with his performance
    • Take a look at this performance of the Jamaican sprinter!
    • Bolt emerged as a superstar at last year’s Beijing Olympics, winning gold medals in world-record time in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4x100-metre relay. He took home golds in all three events again at this month’s World Championships (at Berlin, Germany) - smashing his own records in the 100 (9.58 seconds) and 200 (19.19 seconds).
  • A bit about triathlons
    • Triathlon tests one’s endurance level. The distances vary for different events. For example, in the Olympics it is 1.5km of swimming, 40km of biking and 10km of running while in the Ironman race, held in different cities around the world, it is 3.2km, 180km and 42.2km respectively.
    • In a recent event held at Pentincton, Canada it consisted of a gruelling three-day competition — consisting of 10 km of swimming and 144.8 km of biking (day one), 273.5 km of biking (day two) and 84.3 km of running (day three).
Language lessons
  • mugshot: Noun
    • A photograph of someone's face (especially one made for police records)
  • beaver away: Verb
    • Work hard on something
    • eg: So even as we go for the low-hanging fruit and push through the easier bits of reform — incentivise development of a corporate bond market, put in place a bankruptcy code, reform our tax system and tax administration, etc — we need to beaver away on the tougher bits too.
  • aficionado: Noun
    • A fan of bull fighting; A serious devotee of some particular music genre or musical performer
Obituary: Edward Kennedy
  • Senator Edward M Kennedy of Massachusetts, the last surviving brother in an enduring political dynasty and one of the most influential senators in history, died Tuesday night at his home on Cape Cod after a year-long struggle with brain cancer. He was 77.
  • In nearly 50 years in the Senate, Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, had an impressive list of legislative achievements on healthcare, civil rights, education, immigration and more. His only run for the White House ended in defeat in 1980.


Finance & Economy
  • Takeaways from the global financial crisis
    • This is an excellent article from UR Bhat. Everyone of you must read it. He has neatly summed up the lessons that are learnt from this crisis for markets, investors, and institutions. Since it is a 'must read', we are not giving any synopsis or excerpt.
  • Two meaningful suggestions for global financial recovery as suggested in today's Hindu editorial
    • Global recovery can be sustained by two rebalancing acts. First, there has to be a shift from public to private spending. Secondly, aggregate demand across countries needs to be rebalanced, with a shift from domestic to foreign demand in the United States and a reverse shift from foreign to domestic demand in the rest of the world, especially Asia.
  • DTAA with Switzerland in for renegotiation?
    • The government may finally manage to extract information on tax evaders who have stashed away money in Swiss bank accounts, with the European nation agreeing to renegotiate its tax treaty with India.
    • Threats to blacklist Switzerland as a tax haven by the 30-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which put the famed Swiss banking secrecy laws under pressure, may have helped India’s efforts to get the European nation renegotiate the treaty.
    • Switzerland responded by stating its readiness to comply with foreign governments in tracking down tax evaders by adopting the OECD Model Tax Convention concerning the exchange of information in tax matters.
    • By this move, Switzerland will give up the traditional distinction made between tax fraud (a criminal offence in Switzerland) and tax evasion (not a criminal offence in Switzerland) when considering foreign requests for administrative assistance in tax matters.
    • Even the OECD Model Tax Convention does not allow roving enquiry or fishing expeditions, as they are commonly called. Incidentally, this is not permitted in any country, including India.
  • What ails power trading in India?
    • In a scneario wherein parts of the country -- like the East -- are power surplus and parts of the country are power deficit -- like the West and South -- power trading makes lot of sense. But what ails power trading in India?
    • The volume of power traded added up to 20,965 million units (mu) in 2007-08, the figure crept up to 21,917 mu in 2008-09. Besides, just Maharashtra and Gujarat account for 80% of the trading.
    • The trading margin, that remains unrevised at no more than Rs 0.04 per kwh, disincentivising cross-country sales, needs to be reviewed to shore up exchange.
    • Latest data show that the weighted average purchase price of power was Rs 4.47/unit in 2006-07. It has since gone up to Rs 7.25/unit in 2008-09. Yet the trading margin remains pegged at four paise/unit.
    • Experts are putting the blame on trading margins for the lackadaisical performance of power trading exchanges.
    • Take a look at this ET editorial to get a broader picture.
  • The benefits of solar energy:
    • After all, solar is the most abundant source of energy; reduces a nation’s dangerous reliance on energy imports; creates thousands of quality jobs in manufacturing, sales and installation; reduces harmful air pollution; and delivers energy that reduces electricity prices over its 50+ year life, protecting against volatile — and ever-rising — fossil fuel prices. More importantly, solar energy works in small increments for rural electrification and water pumping as well as 1,000 MW central station plants in the deserts of India.
  • On National Solar Mission
    • Through this mission the country wants to send a clear signal to the markets that it is serious about ramping solar energy. The Mission would provide over 20,000 MW of solar power by 2020 while increasing electricity rates by less than 0.5% — a tiny price to pay for leadership on 21st century energy technology and water security.
  • Ben Bernanke gets second term
    • The US Federal Reserve Chairman and initially a Republican appointee, Ben Bernanke is now going to get a second term as Fed Chairman.
    • Look at the speed and decisiveness with which Americans act? Though Ben Bernanke's four year term is set to expire on January 31 next year, they are so forthright in announcing his extension six months before! This sort of a thing will rarely happen in India.
  • Hotels worldwide are willing to forego their star status to stay in black
    • With occupancy rates for luxury hotels worldwide falling to 57% in the year through July from 71% in the same period a year earlier, star hotels worldwide are giving up some of their hard-won stars to save money.
    • In the US, travel guides such as the one provided by the American Automobile Association and the Mobil Travel Guide give star or diamond awards. Internationally, there is no standard classification. Ratings are given in some countries by hotel industry associations.
    • To qualify for five stars, the highest rating, hotels must provide “an exceptionally distinctive environment offering consistently superlative, personalised service,” according to Mobil Travel Guide, which lays out specific requirements. There should be a welcome gift and “something noteworthy and thoughtful” should be left on the pillow during turndown service.
  • US sees record fiscal deficit and debt figures
    • While it is known that fiscal deficit is one figure that no government is bothered about in the current crisis situation, the fact remains that this has to be contained sooner rather than later, if the economy is to survive.
    • An estimate by the independent Congressional Budget Office puts the cumulative fiscal funding gap of US at $7.1 trillion between 2010 and 2019.
    • A separate White House midsession budget forecast, projected a cumulative $9 trillion during the same period.
    • The national debt of the USA now stands at more than $11 trillion.
Language lessons
  • dicey: Adjective
    • Of uncertain outcome; especially fraught with risk
    • eg: With the internal situation getting dicey, BJP president Rajnath Singh and his men, who threatened action against Mr Arun Shourie, are now having a rethink.
  • defrock: Verb
    • Divest of the frock; of church officials
    • Synonym: unfrock
  • quango: Noun
    • A quasi nongovernmental organization; an organization that is financed by the government yet acts independently of the government
    • NGOs to be precise.
  • kosher: Adjective
    • Proper or legitimate


Politics & the Nation
  • Indigenous T-90S tanks rolled out
    • The first indigenously built T-90 S tanks (Bhishma) rolled out of the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) at Avadi, near Chennai on Monday, marking a significant phase of the indigenisation of the production of the state-of-the-art tanks in India.
    • The process of indigenisation was set in motion in 2004 after HVF gained experience in assembling the tanks following an agreement between the Indian and Russian governments.
  • Air India employees on strike
    • Angry over delay in payment of their salaries by cash-strapped Air India management, over 20,000 members of airlines' employee's unions have decided to go on a three-day hunger strike from today.
Finance & Economy
  • Know Nouriel Roubini?
    • He is the New York Professor who is credited with having predicted the onset of the global financial crisis. He is not new to us, as we have been following his articles from The Project Syndicate for quite some time. High funda finance though.
  • Banking Correspondents to further financial inclusion?
    • Just two years from now, that is if the RBI's plans go right, the institution of banking correspondents is going to be heralding financial inclusion in India on a scale unheard of before.
    • Currently, self-help groups, certain companies and NGOs are allowed to function as BCs in areas without bank branches. Besides enabling opening of accounts for new customers, BCs are permitted to undertake activities such as disbursal of small value credit, recovery of dues and collection of small-value deposits among others.
  • Country to take longer time to witness 9% growth
    • Faced with the impact of the global downturn as well as drought, the government said on Tuesday it would take "longer time" for the country to achieve the 9 per cent growth as witnessed before the financial crisis hit the world in September 2008.
    • With 246 districts out of a total of about 600 facing drought, the growth rate is estimated to decelerate further to little over 6 per cent. The Reserve Bank of India in its first quarterly review of the credit policy projected 6 per cent growth rate for the current fiscal with upward bias.
  • Bid to save endangered Karanjali and Adimundan
    • Two critically endangered trees of Kerala will be pulled back from the brink of extinction if efforts to reintroduce them in the wild fructify.
    • Karanjali (Dipterocarpus bourdillonii) and Adimundan (Humboldtia bourdillonii) are endemic to the Western Ghats.
    • If the reintroduction is successful, their saplings will grow in protected areas and the trees will be re-categorised in the Red Data Book of the IUCN. Now, they are on the critically endangered list.
  • Hillary Clinton, the diplomat
    • Some of you at least, if not many, surely would be aspiring diplomats. This article is for such people. See how subtly changes are brought about in the way diplomacy is practiced by the US! After reading this article you should be in a position to comprehend what is meant by ' soft' power as opposed to 'hard' power.
    • A very good read. Take a look.
  • Know Caster Semenya?
    • She is the 18-year-old from South Africa who took gold in the 800 metres in the recently concluded world track championships at Berlin, Germany. Her victory came after world athletics officials said they were conducting gender tests after questions arose about her muscular build and deep voice.
Language lessons
  • dodgy: Adjective
    • Of uncertain outcome; especially fraught with risk; Marked by skill in deception; Of doubtful quality or legality
    • eg: A tumultuous year, which saw the collapse of western economies and businesses due to dodgy and reckless market investments, also saw the emergence of a breed of companies and individuals who braved all odds to emerge victorious.
  • coroner: Noun
    • A public official who investigates by inquest any death not due to natural causes
    • eg: Los Angeles County coroner rules Michael Jackson's death a homicide.
  • juxtapose: Verb
    • Place side by side
    • eg: Juxtapose that with our spectacular failure to make any headway at all with the Swiss authorities and it’s the old familiar story: of our not doing our homework properly.
  • smoke and mirrors
    • deception and confusion. (Said of statements or more complicated rhetoric used to mislead people rather than inform. Alludes to the way a magician uses optical illusion to create believability while performing a trick. Fixed order.)
    • eg: Most people know that the politician was just using smoke and mirrors to make things look better than they really were.
    • eg: Her report was little more than smoke and mirrors. No one will believe any of it.
  • riposte: Noun
    • A quick reply to a question or remark (especially a witty or critical one)


Politics & the Nation
  • CAG finds lapses in mid-day meal scheme
    • Preparation of food in the open, engaging children for cooking and use of empty paint containers to serve meals are some of the shocking instances the country’s top audit watchdog CAG has found while inspecting schools running the Mid-Day Meal scheme.
    • The report found that the funds released by the Centre towards the scheme remained unutilized by substantial number of states by the end of the financial year 2007-08.
    • It also found that teachers are made to receive grains and other stocks; thus compromising on teaching hours.
  • Stockholm Water Prize for Indian
    • Indian sanitation expert Bindeshwar Pathak was awarded the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize, the most prestigious award for outstanding achievement in water-related activities that has become akin to a Nobel Prize on environmental issues.
    • The founder of Sulabh Sanitation Movement in India, Mr. Pathak is known around the world for his wide-ranging work in the sanitation field. He has worked to improve public health, has advanced social progress, and has improved human rights in his home nation and other countries.
    • Mr. Pathak received the award on Thursday from H.R.H. Prince Carl Philip of Sweden. The Stockholm Water Prize, which was first presented in 1991, includes a $150,000 award and a crystal sculpture. It honours individuals, institutions or organisations whose work contributes broadly to the conservation and protection of water resources and improves the health of the planet’s inhabitants and ecosystems.
Medicine & Science
  • Scientists ‘create blood from human stem cells’
    • According to the scientists at Monash University, they are now a step closer to making fully functional red blood cells from human embryonic stem cells.
    • Whilst human embryonic stem cells have the potential to turn into any cell type in the body, it remains a scientific challenge to reliably turn these stem cells into specific cell types such as red blood cells.
  • Know what is a taser? Or a stun gun?
    • It is a gun which 'stuns' the recipient with an electronic shock administered by the gun. It is used by police forces in foreign countries -- US, UK etc.
    • The company which developed such guns is Taser International. It has come up with a new version which can deliver a 20-second, 500 volt shock.
    • The eXtended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP), as it is called, went on sale in the US last month.
    • The traditional hand-held Taser stun guns used in the UK only fired darts up to 25 feet.
  • Miss Venezuela is Miss Universe again
    • Miss Venezuela, Stefania Fernandez, has been named winner of the 2009 Miss Universe pageant. She received the crown from last year’s winner, Dayana Mendoza, of Venezuela. This is the sixth time that Venezuela is winning the Miss Universe Crown.
    • Runner up this is year Miss Dominican Republic.
    • The other top-five finalists were Miss Kosovo, Miss Australia and Miss Puerto Rico.
    • Miss China, Wang Jingyao, was named Miss Congeniality and Miss Thailand, Chutima Durongdej, won Miss Photogenic.
  • India, China begin climate talks
    • India and China, increasingly close allies in the climate change debate, will on Monday begin talks looking at a number of different ways the two countries can collaborate in devising joint climate change strategies, from sharing glacial data to promoting reforestation projects.
    • On the agenda for the talks are a range of issues of common interest on which the two countries will look to collaborate, from the setting up a joint working group on the environment to working together on Himalayan glaciers.
    • China adds an estimated 5 million hectares of forests every year, and India adds around 1 million hectares. In this context both the countries are demanding that reforestation efforts also should be recognized and given due place in the global climate change talks.
  • Today Chennai is 370 years old!
    • In 1639, the East India Company’s Francis Day obtained from a Naik named Damarla Venkatadri a firman or grant of territory and privileges and licence to build a fort and form a settlement. By the following year, the Company had a warehouse and a stockade. This became Fort St. George, today the administrative headquarters of the Tamil Nadu government.
  • England wins Ashes
    • England regained the Ashes after beating Australia by 197 runs Sunday on the fourth day of the deciding fifth test to take the five-match series 2-1.
    • The Australians were not able to win the first test in Cardiff when they failed to take England’s final wicket. That match was drawn, England won the second test at Lord’s, the third test was drawn before Australia levelled the series in Leeds.
Language lessons
  • prestidigitator: Noun
    • Someone who performs magic tricks to amuse an audience
    • Synonym: conjuror, magician, illusionist
  • gringo: Noun
    • A Latin American (disparaging) term for foreigners (especially Americans and Englishmen)
    • eg: Even if beating the gringo devil still makes pulses race, when it comes to casting ballots, Latin America may go for the middle ground.


Politics & the Nation
  • How can you tackle the huge pendency of cases before our judiciary?
    • In a well meaning editorial today's ET comes up with some sane counsel to both the government and judiciary on the issue. Take a look. Don't we have a lesson or two from history which can throw some light on how justice was dispensed quickly in the good olden days?
    • BTW do you know that we have a whopping 31.19 mn cases pending before our judiciary?
  • Ever heard of concepts called "solar radiation management" and "marine cloud whitening"? These are part of a science that all of us now have perhaps to remember: climate engineering. Bjorn Lomborg, Director of Cophenhagen Consensus Center is a prominent writer on climate change issues. Those of you with geography and science backgrounds can perhaps be benefited by his excellent writings available on Project Syndicate. Let's look at 'solar radiation management' and 'marine cloud whitening' now: (excerpted from his today's op-ed article in ET.
  • Solar radiation management
    • Solar radiation management would bounce a little sunlight back into space. Reflecting just 1-2% of the total sunlight that strikes the earth could offset as much warming as that caused by doubling preindustrial levels of greenhouse gases.
    • When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, about a million tonnes of sulphur dioxide was pumped into the stratosphere, reacting with water to form a hazy layer that spread around the globe, and — by scattering and absorbing incoming sunlight — cooled the earth’s surface for almost two years. We could mimic this effect through stratospheric aerosol insertion — essentially launching material like sulphur dioxide or soot into the stratosphere.
  • Marine cloud whitening
    • It refers to spraying seawater droplets into marine clouds to make them reflect more sunlight. This augments the natural process, where sea salt from the oceans provides water vapour with the cloud condensation nuclei. It is remarkable to consider that we could cancel out this century’s global warming with 1,900 unmanned ships spraying seawater mist into the air to thicken clouds. The total cost would be about $9 billion, and the benefits of preventing the temperature increase would add up to about $20 trillion. That is the equivalent of doing about $2,000 worth of good with every dollar spent.
Finance & Economy
  • Drug makers face penalty for overcharging
    • Drug manufacturing companies such as Cipla, Ranbaxy, Johnson & Johnson and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) may have to pay over Rs 2,038 crore to the government for overcharging consumers on price-controlled medicines.
    • The NPPA controls prices of 74 bulk drugs used as raw material to make medicines. Prices of all medicines containing one or more of these bulk drugs are also directly controlled by the pricing authority. Unlike decontrolled drugs, the prices for which can be hiked by up to 10% annually, manufacturers do not have the liberty to increase prices of drugs under price control on their own. Several essential medicines such as antibiotics, pain-killers and ones for treating ailments such as cancer and asthma are part of the list of medicines where the pricing authority believes manufacturers have indulged in over-charging.
  • Ever wondered how much does your insurance broker get as commission from the policies that he is selling you?
  • Here is a good piece on hunger and child mortality in India
    • You need to read such articles to stay tuned to the facts and figures relating to poverty in India. Tremendous growths in corporate profits, GDP, advances in science and technology make little sense or give less comfort when a large portion of the population is suffering from hunger and malnutrition. This may be a trite observation. But do take a look at the article. It is an eye opener for many of us. Some excerpts:
    • More than three quarters of the population live in households whose per capita calorie intake is less than 2,100 in urban areas and 2,400 in rural areas — calorie intakes regarded as ‘minimum requirements’ in India.
  • Swiss government makes a killing on UBS stake sale
    • You might remember that UBS, one of the largest banks globally, which was in the news for negative reasons of late, has brought good profits for its government. At the height of global financial crisis last year, the Swiss government acquired about 9% in this bank by infusing money into it. Now the Swiss government has reportedly exited the bank by selling its stake for a cool 16.5 francs per share; making in the process a solid profit of about 6 bn francs.
    • You might also have noticed press reports about this bank being hauled by the US government and charged it with helping its citizens evade taxes. The US government and the bank have reached an amicable settlement of the issue with the bank agreeing to reveal the names of the account holders that the US wants.
Language lessons
  • conundrum: Noun
    • A difficult problem
  • fracas: Noun
    • Noisy quarrel


Politics & the Nation
  • Eulogizing Jinnah claims Jaswant's scalp!
    • The ghost of Jinnah has claimed its second victim in the BJP. Four years after LK Advani was forced to step down from the party president’s post for bestowing a ‘secular’ tag on the father of Pakistan, former Union minister Jaswant Singh was on Wednesday expelled from the party for eulogising Jinnah and for holding Sardar Patel jointly responsible for Partition.
    • He is reported to have eulogised Jinnah in his book ‘Jinnah: India, Partition Independence’.
    • Today's ET has given some excerpts / quotes from Jinnah's speeches in this regard to put the 'versions' of history that 'pundits' and politicians often propound every now and then. Take a look.
  • Rajiv Gandhi Awards: 12th version
    • Instituted in the memory of the late prime minister, the awards are presented to those who have achieved excellence in their respective fields, to encourage youth to innovation, and strive for success. The winners of the 12th Rajiv Gandhi Awards are:
      • Vineet Jain, MD of The Times Group, for Industry,
      • Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra for Sports,
      • Actors Shahid Kapoor and Katrina Kaif for Entertainment,
      • Narendra Jadhav for Education,
      • Ramesh Chandra Agarwal for Journalism,
      • Sam Pitroda for the Global Indian category,
      • Rohit Kochhar for Young Entrepreneur,
      • Rajashree Birla in the Social Field,
      • G Madhavan Nair as Superachiever,
      • Avika Gor as Child Prodigy and
      • Krushnaa Patil for Woman Achiever.
    • Instituted in 1996 with just three categories, the scope of the Awards has grown over the years. This year, they honoured 12 categories of winners.
  • Spouse clause takes sheen off India posting
    • For many expatriates, an India posting has, of late, become a much sought after experience to get reflected in their resumes.
    • But for working expatriate couples this is leaving a bitter taste. Indian embassies are refusing to let spouses work in India.
    • Currently, foreign nationals coming to India on an employment visa may obtain an “X visa” meant for dependents such as spouses. If the spouse decides to take up employment in India, the person will be required to go back to the port of origin and obtain an employment visa, which could take a long time.
    • Work permit-related restrictions often depend on reciprocal arrangements between two countries.
    • For instance, there are a large number of Indians in the US on H1B visas and their spouses are not allowed to work there. Besides, the mandatory payment of social security is also an issue with the H1B visa holders. Sorting out such reciprocal issues would help in easing work permit issues for spouses of expats working in India.
Finance & Economy
  • Jet fuel imports may be kept on OGL
    • In a move that could provide some respite to ailing airline companies, the government is looking at allowing them to import jet fuel on their own. Freeing up jet fuel imports would allow airlines to avoid high sales tax, ranging from 12% to 34%, levied by state governments.
    • The fuel could be imported under the government’s open general licence (OGL) policy and is the most liberalised form of import licence that does not place any export obligation on the importer.
    • The airline industry, which suffered an estimated loss of Rs 10,000 crore in 2008-09 mainly on account of high fuel prices, excess capacity and weak demand, has sought the government’s support to tide over the tough times.
    • Will the states see reason at least now and reduce the exorbitant rates they are charging on the ATF?
    • Had all the state governments agreed to levy only a rate of 4% on ATF sales, the airline industry could have got a relief of close to Rs. 2,500 crores, it is reported.
    • The move to put ATF imports under the OGL regime may not come as an easy solution.
      • One, this may only help marginally, operators in coastal cities like Mumbai and Chennai among others where jet fuel is not required to be transported. But since the airline companies do not have storage or transportation facilities, they would incur costs on these counts.
      • Also, airline companies would have to deal with inventory issues and foreign exchange variables.
      • But most importantly, it would be the oil companies (current jet fuel providers) that would throw the spanner in the works of such a move. ATF is a high-margin petroleum product and the oil companies would lose a sizeable revenue if airline companies were to start importing jet fuel.
    • In India, jet fuel prices for domestic airline companies are linked to Dubai benchmark prices while international airlines pay jet fuel prices linked to Platt, an international index.
    • India is a large country yet its annual per capita air trips amount to a lowly 0.02, compared to 0.1 for China and as high as 2.2 trips for the US. So there’s huge potential for air traffic growth here.
    • Additionally, our population in million per aircraft is way too high at 2.89. The figure is 1.14 for China, 0.63 for Brazil, and as low as 0.05 for the US.
  • Here is an excellent piece on what ails the growth of small scale sector in India. Take a look. An excerpt:
    • The total number (registered and unregistered) of micro and small units increased from 10.9 million in 2002-03 to 12.8 million in 2006-07 (Economic Survey, 2007-08), a growth of about 3% or 4% a year. And the total employment they provided went up from 26.4 million to 31.2 million, in the same period. That’s less than 10% of total employment, and a far cry from the millions of more jobs we need.
  • No extra airwaves for WiMax, says ISRO
    • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief G Madhavan Nair has told the nine-member empowered group of ministers (EGoM) — headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee — that the department of space (DoS) could not spare any further airwaves for WiMax services. The EGoM was constituted to settle all outstanding issues associated with the auction of third-generation (3G) airwaves.
    • The DoS has already parted with 40 MHz of airwaves for WiMax services in the 2.5 GHz band.
    • WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), is a telecom technology that allows the user to access high speed internet and other data applications wirelessly. As per global industry experience, WiMAX offers data speeds that are 10-30 times faster than 3G. To put this in perspective, the data speeds of 3G networks are over five times faster than those offered by 2G cellular networks that telcos in India currently use.
  • Per-second billing seen hitting telco revenues by 15%
    • The per-second billing system for calls, pioneered by Tata DoCoMo, has the potential to bring down the sector’s revenues by 10-15% if other operators follow suit, according to analysts.
  • Infy, Cognizant among world's 100 fastest growing companies
    • IT bellwether Infosys Technologies, along with internet major Google and software giant Apple, has been named among the world’s 100 fastest growing companies by American publication Fortune. The league of 100 is topped by Canada-based RIM, the maker of Black-Berry phones. The list also features Cognizant Technology Solutions, headed by India-origin CEO Francisco D’Souza.
    • It is the first time that Fortune has opened its list of the top 100 fastest growing companies to businesses from around the world.
  • Warren Buffet cautious on US budget deficit and debt
    • The US budget deficit is forecast to reach a record $1.841 trillion in the year that ends September 30. This is about 13% of its GDP.
    • Debt is slated to increase to 56% of its GDP.
Language lessons
  • compunction: Noun
    • A feeling of deep regret (usually for some misdeed)
  • nondescript: Adjective
    • Lacking distinct or individual characteristics; dull and uninteresting
    • eg: "women dressed in nondescript clothes"; "a nondescript novel"
  • commiserate: Verb
    • To feel or express sympathy or compassion
    • eg: They could commiserate with each other too about having to face the travails of having their every move dissected by avid fans and opponents alike.
  • transmogrify: Verb
    • Change completely the nature or appearance of
  • aphorism: Noun
    • A short pithy instructive saying
    • An example of an aphorism: "invest only in businesses that an idiot can run because sooner or later an idiot will." This aphorism is attributed to the famous investor Warren Buffet.
  • cop-out
    • Noun: A failure to face some difficulty squarely
    • Verb: Choose not to do something, as out of fear of failing


  • On depleting ground water resources
    • NASA satellite data shows groundwater levels in northern India depleting by as much as a foot per year, over the past decade.
    • Therefore it is clear that India faces a turbulent water future. So what should be done about it? Can you throw some suggestions?
    • Take a look at what an ET editorial suggests:
      • The far too much reliance on placed on groundwater (about 70% of India’s irrigation needs and 80% of domestic water supplies) has to be reduced.
      • Our water infrastructure for storage and supply is sorely inadequate. This has to be improved.
      • Policy distortions in artificially underpricing key agri-inputs like power have perversely incentivised cultivation of water-intensive crops like paddy in traditionally wheat growing areas. Such distortions have to be done away with pronto.
      • We need to step-up building bunds, check-dams and other small and medium-sized reservoirs for rain-water harvesting. This can be taken up under the auspices of the NREGA.
      • India can store barely about 30 days of rainfall, compared to as much as 900 days in the major river basins abroad.
Finance & Economy
  • CRISIL to foray into grading stocks
    • CRISIL, the country’s biggest rating agency and the Indian arm of global rating giant Standard & Poor’s (S&P), is stepping into uncharted territory with plans to grade listed stocks — an experiment that will be the first of its kind in the world and sure to have its own share of controversies.
    • At present, local rating agencies like Crisil and Icra confine themselves to grading initial public offerings (IPOs), which many investors make a mental note of before investing.
    • But unlike IPO grading, which is mandatory under SEBI regulations, Crisil’s proposed grading of listed stocks would be optional for a company. A company keen to grade its stock will have to hire the services of a rating agency, a process similar to getting a rating for a bond or debenture. The methodology that will be used here would be in many ways similar to IPO grading rather than debt rating.
    • How will investors be benefited from such grading?
    • Though the price part won’t be answered, insights into issues like ‘is the business good’, ‘are financials robust’, ‘is the governance strong’ and most importantly, ‘is the company poised for healthy earnings growth’ will be given.
  • Titbits on bank nationalisation
    • In 1969, when banks were nationalised, the population per bank branch was 82,000 in the rural areas and 33,000 in urban areas. By 2007 that number had fallen to 17,000 in rural areas and 13,000 in the urban areas.
    • In 1969, just 17% of the branch network was in rural areas; today that number is 32%, thanks almost entirely to PSBs.
    • Yet, there is a large section (41%) of the population that is still without access to modern banking.
  • Mortage fund to help urban poor
    • The Union government, which recently announced a grand plan to make India slum-free in five years, is considering a Rs 15,000-crore mortgage fund to encourage lenders to give home loans to the urban poor, usually the last in banks’ preferred list of borrowers.
    • The ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation has proposed to the Planning Commission to set up the fund to act as a guarantee to lenders in case such loans go bad.
    • Earlier this year, the government had announced a 5% interest subsidy for the urban poor — defined as those earning up to Rs 7,300 a month — availing home loans up to Rs 1.6 lakh. That is, if a loan is sanctioned at an interest rate of 8%, the borrower will have to pay only 3%. But the government felt the subsidy alone may not be enough to prod financial institutions to lend to the urban poor. Hence the mortgage fund.
    • The move is in line with the government’s massive push for social development and inclusive growth through a slew of measures ranging from the much-appreciated rural job guarantee scheme to the newly-announced plan to wipe out slums from urban India.
  • Green shoots det to defy drought
    • IT’S a drought all right, but there is no need to panic as far as India’s economic growth is concerned. For, even though various state governments have declared 177 of the 600-odd districts across the country as droughtprone, nudged down the country’s GDP growth by almost a percentage point and readied its war room to deal with the impending agriculture-led humanitarian crisis, the jury is still out on the impact of lower farm growth on the overall economic well-being of the country.
    • Apart from the much-commented fact that the economy has sharply diversified beyond agriculture—to the extent that it accounts for just a shade over 40% of rural income now, compared to over half in early 2000s, the last time India faced a drought of such intensity— analysis of drought-hit districts and the prognosis by a few independent forecasters like Morgan Stanley and Standard & Poor’s offer hope that economic growth this year will remain robust, and, at worst, the impact would be marginal, giving credence to the theory that growth is now fairly decoupled from agriculture, all other things remaining the same.
    • Let's hope the economists would prove right this time.
  • India opposes linking trade with emission caps
    • Waxman-Markey climate change legislation, which was passed by the US House of Representatives seeks to impose trade penalties on countries that do not commit to specific action against greenhouse gases.
    • At the Bonn negotiations, the developed countries have suggested introducing trade penalties unless developing countries accepted emission caps under the UN framework convention on climate change.
    • India has expressed its objection to such a move.
    • The talks will be resumed in September in Bangkok, with the aim of reaching an agreement by the December conference in Copenhagen. The clause included by India will now be part of the 200-page document on which negotiators from 180 countries will have to arrive at an consensus. This agreement will succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
    • The Kyoto protocol requires 37 industrial countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a total 5.2% from the 1990 levels by 2012, but made no obligations on developing countries.
Science & Technology
  • IBM to use DNA in next-gen microchips
    • Artificial DNA nanostructures, or ‘DNA origami’ may provide a cheap framework on which to build tiny microchips.
    • IBM is reportedly looking to the building blocks of our bodies — DNA — to be the structure of next-generation microchips.
Language lessons
  • d├ęcolletage: Noun
    • A low-cut neckline on a woman's dress