Politics & the Nation
  • Take a look at Tirupati Balaji's riches
    • He has reportedly Rs. 52,000 crore worth of jewellery alone.  This is slightly more than half the annual budget of the Government of Andhra Pradesh.  The temple owns about 20 tonnes of gold and diamond jewellery and some of them date back to the 12th century.
    • Tirumala is one of the 12 temples and sub-shrines that TTD (Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam) maintains.
    • The TTD is reportedly planning to buy insurance cover for this jewellery.  
    • No single insurance company can underwrite such a risk on its own books.  Therefore the board is looking at partnering a state-owned general insurance firm for insuring these assets. The insurer who gets the mandate will have to strike a reinsurance deal with an international reinsurer.
    • Till now, ONGC with assets spread in several locations, has the largest insurance cover of $26 billion.
    • The TTD board's decision to insure the gold comes in the backdrop of many alleged reports of jewellery pilferage. Last year, the head priest of a Tirupati temple had confessed to stealing a 520gm gold necklace of a Venkateshwara deity.  He had pledged it for Rs 10 lakh to get his daughter married.
    • Earlier this year, TTD officials admitted that there were no documents on the jewellery of Sri Krishnadevara Period of 1500 AD.   And many believe some of these antique jewellery might have even been converted into other ornaments.
Finance & Economy
  • Government grapples with changes to the mining policy
    • The government is determined to implement a policy intended to give those displaced by mining a share in the profits of the miners.
    • The policy, part of a legislation setting the rules for investment in mining, will also apply to captive mines of companies such as Tata Steel, SAIL and Hindalco. The bill, if approved by Parliament, could make it mandatory for companies to issue equity shares to each member of every family displaced by the project as well as 26% of the profit, according to a draft version of the bill.
    • The government's thinking is that if affected persons share profits arising from mining operations, resistance from the local population whose land has to be acquired for industrial projects would dwindle.
    • The current government regulations permit 100% foreign direct investment, or FDI, in most mining activities under the automatic route. Despite this, the actual FDI flows have been a measly $150-200 million. This has not deterred the government from setting the ambitious target of increasing FDI in the sector to over $20 billion in the next few years.
  • Difference between FII and FDI
    • An excerpt from today's ET editorial that explains this very clearly:
    • There is a clear distinction between portfolio investment or FII and FDI. FIIs are generally not interested in management control. Thus, Suzuki’s investment in Maruti is undoubtedly FDI while investment by, say, Morgan Stanley or Nomura, is portfolio investment. It is also accepted that FDI is more rooted and has a number of positive spinoffs in terms of employment generation, transfer of technology and management practices while portfolio inflows, while quite useful, are relatively more footloose.
  • Some facts/figures about agriculture investing in the country
    • The number of venture investments in agribusiness firms and start-ups rose to 11 in 2010 from nine in 2009, according to data from research firm Venture Intelligence. The amount of money flowing into the sector almost doubled to $167 million this year from $89 million in 2009.
    • Data collated by ICICI Bank said that the Indian agricultural and food business is expected to double to $280 billion in next decade. There is an opportunity of private investments up to $50 billion by that time.
  • Some interesting statistics about credit and debit card usage in India
    • Although banks have issued 19 crore debit cards covering close to a fifth of the population, these cards are used for payments on an average once a year. Against this, there are 1.9 crore credit cards which see 11 transactions a year.
    • Debit cards are being greatly under-utilised, largely because of the charges that banks impose on merchants. Banks generate an income of 1,340 crore a year through merchant discount rate — the fees charged to merchants to process card payments.
  • India's own 911 soon its way
    • India has kicked off the process to start a single national integrated number, like 911 in United States, 000 in Australia, 999 in UK and 112 in the European Union.
    • Basic services like police, medical emergency, fire, airline & rail enquiry, or municipal helplines will be available through the number, which is yet to be decided. Besides, it will provide citizens direct access to counselling helplines, and government departments like education, health, transport, municipality, public distribution etc.
    • Already pilot projects in five states—Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are reportedly under way.  
    • The pilot project will be completed by December 31 this year, and blueprint for connecting all India, will be readied thereafter.
    • About 90% emergency calls are to the police and 8% for ambulances.
    • In US, the emergency service, for instance, operates on the N11 mode, where N stands for any number between two and nine. The number 211, stands for all counselling helplines like suicide prevention, senior citizen helpline, debt counselling, drug addiction helplines etc. The number 311, is used to report broken community links like a damaged pipeline, fire, bad roads, etc.
  • God did not create the universe
    • British physicist Stephen Hawking has said the creation of the universe was a result of the inevitable laws of physics and it did not need God's help. In his latest book "The Grand Design", Hawking writes: "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist." He rejects Isaac Newton's theory that the universe did not spontaneously begin to form but was set in motion by God.
  • The US budget deficit
    • The US has a significant budget deficit, likely to be $1.3 trillion (10% of GDP) this year.  Do you know how large it is?  It is larger than our country's GDP by 30%!
Language lessons
  • nostrum: Noun
    • Hypothetical remedy for all ills or diseases; once sought by the alchemists; Patent medicine whose efficacy is questionable
    • Synonym: catholicon; panacea
  • uncanny: Adjective
    • Suggesting the operation of supernatural influences; Surpassing the ordinary or normal
    • Synonym: eldritch