Politics & the Nation
  • There is no shortage of 'hot' political news in today's papers
    • Looks like the issue of 'corruption' has come to the fore in public mindspace.  Thanks a lot to the Supreme Court for that.
    • First it questioned the tenability of CVC's supervision over the 2G spectrum probe by the CBI. It also commented that Raja ought to have heeded the PM in the 2G spectrum allocation issue.  Then there is the question of personal privacy versus public interest in the case filed by Mr. Ratan Tata regarding publication of his conversations with Niira Radia.  It has also directed that the tapes containing the recorded conversations of Niira Radia with others be handed over to the Supreme Court.  
    • Everything mentioned above concerns the 2G spectrum allocation issue.
  • Pesky telemarketers will face up to 2.5 lakh in fines
    • Telemarketers, who call customers without their prior approval and firms that send unsolicited commercial SMSes, will be imposed fines ranging from Rs 25,000 on first offence to Rs 2.5 lakh for the sixth offence
    • Consumers, who wish to activate the ‘do not call’ (DNC) service or file a complaint against a telemarketer, will now simply have to dial toll free number — 1901
    • A subscriber’s request for do-not-call service activation will now be processed within seven days against the earlier 45 days
    • Currently, only 90 million mobile users have registered themselves with the do not call registry.
Finance & Economy
  • Timing government borrowing for productive purposes
    • Robert Shiller, in his op-ed today, comes out with an eye-opener for governments.  He argues that governments should be borrowing now more than ever, rather than emphasising fiscal consolidation.  The reason he says is rock-bottom real interest rates.  He advises governments all over the world to issue more inflation-indexed debt or nominal GDP-linked debt.  Sounds very interesting.  Take a look at it.
    • But be forewarned: the article is not for the faint-hearted.  You should have some grounding in finance.
  • In favour of conditional cash transfers and food coupons
    • Excerpts from an article that is laced with some interesting statistics:  
    • Despite recording an average growth of 8.5% in the five years to 2009-10, poverty and malnutrition still remain daunting in the country. Nearly 41.6% Indians live on less than $1.25 a day and 43.5% of under-five children are underweight.
    • Physical handling — procurement, stocking and distribution — of more than 60 million tonnes of grain (mostly rice and wheat) would cost the exchequer between 60,000 crore and 1,10,000 crore (or 1-2% of the GDP), depending on the quantity and issue price for the poor and non-poor.
    • The experience of the last 25 years across developing countries shows that higher agricultural growth is critical for poverty alleviation. “Cross-country estimates show that GDP growth originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth originating outside agriculture,” notes World Development Report, 2008. For China, it is 3.5 times more effective and for Latin America 2.7 times more effective.
    • China started its reforms with agriculture during 1978-84, moved from commune to household responsibility system, liberated output markets and infused new technology, especially hybrid rice. This helped China’s agriculture sector to grow at 7.1% per annum and poverty decline from 33% to 15% in just six years.
    • Global experience of safety net programmes offers important lessons. India can innovate upon these to improve economic access to food in a cost-effective manner. Many countries have moved away from physical handling of grain to alternatives such as conditional cash transfers (CCT), food coupons, smart cards, etc. Some of the success stories of conditional cash or food transfers are Bolsa Família as part of Zero Hunger programme in Brazil, Food For Education programme in Bangladesh, Progresa and later Oportunidades in Mexico, etc. Studies suggest that such programmes have made considerable impact on educational, nutritional and health outcomes and poverty alleviation.
    • India can adopt and innovate upon such programmes. Food coupons can be used in any retail outlet, not just for food grain but a larger list of food items. This is likely to remove the hegemony of fair-price shop dealers. CCT for girl child in school or the woman in the household can help ensure proper utilisation of benefits. The smart card or biometric card approach can be piloted in urban areas, particularly the 35 cities with a million-plus population each. There is scope for involving private players, be it retailers or IT companies, and even dovetail the efforts underway through the unique identification system.
  • Premji donates 8.6% stake to own charity foundation
    • Azim Premji, who cut short his education to look after the family business after the death of his father in 1966, will use a portion of the wealth accumulated in shares of his company, Wipro, to build schools, train teachers, and fund other educational activities.
    • Premji, chairman of India’s third biggest IT services exporter, will do this by transferring about 8.6% stake worth over 8,000 crore to a private trust controlled by him. The trust will then use the money to finance the educational initiatives being carried out under the ambit of the Azim Premji Foundation.
    • The shares, at current market prices, are worth 8,846 crore, and represent the single-largest donation by an individual towards philanthropic activities. Premji’s stake in the company is expected to come down to just over 70% from 79% now.
  • Just 509 Nanos sold in breezy Nov
    • Nano, the world’s cheapest car, is failing to find favour with Indian families who could not afford an automobile earlier.
    • The low-cost, four-passenger car reported sales of just 509 units in November 2010, a dramatic decline from 9,000 units in July, even as automobile sales surged on easy finance and festival season. Mercedes, one of the costliest cars in the world, sells more than 500 units in India, touted as the world’s fastest-growing automobile market.
    • A series of reports on the car catching fire, starting from March this year, doused the initial enthusiasm of customers who had rushed to book the Nano when Tata Motors launched it with a target sale price of 1 lakh, less than half the cost of the cheapest car available in India.
    • Two successive price hikes also contributed to the fall.  The price hikes resulted out of compliance to new emission regulations.  So today a base version comes for around 1.36 lakh, inclusive of all taxes.
    • Analysts feel sales will slip if the product is sold in the current form.
  • Matrix in real life?
    • Ever heard of Stuxnet?  Avinash Celestine gives us a glimpse of what this is about.  A very gripping article.  In the realm of Sci-Fi.  A must read.
    • For those of you that don’t bother / can’t read the article in full, here is the gist:
    • Stuxnet is a worm which infects industrial automation systems manufactured by Seimens that are used in nuclear fuel enrichment.
    • The difference between a ‘worm’ and ‘virus’ is that unlike a virus, a worm doesn’t need any host program to propagate itself.  
Language Lessons
  • dainty: Adjective
    • Delicately beautiful; Especially pleasing to the taste
    • eg: A dainty towel.
  • cinch: Noun
    • Any undertaking that is easy to do
    • eg: The search giant's pay is good and its perks are legendary, so persuading scrappy startups to sell for multimillion-dollar sums should be a cinch.
  • pesky: Adjective
    • Causing irritation or annoyance
    • eg: A pesky mosquito.