Politics & the Nation
  • BrahMos test fired successfully
    • India on Thursday successfully test-fired the 290-km range BrahMos cruise missile from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur off the Orissa coast.
    • The missile, which can fly at 2.8 times the speed of sound, is capable of carrying conventional warheads up to 300 kg for a range of 290 km. The missile can effectively engage ground targets from an altitude as low as 10 meters.
    • The 8.4 meter-long missile is a two-stage vehicle that has a solid propellant booster and a liquid propellant ram-jet system.
    • BrahMos is capable of being launched from multiple platforms like submarine, ship, aircraft and land based Mobile Autonomous Launchers (MAL).
  • Should lobbying be legalised?
    • Lobbying per se has come to the fore recently; courtesy Niira Radia’s questioning by the CBI in the 2G spectrum scam.
    • It is but natural that a debate about legalizing lobbying arose.  Take a look at two different views on the subject in today’s Face-Off column.
Finance & Economy
  • On the urbanization challenge being faced by India
    • India's 9% growth brings with it, another set of challenges.  As this growth is driven primarily by industry and services, a population shift from country to town is happening.  This is expected to result, in less than a couple of decades, in a shift of 20 crore people from villages to towns.  They cannot be accommodated in the existing towns, already crowded beyond the limits of their creaking capacity. At an average population density of 12,000 per sq km, that would mean demand for additional urban land to the tune of 16,700 sq km.
    • India lacks a proper town planning policy, barring the one on SEZs.  Town planning to minimise commutes and energy consumption, to promote social integration and effective policing and to guarantee efficient, eco-friendly mobility, complemented by urban governance that would make such planning work in practice, is the need of the hour.
  • On how the MMRDA amendments should be brought about
    • MMRDA - Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act.
    • With Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi seen as championing the cause of indigenous tribals (remember Niamgiri and Vedanta project?), it has now become fashionable to scream for tighter regulations on mining activity -- especially in forest areas.  So, how should the proposed amendments to the MMRDA should be brought about without disturbing the applecart?  Take a look at this op-ed in today's ET.  It is a very well written piece that argues for regulations that discourage bounty hunters and encourage long-term investors in mining.
  • Some urbanization related stats
    • As per the 2001 Census, 42.58 million Indians live in nearly 3,700 urban centres in comparison to 60 million Indians in 1947. The urban population will swell to 420 million by 2011 and it is projected 800 million Indians will live in cities in 2045.
  • What are the troubles plaguing the Nano?
    • We all know that the Nano's image is plagued by the recent fire and smoke incidents.  These seem to have taken a toll on its sales badly.  It is now reported that production of Nano has come to a grinding halt at its plant in Sanand in Gujarat.
    • The company says that Nano was beset with three problems:
    • Failure to reach the customers it was targeted at.  While the car was meant to be purchased by the people who are currently owning two wheelers, the initial bookings were actually from the well heeled who already had a car or two.  Taken in by the initial surge, the Company appears to have gone smug about reaching its intended audience.
    • Understanding the psyche of the target customer.  The conventional idea about the behaviour of a target customer -- that she will walk into a showroom, take a test drive and buy the car -- proved wrong.  The Nano customer is apprehensive, shy and hesitant to come to showrooms.
    • Making adequate financing options available to Nano buyers.  Bank and finance companies were not geared to cope with the risk profile of a Nano buyer.  A two-wheeler buyer can walk into a dealership, submit the papers and drive out with the bike in 45 minutes. But the conversion time for the Nano is somewhere around 14 days from intention to buy.  
    • Tata Motors is reportedly working on solutions to these three problems.
    • Tata Motors does not disclose revenues earned from the Nano, but back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the car does not account for more than 3% of India revenues and only 1% of global revenues. The company reported consolidated sales of Rs 55,838 crore and net profit of Rs 4,212 crore during the first half.
    • The company has invested Rs 2,000 crore so far on the Nano and the world over expectations from the iconic car are very high.  Typically a low-cost car will break even at 70% utilisation, given the plant capacity of 2.5 lakh units.
  • Food inflation back in single digits at 8.6%
    • Food inflation fell to single digit for the first time since May 2009, but there was little respite for consumers as the prices of several essential items continued to rise.
    • Food prices for the week ended November 20 rose 8.6% from a year ago, down sharply from 10.15% in the previous week, even as the index for food articles rose 0.2% during the course of the week.
    • The decline is largely due to favourable base effect or the sharp increase in food prices last year that has a lowering impact on current rate of rise in prices.
  • On merchant banking
    • Merchant banking used to be the 'in thing' for young and aspiring bankers back in the mid 1980's.  But who exactly is a merchant banker?  Though the practice is there since 19th century in India, it has evolved over time and is now defined in SEBI's Merchant Bankers' Rules, 1992 thus:
    • “merchant banker” means any person who is engaged in the business of issuing management either by making arrangements regarding selling, buying or subscribing to securities as manager, consultant, advisor or rendering corporate advisory service in relation to such issue management.
  • Two Indian Americans in Grammy nominations
    • New York-based businesswoman Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon and pianist-composer Vijay Iyer have been nominated for this year’s Grammy awards.
    • While Tandon’s Om Namo Narayanaya: Soul Call, featuring Sanskrit chants, has been nominated in the Best Contemporary World Music Album category, Iyer’s Historicity has been shortlisted for the Best Jazz Instrumental Album award.
    • Soul Call takes the listener on a healing journey with Sanskrit slokas and an important chant from ancient Indian texts — eight phonemes, Om Na Mo Na Ra Ya Na Ya. While the vocals and the composition are by Tandon, the complex orchestral arrangements are by Tejendra Narayan Majumdar assisted by Snehasish Majumdar.
    • Iyer, the U.S.-born son of Indian immigrants, is a self-taught creative musician grounded in American jazz and popular forms and drawing from a wide range of Western and non-Western traditions.
Language Lessons
  • sallying forth: Noun
    • A venture off the beaten path
    • Verb: sally forth.  Set out in a sudden, energetic or violent manner
  • confounded: Adjective
    • Perplexed by many conflicting situations or statements; filled with bewilderment