Friday, January 29, 2016

Solar scam in Kerala

There used to be a belief that Kerala was one of the least corrupt states in India. High literacy ratio and victory of different political parties in consecutive general elections were depicted as reasons for this. Every Keralite was supposed to be intensely political.

The causes have not changed. But the state is perceptibly becoming more corrupt. We may say that there is now no state in India which can claim to be least corrupt or can be blamed to be most corrupt. Each state is competing with every other state to turn more venal.

Kerala's Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy had the reputation of being less shady. The solar scam has tarnished his image. It is alleged that he received bribe to the extent of Rs.1.90 crore. Would a chief minister stoop to receive such a low amount? The Vigilance Court judge S.S.Vasan took an ethical and legal view and ordered that Chandy and another minister needed to be investigated. The judge was careful enough to say that it was too early to establish guilt or innocence.

The Kerala High Court thinks otherwise. On appeal, the High Court has stayed the Vigilance Court's order. It could have stopped there. Unfortunately, it passed strictures on Vasan for 'exceeding his limits' and has quoted Supreme Court guidelines. Insulted, Vasan is seeking voluntary retirement. The High Court has exceeded its brief by misreading the direction of the Vigilance Court and as such interfered in the normal judicial process.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fourth Industrial Revolution

Economists are now talking enthusiastically about the fourth industrial revolution. Invention of steam engine in the later part of 18th century brought about the first industrial revolution. The second revolution was occasioned by mass scale production thanks to electricity. Internet in the second half of 20th century was the doorway to the third revolution. Rapid developments involving Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Big Data and cloud computing are the harbingers  of the fourth industrial revolution.

In the recently held Davos conference, Klaus Schwab said, “There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.” He was referring to the onset of the fourth revolution. Robert Shiller who is among the few economists who predicted the 2008 global gloom advised, “You cannot wait until a house burns down to buy fire insurance on it. We cannot wait until there are massive dislocations in our society to prepare for the fourth industrial revolution.”

What should we do so that we are ready for the impending revolution?
In order to extract maximum benefit from the fourth revolution, we need to create conditions of less inequality in terms of income and trust in society.

Oxfam says, “Across the world, the gap between the rich and poor is spiraling out of control. It’s hurting us all and standing in the way of ending poverty.” On 19 January, 2016 Oxfam published a report that bemoans the economic system that widens rather than narrowing the gulf between the rich and the poor. This report released just as the World Economic Forum was scheduled to meet at Davos appealed to global conscience with the warning that unless remedial steps are initiated forthwith, the richest 1% of humanity will own as much wealth as the remaining 99% by the end of 2016.

Approximately 11% of world population is too poor to consume their minimum dietary requirement. Even the most stone-hearted will squirm knowing that just 80 individuals are together as wealthy as 50% of global population (nearly 3.6 billion people) who are at the bottom of the wealth pyramid. IMF has gathered evidence to show that extreme inequality apart from being an ethical issue also lacerates the economic engine and slows down economic growth.

The extent to which different sections of society (broadly classified into elite and mass) trust various institutions is measured annually by what is referred to as “Edelman Trust Barometer”. The relevant data across the world are collected and conclusions drawn by a research group called ‘Edelman Berland’. Inequality in trust is measured by the difference between the trust of ‘informed group’ and the trust of ‘general population’ in four major institutions namely NGOs, Business, Media and Government. The difference in the latest survey (2016) is 12%, 10%, 10% and 9% respectively. These differences are more than the 2015 figures showing that the disparity in trust and confidence between the elite and lay sections of populations is widening just as the inequality in income / wealth also is growing. (‘Informed group’ is defined as college-educated, in top 25% of household income and reporting significant media consumption and engagement in business news.) The bottom-line is that the general population is less optimistic. Details are available in

To sum up, we are on the cusp of an exciting new revolution that has the potential to generate unprecedented prosperity. Inequalities in income and trust (mentioned as the ‘great peril’ by Klaus Schwab) may play the spoilsport. Therefore, sustained reduction in these inequalities will help us in moving faster towards a brighter future.

This appeared in the Industrial Economist Blog on 28 January.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Good and Bad

Far from the common belief that science is consistent, it is eternally evolving and in the process subjects itself to criticism of inconsistency.

There was a time when doctors used to say that cholesterol was bad for the heart. Period. They subsequently became wiser and started differentiating good and bad cholesterol - HDL and LDL. It is not enough if we reduce our LDL, we need to increase our HDL simultaneously.

Fat was thought to be bad, whatever its source. But now comes the news that fat also is divided into healthy fat (mainly of vegetable oils) and unhealthy fat (mainly meat). It is not enough if you reduce your meat intake, you must also increase use of vegetable oils. More heart attacks are caused by deficiency of healthy fat than by excess of unhealthy fat.

What will be the next surprise?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Horror in Flint, Michigan

Lead contamination in water is a frequently encountered problem in India. We seem to have developed immunity to it. Lead is a dangerous metal to ingest. It causes severe developmental problems in children. It also results in pneumonia for all age groups.

Lead poisoning has now become a story of horror in Flint city in Michigan state of the US. Flint is the birthplace of General Motors and also United Auto Workers. It has a dwindling population because of economic crisis. Its 100,000 population is mainly African-American. Its per capita income is very low.

Michigan's Governor is a Republican who is obviously not popular in a largely Democratic city like Flint. The city is facing a financial crisis and looking for ways to control public expenditure.

The city was buying water from Detroit till sometime in 2014. To avoid spending on water, the city decided to start using water from a local river, also called Flint. Water from this river has a high level of chloride which is highly corrosive. This water caused corrosion of water pipes and this led to presence of abnormal levels of lead in the tap water for the public in Flint city.

The public was quick to identify the toxicity in tap water, but civic authorities were hidebound and refused to heed. When the scandal became unmanageable, the Republican Governor  apologised. The city has reverted to purchasing water from Detroit.

That something like this can happen in a developed country like the US  only proves the universalisation of misgovernance.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Sabarimala case

The Supreme Court is hearing a case wherein the prohibition against women aged between 10 and 50 for entry in the temple is sought to be annulled. Is this prohibition a discrimination against women or is it a matter of religious custom that has Constitutional protection?

The High Court of Kerala had, as early as April 1991, pronounced a well-reasoned judgment refusing to interfere in the religious practice. It is believed by the devout that the deity is 'Naisthik Brahmachari' (a celibate for life and one who is always with his guru) and therefore entry of women of the age group mentioned was out of question.

Relevant excerpts from the High Court judgment are given below. It would be inappropriate for the apex court to decide otherwise.

"38. Is there any basis for this restriction? Is it only a blind belief handed down from generation to generation without any rationale behind that restriction? The counter affidavit filed by the Board makes mention of the reasons why young women were not permitted to worship at the temple. In olden days pilgrims to this holy temple had to carry with them their own provisions in headloads taken by them. Transport facilities improved recently as a result of which a pilgrim can now reach Sabarimala without trekking the original route followed by pilgrim of olden days. Even according to the counter affidavit of the Board, the distance to be trekked has now been redused to 5 kms. Pilgrims are expected to observe penance. Purity in thought, word and deed is insisted during the period of penance (Vratham). A pilgrim starts trekking the Sabarimala only after completing the penance for a period of 41 days. Women of the age group 10 to 50 will not be in a position to observe Vratham continuously for a period of 41 days due to physiological reasons. These appear to be the main reasons why females of a particular age group were not permitted to go on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala. It has to be remembered that there is no distinction of caste, creed or colour in Sabarimala temple and there had not been any even in olden times. Even while a section of Hindus were forbidden to enter other temples in the State, there was no bar for any among them to go on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala or worship the deity there.
39. There is a vital reason for imposing this restriction on young women. It appears to be more fundamental. The Thanthri of the temple as well as some other witnesses have stated that the deity at Sabarimala is in the form of a Naisthik Brahmachari. "Brahma-chari" means a student who has to live in the house of his preceptor and study the Vedas living the life of utmost austerity and discipline. A student who accompanied his Guru wherever he goes and learns Vedas from him is a "Naisthikan". Four asramas were prescribed for all persons belonging to the twice born castes. The first is of a student or Bramchari, the second is of a householder after getting married, the third is the Vanaprastha or a life of reclues and the last is of an ascetic or Sanyasi. Sri B. K. Mukherjee, the fourth Chief Justice of India, in his Lordship's Tagore Law Lectures on the Hindu Law of Religious and Charitable Trust says at page 16 of the second addition thus :
"Ordinarily therefore a man after finishing his period of studentship would marry and become a house-holder, and compulsory celibacy was never encouraged or sanctioned by the Vedas. A man however who was not inclined to marry might remain what is called a Naisthik Brahmchari or perpetual student and might pursue his studies living the life of a bachelor all his days".
A Bramchari should control his senses. He has to observe certain rules of conduct which include refraining from indulging in gambling with dice, idle gossips, scandal, falsehood, embracing, and casting lustful eyes on females, and doing injury to others.
(vernacular matter omitted) Mann Smriti Chapter II, Sloka 179.
40. The deity in Sabarimala temple is in the form of a Yogi or a Bramchari according to the Thanthri of the temple. He stated that there are Sasta temples at Achankovil, Aryankavu and Kulathupuzha, but the deities there are in different forms. Puthumana Narayanan Namboodiri, a Thanthrimukhya recognised by the Travancore Devaswom Board, while examined as C.W. 1 stated that God in Sabarimala is in the form of aNaisthik Bramchari. That, according to him, is the reason why young women are not permitted to offer prayers in the temple.
41. Since the deity is in the form of a Naisthik Brahmachari, it is therefore believed that young women should not offer worship in the temple so that even the slightest deviation from celibacy and austerity observed by the deity is not caused by the presence of such women.
42. In this connection it has to be mentioned that Sabarimala temple is not the only temple in Kerala where there is restraint on the entry of women. Sri Malankal Krishna Pillai, a Malayalam post of repute and a former Regional Deputy Director of Education, after visiting all the important temples in the State, had published a book titled "Maha Khshetrangal kku Munpil" (in front of great temples). While writing about the Siva temple in Teliparambu in Eaunur District, he has mentioned about the custom there in not permitting women to enter the temple and offer prayers during day time. They are permitted to enter and worship only after the Athazhappja (the last pooja of the day) is over. The belief is that Lord Siva will be seated with his cjonsort Goddess Parvathy at that time and Lord Siva is in a happy mood to shower boons on the devotees. That is supposed to be the appropriate or auspicious time for women to pray before the God revered as Rajadhirajan (King of all Kings). This custom or usage is understood to have been in prevalence for the past several centuries.

44. Our conclusions are as follows :
(1) The restriction imposed on women aged above 10 and below 50 from trekking the holy hills of Sabarimala and offering worship at Sabarimala Shrine is in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial.
(2) Such restriction imposed by the Devaswom Board is not violative of Articles 15, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.
(3) Such restriction is also not violative of the provisions of Hindu Place of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 since there is no restriction between one section and another section or between one class and another class among the Hindus in the matter of entry to a temple whereas the prohibition is only in respect of women of a particular age group and not women as a class."

Full text of the judgment is available at:

Hyderabad police vs Delhi police

Police in Hyderabad have proved that they are more professional than their Delhi counterparts. They have filed a case against a central minister in connection with the suicide of a research scholar in University of Hyderabad.

I am not jumping to the conclusion that Bandaru Dattatreya is guilty. Hyderabad police have atleast taken the inevitable initial step of instituting a case against the suspects. But the Delhi police in a glaringly unprofessional manner ignored the needle of suspicion pointing at Shashi Tharoor in the case of homicide of Sunanda Pushkar.

It is hoped that the Hyderabad police will professionally follow up in the case of unfortunate suicide of Rohith Vemula and take steps for prosecution of the guilty whoever they are.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Gita and Agita

If we do not follow the teachings of (Bhagavad) Gita, we will feel a lot of agita (which means a feeling of agitation or anxiety).

Etymologically perfect, isn't it?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Uneven treatment

Delhi Police Commissioner seems convinced after two years that Sunanda Pushkar did not die naturally. Any normal person would suspect Shashi Tharoor's hand in the gruesome murder. But the police think that VIPs can do no wrong.

If Tharoor were a common person, he would have been arrested in January 2014 itself before relevant evidence was destroyed and when Sunanda's viscera continued to be a leading clue.

Delhi police acting under political pressure have debased India into a banana republic.

Tughlak's 46th annual meeting

The meeting held on January 14,2016 was different from the earlier annual meetings for the following reasons:

1) When the national anthem was sung, Cho had to continue sitting because of his health conditions.
2) Employees of the magazine were not formally introduced in order to save time.
3) Thuglak readers were not given a chance to speak.

In the 45th meeting, Cho had said that he was not keeping good health because of lack of physical exercise. In the current meeting, he attributed his difficulty to his exertion in the last year's meeting.

Readers of Thuglak normally relate to him intellectually rather than emotionally. Because of Cho's ill-health, emotions have now taken the upper hand. Cho's response was as razor-sharp as ever.

There were six speakers apart from Cho. Sarathkumar of AISMK, S.R.Balasubramanian of TMC, EVKS Elangovan of Congress, Anbumani Ramadoss of PMK, Pon Radhakrishnan of BJP and Pazha Karuppiah of AIADMK spoke in that order.

Anbumani Ramadoss spoke most sensibly (many listeners must have been pleasantly surprised) and Karuppiah spoke most philosophically and humorously (it is intriguing that his candour is unaffected by the party he is in).

Saratkumar recounted the 'golden years' of Kamaraj rule. He was supportive of Jayalalithaa ('who has fulfilled 177 of 177 poll promises') and Modi who is marketing India world-wide.

Balasubramanian compared Cho and Kannadasan and concluded that the former is more persistent as an editor / writer. He spoke against chauvinism of any kind and expressed his view that Tipu Sultan was not a religious bigot. According to him, the Sringeri Mutt was adequately compensated by Tipu Sultan when it was looted by people from Maharashtra. He was suspicious about Pakistan's intentions and actions. He criticised Modi's goodwill visit to the neighbour.

Anbumani Ramadoss wanted a cultural metamorphosis. He criticised the freebies culture, administrative lapses in the recent flood-relief and reliance on TASMAC. He roundly criticised all other political parties and concluded that movement from the fire to the frying pan is not what we are looking for. He was against the preponderant role of film artistes in many political parties. He narrated in detail how the policies for education, public health (he is a medical doctor), employment and farmers' welfare should be different from what they are today. He recalled that C.N.Annadurai predicted that the Dravidian parties will rule for 50 years from 1967. That period is now coming to an end. He lamented that drinking habits are now so widespread that even girl students in schools are becoming alcoholic. He revealed that he had done a course in Macroeconomics at the London School of Economics.

Elangovan warned against terrorism and global warming. He was against youngsters (students) taking to politics. (Paranoia?) Politics should not be a career! We should move away from 'cash for votes' culture.

Radhakrishnan glorified the government's performance under Modi. Central government's help in flood-relief, opening of 20 crore accounts in banks in a short span of a few months, policy towards Sri Lanka, national recognition for Thiruvalluvar and Barathiar and promotion of transparency in tendering processes were counted as achievements. He pleaded for Gujarat-style government in Tamil Nadu.

Karuppiah complimented Cho for his ceaseless role as an effective permanent opposition. He compared Cho with Kamaraj in his ability for quick assessment of people. He insisted on the need for dissent in any forum to enable a culture of thesis - antithesis - synthesis. He recounted Sardar Patel's emphasis on efficient bureaucracy, watchful press and just judiciary. He regretted the unholy alliance between bureaucrats and politicians in power. He pointed out the contemporary significance of names of Cho's past plays like "Yarukkum Vetkam Illai" and "Unmaiyae, unn vilai enna?"

Summary of Cho's views:
Balasubramanian was hedging his bets not knowing which Dravidian party will be in power post-elections.
Films will continue to play a role in politics which is not necessarily bad. It may be noted that many actors including Sivaji could not shine in politics.
It is not practical to impose prohibition. It is advisable to watch what happens in Bihar and Kerala which are attempting to introduce it. How to avoid illicit liquor? Anbumani Ramadoss has been admirably consistent in his views on need for prohibition.
It is difficult to wipe out competitive cash for votes culture. Congress party started this nefarious practice as an SSI and it has grown into a large scale industry.
Congress had initiated both good and bad practices.
BJP cannot take all the credit for policy towards Sri Lanka. Rajiv Gandhi was a pioneer in this.
Many had wished Cho a long life. But he prefers a healthy life and not a long life of suffering.
At the state level, law and order is deteriorating and corruption is gaining newer grounds.
Jayalalithaa's image as a strong leader against goondaism is becoming suspect.
Jayalalithaa's contribution in ending dynastic dominance (in DMK) in the state is credit-worthy.
Flood relief measures in the state were apathetic to begin with, but caught up later on.
Overall, the pluses of state administration outweigh its minuses.
Sun TV and Jaya TV take only extreme positions. The truth is between these extremes.
Modi continues to be a clean politician. If he cannot reduce corruption, nobody can.
Modi stands for scam-free economic development. His foreign tours are beneficial for the country whose global image is now better.
Modi is accused as intolerant because he does not tolerate corruption. What a contrast from Manmohan Singh!
Hinduism is the most tolerant religion. This is because it does not believe in conversion and numerical strength.

Monday, January 11, 2016

TIME and The Economist

Two popular magazines, TIME and The Economist have ushered in the new year by increasing their prices.

TIME is now Rs.150 per issue as against Rs.120 earlier, that is an increase of 25%. Its price has not been increased by this high percentage for any other country. In fact, the price in China remains the same at RMB 55. This is despite the fact that the Chinese currency has weakened more that the Indian Rupee last year.

The newsstand price of The Economist is up from Rs.220 to Rs.300, an increase of  36.36% Again, India bears the brunt. The price is not increased for any other country!

At a time when the Indian currency is more stable than other currencies, this is very surprising. Are the resident Indians getting penalised for evincing more interest in foreign magazines? These magazines are obviously charging what the traffic will bear. They have, correctly or otherwise, found that Indian readers were enjoying more consumers' surplus.

Pathankot attack: India's response

Defence Minister has said that India will respond at the time and place of its choice. This is needless bravado. India has the right to respond forcefully, but verbal assertion of this right is tactless and only gives room to the enemy / terrorists to blame India for any unconnected mishap in Pakistan. Bravado is not what we expect from the government now.

Terrorists entered a supposedly high-security airbase and killed Indian jawans. Government has to own responsibility for this negligence. We do not know what kind of damage the terrorists wanted to inflict. It is good that vital assets like airplanes were not damaged. Was it because we were tactful in our operational response or was it because the terrorists did not mean to damage them and their aim was something else? We may never know.

Friday, January 08, 2016


The Central Government has now permitted Jallikattu subject of course to certain guidelines. There is ample empirical evidence that such guidelines are rarely implemented by the organisers of Jallikattu.

The Supreme Court in its enlightened judgment of May 7, 2014 had observed:

"Even the ancient culture and tradition do not support the conduct of Jallikattu or Bullock cart race, in the form in which they are being conducted at present. Welfare and the well-being of the bull is Tamil culture and tradition, they do not approve of infliction of any pain or suffering on the bulls, on the other hand, Tamil tradition and culture are to worship the bull and the bull is always considered as the vehicle of Lord Shiva. Yeru Thazhuvu, in Tamil tradition, is to embrace bulls and not over-powering the bull, to show
human bravery."

The judgment further said,

"As early as 1500-600 BC in Isha-Upanishads, it is professed as follows:
“The universe along with its creatures belongs to the land. No creature is superior to any other. Human beings should not be above nature. Let no one species encroach over the rights and privileges of other species.”

"Bulls cannot be used as a Performing Animals for Jallikattu and Bullock-cart Race, since they are
basically draught and pack animals, not anatomically designed for such performances."

"Parliament, it is expected, would elevate rights of animals to that of constitutional rights, as done by
many of the countries around the world, so as to protect their dignity and honour."

It is a pity that the Central Government has taken this decision not on merits, legal or ethical, but based on extraneous considerations. This being the month of Margazhi, anyone with even the remotest acquaintance with Andal's Thiruppavai would appreciate the respectful treatment extended to cattle by ancient Tamils. As the Supreme Court rightly proclaims, our cultural progress should make us migrate from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

The Pathankot puzzle

The terrorist attack on Pathankot airbase is a grim reminder of the dangerous security situation in the country. It is intriguing why the global media including BBC and The NewYork Times fight shy of calling it a terrorist attack.

A Superintendent of Police was thrashed by the terrorists in his own car and the car was hijacked. The government agencies did not act on this serious incident for well over six hours. During combing operations, a Lieutenant Colonel sustained fatal injuries when an explosive device exploded. These are inexplicable security lapses.

Would any other country tolerate such a brazen attack from its neighbour? We need someone like Indira Gandhi to lift us from this messy morass.