Monday, April 30, 2007

Meet Mr. L. Dorsi

Last week, a minor disaster made me search for a better understanding of the term “muscle pain”.

Early one morning, I was lying belly-down on the floor, doing Yoga when my daughter – a preschooler - ran up from behind and jumped on to my back shouting, “Hello, Papa-Camel!”. She was referring to a little game between us and, at that point, I made the mistake of humoring her. I continued to exercise with her sitting on my back, playing the wobbly, giggly baby-camel.

I had forgotten all about this until I woke up the next morning with a strange pain on the left side of my lower back. It felt like somebody had quietly pushed in a small knife -- and left it there. Any movement of the body that needed the cooperation of the left leg or left arm resulted in a shooting pain. Ditto for rising from bed, turning and leaning back.

I’ve been acquainted with Mr. Backache but this fellow was quite different. He was completely localized and stubbornly resisted balms and ointments. He didn’t mind my sitting upright, driving or even my walking back home with a few kilos of groceries slung on my right shoulder. But the moment I tried to use the left side, he gave that little knife an exquisite twist...

The Web tells me that his name is Latissimus Dorsi. He is a “large, flat, dorso-lateral muscle on the trunk, posterior to the arm, and partly covered by the spinotrapezius on its median dorsal region”. Function ? “to pull the limbs dorsally and caudally (towards hind side) ”. Great.

So how do you persuade him to get rid of his knife? The answer is simple – bed rest. Nothing else works, actually. Just go to bed early and let your body clear up the mess you left behind --it takes about three days.

Now I’m almost ready for the next camel-ride… :)

Links :

A straightforward illustration of back muscles

...and the not-so-straightforward stuff from Wiki

Technorati Profile

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ja-Panning for Gold

I have been an unabashed admirer of many things Japanese, especially their sense of aesthetics and attitude towards teamwork.

Recently I was dredging my memory for some childhood inspirations. One of the first memories that floated up was of our time in Hyderabad – the 1970’s - when my elder brother was fascinated by Bruce Lee, Karate and Kung-fu. He once told me about a Karate master in Japan called Yamaguchi. This old man had so perfected his art that he could, with one stab of his fingers, break through the shell of a tortoise and pull out its innards.

At that point of time I thought more of the master's fingers than of the poor animal that lost its protection, and, perhaps life.

Sometime during the early 80’s, in Kerala. I was rummaging through my grandfather book collection when I came across a small story in the Reader’s Digest. It was about a Japanese gardener who specialized in growing Chrysanthemum flowers. His flowers were so beautiful that news soon reached from the royal palace that the Emperor himself would be coming to see them.

As soon as a date and time was confirmed, the gardener set to work. One by one he started cutting and removing flowers from his garden. Hundreds of flowers were destroyed and by the time the Emperor arrived, there remained in his big garden just one chrysanthemum flower. “Why did you remove all the flowers here?” asked his friends. He replied, “Since the Emperor himself was coming to see my Chrysanthemums, I did not want him to be distracted by anything less than the most perfect, exquisite flower in my garden!”

I have sought the original story on the web, in vain. While I was on Google, I searched for another story that had made a deep impression; one of sheer grit, determination, self-control and dedicated to the Team. I had once taken a clipping from the 'Illustrated Weekly of India' sometime in the 1980’s; it was the story of a Japanese gymnast.

The details turned up instantly. The name of the hero was Shun Fujimoto who had participated in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. Here is an excerpt:

"After severely breaking his knee during the floor exercise, Japan's Shun Fujimoto ignored his injury as long as possible, knowing such news could shatter the confidence of his teammates.

The injured gymnast continued on to the pommel horse routine, miraculously scoring a 9.5 out of 10. He then faced the rings, which would be his final event of the day. Shun performed extraordinarily, ignoring the inevitable consequences of dismounting from eight feet off the ground. Upon completion of his routine, he hurled himself into a beautifully executed triple-somersault dismount.
When his feet hit the floor, the pain sliced through him like a knife, but he kept his balance. Gritting his teeth, he raised his arms in a perfect finish before collapsing in agony. He was awarded a 9.7, the highest score he had ever recorded on the rings.

After winning the closest gymnastics team competition in Olympic history, Shun joined his team at the podium to receive his gold medal, and he did it without assistance."

What is it that gives ordinary mortals super human sensibilities and strength? What are the socio-cultural ingredients, the schooling-methods, the training and conditioning that encourages – or demands – a relentless pursuit of excellence?

Shun Fujimoto - a pioneer in taking one for the team (photo attached)

Official Website of the Olympic Movement

Friday, April 13, 2007

How Sweet!

Sugarcane is just a variety of grass. I love to dig my teeth into them but whatever else I knew was pretty basic – the slave-trade once thrived on it; to cultivate this crop, thousands of indentured laborers had been shipped from India to the West Indies - including the ancestors of V.S. Naipaul.

But what is story behind the jar of sugar that sits on my kitchen shelf? I knew next to nothing until I read today morning, a paper written by Harish Damodaran & Harvir Singh, titled “Sugar Industry in UP: Rise, Decline & Revival”,

Harish works with the Businessline and specializes on the Agri-Business sector. In his articles he never intimidates you with arcane formulae and statistical analysis. The approach is WYSIWYG - simple and direct , and this article was no different.

It looks at the topic in three parts –Historical Evolution; 1990s and After, and Socio-Economic Impact. Here are some pearls –

· If it were not for a protectionist colonial government, there would have been no Indian Sugar Industry. In 1932, an ad valorem duty of 185% effectively blocked sugar imports from Java. Within five years sugar factories shot up from 29 to 137!

· During the License-Permit Raj (1960-80), the cooperatives in Maharashtra surpassed UP. And then, in August 1998, the industry was full de-licensed. Distance between mills reduced from 40km to 15km; Economies of scale - new factories to have minimum capacity of 2,500 tcd; Dilution of “sugar levy” – govt share reduced from 45% to 10%…they could now sell 90% of production to open market

· Two international developments also helped: skyrocketing oil prices and the forced phase-out of subsidies on sugar exports by the European Union (EU). Big producers like Brazil started diverting sugarcane to Ethanol production.

· In 2005-06, India produced 19.26 million tones of sugar. UP topped the list at 5.7mT, followed by Maharashtra at 5.1mT

· Production: A typical mill recovers about 10 tonnes of sugar from every 100 tonnes of sugarcane that it crushes. 30 tonnes of bagasse and 4.5 tonnes of molasses generated as byproducts. The bagasse can produce power and the molasses, alcohol.

· Sugar one of the few industries that is completely energy self-sufficient and not dependent on coal or other external fuel sources.

· Thanks to more efficient boilers, for every 30 tonnes of bagasse, there is 8-9 tonnes surplus available for mills to sell -- especially to paper and particle-board makers.

· One tonne of cane makes 100kg of sugar. In addition, it also produces 100 units of power and 9.9 litres of alcohol. Thus Sugarcane yields not just sugar, but also alcohol, commercial energy and paper. As well as fodder for cattle and buffaloes.

· Water-guzzler? Not really. Sugarcane, requires 8-10 irrigations, compared to say, 4-6 in the case of wheat. But then, cane is typically grown over 11 months, whereas wheat is only a 4 - month crop.

· C-4 photosynthesis: Sugarcane uses a more efficient solar energy-deploying mechanism for capturing atmospheric carbon-dioxide and water and converting into starch matter or sugar / biomass. This is unlike rice, wheat, groundnut and several other plant species that employ the less efficient ‘C-3’ photosynthetic pathway.

· A modern sugal mill today generates direct jobs for 700-800 people; irrigated cane crop gives a net yearly return of Rs 18,000 to Rs 24,000 per acre.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Decoding The Budget Documents

Every year, the Budget Session is a grand jamboree played out on Raisina Hill. It is also a time when the security guys go hyper; North Block is sealed – cameras and mobiles are not allowed inside. On the first floor, extra guards hover around the bronze Nataraja, keeping a sharp eye on the FM’s room.

When finally put together, the Budget documents look like a sibling of the Delhi telephone directory – fat, colorful, heavy and full of fine print. Only the numbers here connect you directly to the lives of 1300 million people in India.

This is an attempt to understand what all the fuss is about.

Under Article 112 of the Indian Constitution, a statement of the estimated receipts and expenditure of the Government of India (GoI) has to be laid before the Parliament (Lok Sabha) w.r.t every fiscal year (1st April—31st March). This statement is called the “Annual Financial Statement” and this AFS is the main Budget document.

AFS shows receipts and payments of the Government in three parts – (1) Consolidated Fund of India, (2) Contingency Fund of India, and (3) Public Account of India.

1. Consolidated Fund: Contains all revenue received by GoI, loans raised and recoveries from loans granted by GoI. All expenditure comes from this fund. Nothing can be withdrawn without an authorization from the parliament.
2. Contingency Fund: To meet urgent, unforeseen expenditure pending authorization from the Parliament. It is an imprest (loan/advance) at the disposal of the President. Corpus – Rs.500 Crores
3. Public Account: Wherever GoI acts as a banker (Public Provident Fund, Small Savings, etc.) the money is kept in this account. This money does not belong to the government so Parliament authorization is not required for payments. This account also holds money from the Consolidated Fund, earmarked by the Parliament for specific projects (mid-day meal scheme, road dev., primary education, etc.)

The Constitution requires the Budget to distinguish expenditure on revenue from other expenditure, so we have two heads (1) Revenue Budget, (2) Capital Budget

1. Revenue Budget: Shows revenue received and the expenditure met from this. Revenue comes from taxes, duties levied by the Union, and also interest and dividends earned. Revenue Expenditure mainly goes for normal running of the Government – paying salaries, repaying loans, grants to states ---- mainly stuff that does not result in creation of assets.
2. Capital budget: Shows capital receipts & payments. Here the receipts from loans raised by GoI -- from the public / foreign banks/ market loans; recovery of state loans, through RBI. Capital expenditure mainly goes into creation of assets (acquisition of land, buildings, machinery, equipment etc.)

Article 150 prescribes how the govt accounting is to be classified so that it can be understood by the Parliament and by the public. Loan repayments and salaries of certain senior officials are exempted from the vote in Lok Sabha – this portion is shown as “expenditure charged” to the Consolidated Fund, separately. This process is called “Appropriation”.

In all, there are 10 documents, some in color coded binding and the others just copies stapled without much ado:

1. Annual Financial Statement of the Central Government for 2007-2008: The main document, containing details of Consolidated Fund, Contingency Fund and Public Account

2. Demands for Grants: Estimates of expenditure from CFI requiring a vote of approval from Lok Sabha under Article-113.

3. The Finance Bill, 2007: Completely relates to taxes – its imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation (under Article 110-1). Over a 100 pages of nothing but amendments.

4. Memorandum Explaining the Provisions in the Finance Bill, 2007 (Purple): This is the key to the Finance Bill. All those terse amendments are explained under various heads, like “Measures to plug revenue leakages”.

5. Budget at a Glance 2007-2008 (Green): A brief on receipts (Rs. 680,521 / $162b) and disbursements (ditto); broad break-up of expenditure – Plan and non-plan; allocation to sectors / ministries / departments. This is the place to look for all those deficits –

· “Revenue Deficit” – revenue expenditure over revenue receipts (Rs.71,478 Cr / $17b)
· “Fiscal Deficit” GFD – (revenue expenses + capital expenses + loan repayments) less (revenue receipts + capital receipts) = Rs.150,948 Cr / $35b)
· “Primary Deficit” = GFD less Gross Interest Payments (Rs.8047Cr / $2b)

6. Expenditure Budget 2007-2008 – Vol-I (Blue): Revenue and Capital disbursements totaling Rs.680,520 Cr ($ 162 b) to various departments and estimates of each under Plan and Non-plan:

· Non-Plan Expenditure – All expenditure not included in the Plan. Could be either Revenue Expenditure or Capital Expenditure; partly obligatory (interest payments, pension charges, statutory transfers to states & UTs); partly for essential functions – defense, internal security, external affairs…. The total is Rs.475,420 Crores ( 69% of total Ex, $113 b). The biggest chunks go towards interest payments & debt servicing (33%, $ 37 b) & defense (20%, $22 b)
· Plan Outlay – Distribution of resources as agreed in the 10th Plan. Covers various projects, programmes and schemes; to states and UTs. Total – Rs. 205100 Cr (31%, $48 b)

7. Expenditure Budget 2007-2008 – Vol-II (Orange): Covers schemes or programmes spread across various sections, ministries and departments.

8. Receipts Budget 2007-2008: Details of tax and non-tax revenue receipts, capital receipts; arrears of revenues, deficit indicators, statements on Small Savings Fund, revenue foregone, liabilities, guarantees given by govt., etc. The total money coming into the Consolidated Fund of India is Rs. 2,379,312 Cr ($ 566b) -

· Revenue Receipts = Rs. 583,647 Cr. ($138b), of which Tax Revenue is – Rs. 548,122 Cr. (94%, $ 130b of which $33b goes to the State’s), and Non-Tax Revenue – Rs. 177,975 Cr. ($ 42b). If one includes the excess of disbursements over receipts - Revenue Deficit – of Rs. 71977.8Cr ($17b), the total RR becomes Rs. 655,625 Cr ($ 156b)
· Capital Receipts = Rs. 1,795,665 Cr ($ 427b), of which the total internal debt of the central govt. is Rs. 1,733,533 Cr (96%, $ 412b); External Debt is Rs. 17,451 Cr (1%, $4b)

9. Statement on Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003 – This Act places certain obligations on the Central Govt.; any deviation has to be reported to the Parliament.

10. Key to Budget Documents (Pink)

Soon after the Finance Minister presents these documents to the Parliament, along with his much awaited “Budget Speech” (peppered with some mandatory couplets & slokas), the Opposition and the Media swings into action. The numbers are analyzed threadbare, criticized, debated, written & talked about for weeks on end.

It is a relief to discover that some effort had gone in to make the Budget easier to comprehend. Some big question linger, though -

· If the Budget Receipts add up to $ 566b, how is it that the total Expenditure Budget is only for $ 162b?
· What explains the mismatch of figures for “Budget 2007-2008” in Annual vs. ‘Budget at a Glance’?
· In CFI, net External Assistance is shown as Rs. 17,451 Cr (1%, $4b) but in BaaG it is just Rs.9111 Cr ($2b) – why?