Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 2012: Interesting Articles & Links

Vashnav, Milan (2012): RESIZING THE STATE, The Caravan, 1 Oct 2012, url -
- As the economist Lant Pritchett has argued, India is not a failing state but a “flailing” one: it can conduct elections for over 750 million voters, but it can’t stop millions from going hungry every year by properly distributing surplus food stocks.
- public sector employment—across all levels of government—which nearly doubled between 1971 and 1991, hit its peak at 19.5 million workers in 1995; since then, the number has declined, to around 17.9 million in 2010.
- Last year, the Supreme Court reported that one-third of seats in the state courts and one-fifth of seats on the district and subordinate courts remain vacant. The court estimates that there are 32 million pending cases working their way through the clogged Indian justice system.
- The Indian Army is facing a serious shortage of officers—more than 12,000 in 2011 after recruiting fewer than 1,500 in 2010. Despite major internal security concerns like continuing Maoist violence, the Intelligence Bureau has more than 9,000 vacant posts.
- According to a 2011 study in The Lancet, India’s stock of allopathic doctors, nurses and midwives is roughly half the World Health Organization’s benchmark of 23 workers per 10,000 population, even factoring in the sizable private health system...research findings by Sudhir Anand and Victoria Fan suggest that only 43 percent of India’s allopathic doctors have a medical qualification. As many as 73 out of 593 districts lack even a single nurse with a medical qualification.

Racism Cartoon - -- "Of course the white zebra's with black stripes hated the black zebra's with white stripes just as much"


Muralidhar, S (2012): ALL YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE F1 CAR, BusinessLine 29Oct12, url -

HBR (18Oct12): 10 Reasons to Stay in a Job for Ten Years -

IGNOU - Learning with CNR Rao -

Panagariya, Arvind (2012): STARVED OF IDEAS: Expanding the leaky public distribution system won't deliver food security, Times of India, 19Oct2012, url -
- The contention that more than one-fifth of Indians suffer from hunger and malnutrition (FAO, WHO, WB)... is principally based on the steadily declining trend in calorie consumption in India during the last two decades
- If individuals are consuming less foodgrains despite rising incomes, making foodgrains available in larger quantity at lower prices will not change the outcome.

Kumbhojkar, Sraddha (2012): CONTESTING POWER, CONTESTING MEMORIES - The History of Keregaon Memorial, Economic and Political Weekly, 20 Oct., 2012.
- "Among the neo-Buddhists in western India, pilgrimage to the Koregaon memorial emerged as one of the invented cultural practices and thousands of them throng to the memorial every New Year day to commemorate the valour of the Mahars who helped to overthrow the unjust high-caste rule of the Peshwa. They also commemorate Ambedkar’s visit to the place on 1 January 1927."

Gunkan March - Youtube and Lyrics
- Lyrics -

A virus that kills cancer -
- Rabbit killing virus?? -

Thomas K Thomas (2012): WHY 900 MHZ BAND IS SUPERIOR THAN 1800 MHZ BAND, Business Line, 18Oct12, url -

AWAD - Micawber - An eternal optimist -

Mehta, Bhanu Pratap (2012): THESE POWERFUL VICTIMS, Indian Express, 17Oct12, url -


Friedman, Uri (2012): 8 CRAZY THINGS AMERICANS BELIEVE ABOUT FOREIGN POLICY, Foreign Policy, 16Oct12, url -

Gandhi, Aditi and Michael Walton (2012): WHERE DO INDIA'S BILLIONAIRES GET THEIR WEALTH? EPW 6 october 2012, pp 10-14, url -

Urfi, Abdul Jamil (2012): Birdwatchers, Middle Class and the 'Bharat-India' Divide - Perspectives from Recent Bird Writings, EPW, 20 October 2012, url -

Monbiot, George (2012): THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, The Guradian, 9Oct2012, url -
Monbiot, George (2005): HOW BRITAIN DENIES ITS HOLOCASTS, The Guardian, 27 Dec., 2005, url -

Chhibber, Varun and Vasundhara Sirnate (2012): CAPTURING THE KIRANA, Indian Express, 5Oct12, url -
- Regional political elites are refusing these (FDI) reforms for reasons that can be found in the local political economy of campaign finance and corruption.

Sharma, Mihir (2012): The problem with Page One: India's press is buying the UPA's promises of reform far too easily, Business Standard, 4Oct12, url -

Bhasin, Agrima (2012): WASHING OFF THIS STAIN WILL NEED MORE, The Hindu, 3Oct12 - url -

Shah, Tushaar (2012): REMEMBERING VERGHESE KURIEN, Economic & Political Weekly, 29 Sep., 2012, Vol XLVII No.29

* Moller, Orstrom (2012): HOW ASIA CAN SHAPE THE WORLD, LSEAS-Bookwell Publications
- Elimination of transport cost as a significant factor...Of a price for a shirt selling for US$ 25, ocean transport costs may amount to as little as 0.85%....the combination of container technology and ICT has revolutionised logistics..

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Burden of Biometrics

A few days ago, the Indian Prime Minister handed over the 210-million-th Unique Identification (UID aka Adhaar) card to Bali Devi of Purawar village in Rajasthan. He also promised that in two years' time, half of India will have such a card, and this, hopefully,  will enable each of them to have easier access government welfare schemes.

Most of the welfare schemes based on state subsidies to the "three Fs" (food-fuel-fertilizers), which now accounts for Rs. 2.16 trillion ($55 billion), or 2.5% of GDP. However, much of these subsidies 'leak' out of the system long before they reach the intendend benificiaries -- the poorest of poor in India, numbering about 400 million. The UID-Adhaar project aims to plug these leaks by directing cash-subsidies directly into registered bank accounts.

Results from pilot tests are quite mixed. In one town called Kotkasim the Fair Price Shops were selling their entire allotted stock of 84,000 litres of kerosene a month before the project started. They is now selling 22,000 litres — ample proof that subsidised kerosene was being diverted for other purposes, mainly to adulterate diesel. On the other hand, in Beelaheri, another village near Kotkasim, hundreds of bank accounts have been set up without referencing the UID database, as the government pushed ahead with the politically rewarding cash transfers before readying Aadhar to identify the correct beneficiaries.

This brings up the enormous complexities in the technical and administrative challanges of a project of this magnitude. Each individual record (iris-scans, fingerprints & face-scans) takes up about 5MB of space. Multiply that with 210 million and you already have UID servers in Bangalore/Delhi handling a million GB of data. In two years' this is expected to grow to 3 million GB, and, whenever the project is completed, it would hold a least 6 million GBs for 1.2 billion citizens of India.

Is there any other database of of this magnitude and complexity? With each additional 100 million enrollments, how does the system cross-check for duplications in a billion records within a few seconds?

Earlier this year, Mr. Nilakeni insisted that, "The UIDAI biometric system is processing over 100 trillion biometric person matches with a high degree of accuracy each day capable of issuing a million (10 Lakh) Aadhaars daily."

How do they achieve this? UIDAI does not venture to explain this in simple terms, except by stating that they would be using "mulit-modal ‘Fusion’ approach of biometrics" and that accuracy is maintained using "multi-ABIS  solution architecture".

This is where I lose the plot... :(


* Unique identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Home Page -

* Das, Krishna (2012): PDS GET SMART, Business Standard, 28Oct12, url -



* Mehta, Bhanu Pratap (2012): Laying a New Adhaar, Indian Express, 25Oct12, url -

* Kumar, Manoj (2012): India Risks Backlash Hurrying Through Adhaar Project, Reuters, 25Oct12, url -
- In 2010, a McKinsey report estimated such an electronic platform for government payments to households would save up to $18 billion annually - enough to wipe out one-sixth of a fiscal deficit that could hit 6 percent of GDP this fiscal year.
- The government is likely to spend over $55 billion this fiscal year ending in March on fuel, fertiliser and food subsidies, as well as a flagship scheme guaranteeing 100 days of work a year to rural labourers, and other welfare programmes.

* Half India will own Adhaar Card by 2014: PM Singh (NI Wire) -

* Singh, Sushant (2012): PDS reform using Aadhaar, the Kotkasim way, Mid-Day, 10 April 2012, url -
- At Kotkasim (Alwar, Rajasthan)20,000 ration card holders, who had to open zero-balance, no-frills bank accounts for getting the subsidy. Initial public resistance was overcome by the district administration by transferring three months of subsidy in advance to the bank accounts. Results of the project have shown that substantial economies in subsidy outgo can be achieved by use of Aadhaar platform. Kotkasim, which was was selling its entire allotted stock of 84,000 litres of kerosene a month before the project started, is now selling 22,000 litres — ample proof that subsidised kerosene was being diverted for other purposes, mainly to adulterate diesel.

* Malik, Aman (2012): Subsidy Bill Reduction Target 'Ambitious', WSJ-Mint, url -

* UID and the PDS System -



* UIDAI - Biometrics Soultion Provider Experience -

Sunday, October 28, 2012

China in the Mahabharata?

WikiMap of India during the 'Epics Period'

A passing reference caught my eye today. In an Indian Express op-ed article, a Chinese diplomat has graciously tried to counter the ongoing, angst-ridden analysis of the 1962 war by writing about the various interactions between India and China over the past 2000 years. One of his assertions was that the "famous Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata contain numerous references to China".


This was something completely new to me. In my limited understanding of history, I had always assumed that real cross-Himalayan interactions took place only after Buddhist monks started wandering with nomads and traders into Central Asia. The ostensible linkage between the epics and China  seemed so incredible...

Has there been any bonafide research on this subject? Google Scholar yeilded a few papers but they were for 'subscibers only'. Wikipedia has a page specifically on this topic with the stanzas that refer to China, but another page titled 'Chinas' is better referenced.


* Xijun, Deng (2012): TWO MILLENIA STRONG, Indian Express, 28Oct12, url -


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rezang La, 1962

View Larger Map

Last week, the Indian Express carried a eulogy dedicated to the soldier's of the 13th Kumaon Regiment who defended parts of Ladakh during the 1962 India-China war. The focus of this piece was the "C" company led by a Major Shaitan Singh, which defended the outpost, almost down to the last man. And the sting in the tail was reserved for the then defense minister, Krishna Menon ('an obstinate, autocratic disaster').

This was one of the many introspective articles that have appeared to mark the 50th Anniversary of the war. Nearly all of them conclude that it was Nehru's smug arrogance that led to the war but what continues to surprise me is that we are still missing the woods for the trees. Fifty years ago, we went around with a hat in hand, asking the Americans, and then the Soviets for armaments, equipment and other assistance.

We continue to do that even today and, instead of developing our own R&D and manufacturing capacity, we have spawned an entire industry of Indian middlemen promoting foreign armament companies in India.


* Maxwell, Neville (): India's China War
* Singh, Amarinder (): Lest We Forget
* Chellaney, Brahma (2012): HOW CHINA FIGHTS - LESSONS FROM THE 1962 WAR, Newsweek, 29Oct12, url -

Sunday, October 21, 2012

'What is it to sleep hungry?'

What is it to sleep hungry?

This was a question Harsh Mandar asked an audience of university-educated, middle-class Indian youngsters. Since no answers were forthcoming, he went on to talk of his experiences with some of the poorest communities in the country.

Folks belonging to the Musahar ('Rat-eater') community in Eastern India, learnt the answer to this question quite early in life. During the lean seasons, when even rats are hard to come by, mother's apply a herb to their baby's thumb fingers which they suckle to sleep. Older children are taught more advanced survival skills -  picking edible food-grains and nuts from animal feces, raiding burrows for remnants of food and chewing on 'fake foods'.

The point being driven home was that it is unconscionable for citizens to go hungry in a country that is sitting on huge "buffer-stocks" of nearly 80 million tonnes of food grains. According to Dreze and Khera, never in history has so much under-nutrition co-existed with so much hoarding of food.

This simple assertion - or fact - forms the basis for the Food Security Bill currently being considered by the Parliament.

Critics of this Bill insist that it would become another law which just cannot be implemented. Food, along with Fuel and Fertilizer forms the 'subsidy triad' which is already a burden on our finances. Even though volume of food grains needed to implement food security schemes is just 8 million tonnes more than the 55 million tonnes being channeled down our leaky Public Distribution System,not everyone is sure whether the food will actually reach the intended beneficiaries living in remote rural areas.

One also wonders which is the greater evil -- feeding the rent-seekers already entrenched in the system, or creating a another form of 'state dependency'.



* Sharma, Vijay Paul (2012): FOOD SUBSIDY IN INDIA: TRENDS, CAUSES AND POLICY REFORM OPTIONS, IIMA Working Papers, Aug2012, url -
- trends in post-reform period 1991-92 to 2012-13
- Subsidy was Rs.72,283 Cr (2011-12) - 5% of Agricultural GDP -- it was just Rs.2,850 Cr in 1991-92...increased 25X in 21 years!
- bottom decile class of consumers (based on per monthly per capita consumer expenditure) spends about 65 per cent of total expenditure on food items in rural areas and about 62 per cent in urban areas.
- Minimum Support Price (MSP) for rice and wheat doubled between 2005-2012

* Patnaik, Banikinkar (2012): FOOD SECURITY BILL LIKELY IN NEXT SESSION, SAYS THOMAS, The Financial Express, 29Sep12, url -
- The proposed Bill aims to provide legal entitlement for subsidised grain to around 63.5% of the country’s population. Provisional estimates suggest the government needs as much as 63 million tonnes (mt) of grain to implement the Bill, nearly 8 mt higher than the current requirements. However, the Bill, once enacted, may drive up the government’s annual food subsidy bill to R1,19,000 crore, compared with R72,823 crore in 2011-12. (FT)

* Dreze, Jean and Ritika Khera (2012): A BILL THAT ASKS TOO MUCH OF THE POOR, The Hindu, 5Sep12, url -
- procurement has crossed 70 million tonnes per year, distribution is not keeping up, and excess stocks are growing. Never in history has so much undernutrition co-existed with so much hoarding of food. The government is desperately trying to export the surplus stocks, or simply allowing them to pile up unprotected. Reviving and revamping the Food Security Bill sounds like a better idea.

* Mander, Harsh (2012): Book Review - Big Talk at High Tide, Outlook, 16 July 2012, url -
* Mander, Harsh (2012): Dissent is a Virtue Too, The Hindu, 2 June 2012, url -
*Mander, Harsh (2012): Barefood - Their Discovery of India, The Hindu, 7 April 2012, url -
*Mander, Harsh (2008): Poverty the Eye Cannot See, Himal, October 2008, url -
. Poverty and its handmaiden, inequality, he says, “are everywhere for all those with eyes to see”, yet academics and policymakers “have an almost existential need to know how much of ‘it’ there is, and who ‘they’ are.” In fact, they are in “every landlord’s house, in each village, every five-star hotel is surrounded by them, every posh colony has its antithesis outside its gate, where the other half strives to survive … they greet you again on the pavements after a late night … you have a brush with them at traffic lights.”

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Famine of 1877

When an El Nino drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England. In 1877 and 1878, at height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, government officials were ordered “to discourage relief works in every possible way”...the resulting famines killed between 12 and 29 million Indians.

This paragraph from George Monbiot's article brought my own ignorance into sharp focus. I had known about the role of the British government in the Great Bengal Famine of 1945, an event that was to form the foundations of Amartya Sen's work. In this famine 1.5 to 4 million people are estimated to have died of starvation, malnutrition and disease.

However, a minimum of 12 million famine deaths in 1877 is a shocker. Given that a hundredweight is around 50kgs, the total wheat exported during that year comes to about 3.2 million tonnes.

How much was the total production of food grains in 1877? What was the total population of India in 1877? Since the staple diet in the Deccan region is rice it would be useful to know some more details to put this disaster in perspective...



Monbiot, George (2012): THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, The Guardian, 9 Oct., 2012, article url -

Monbiot, George (2005): HOW BRITAIN DENIES IT HOLOCAUSTS, The Guardian

Davis, Mike (2001): LATE VICTORIAN HOLOCAUSTS - El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World

Sunday, October 07, 2012


Its now the Navratri festival season and a great time for shopkeepers stocking on dry fruits. For a nine-day period, millions of North Indians will substitute their normal carb-diet of wheat (and a bit of rice), and instead, consume lots of eatables that fall in under the category of fruits & nuts.

One of the popular dry-fruits is something called "Makhana". It looks like pop-corn that decided to 'pop' in perfect rounds and ovals, but costs much more - about Rs.600 a kilogram.

So what really is Makhana?

Surprisingly, it turns out to be seeds of a plant that belongs to the water-lily family: Euryale ferox.

Apparently it is called Makhana because most of it comes from Makhan - another name for the Mithila region of Bihar. The state accounts for 80 percent of Makhana production, of which about 40 percent of production goes to the start industry while the rest is consumed as food, mainly during 'socio-religions' occasions.

According to a newspaper report, Makhana has 'an annual average production of 50,000 tonnes and an estimated market of Rs. 500 crore ($ 1 billion) per annum, India exports Makhana to West Asia, the United States and some European countries. It is an excellent organic food with great medicinal value. It's seed is analgesic with aphrodisiac properties. In the northeast , unripe Makhana fruit is used as a vegetable'.



* Parsai, Gargi (2012): NOW YOU CAN GROW MAKHANA IN LOW FARMLAND, The Hindu, 23 Jan., 2012, url -

* ToI (2004): MAKHANA ON WAY TO EUROPE, Times of Indi, url -