“… if there is no political opposition”

Here’s how swamped in politics our economics is. From an article in the Indian Express, about reforms in the Petroleum sector, after the murder of Manjunathan Shanmugam:

The Cabinet note is also expected to recommend raising the price of household LPG (LPG = Liquified Petroleum Gas) by Rs 50 per cylinder from January 2006. And by another Rs 50 after six months, if there was no political opposition to the first increase.

1.) “If there was no political opposition”?! If it makes sound economic sense, there should be no political opposition in the first place! As Ila Patnaik pointed out in her article a couple of days ago, the subsidy on LPG is absurd, because no family “below the poverty line” (whom subsidies are supposed to benefit) can afford even the subsidized LPG! The price for a cylinder of LPG hovers around Rs. 300 per cylinder. If a family can afford that on a  monthly-bimonthly basis, then it is definitely not below the poverty line. Plain and simple – any political opposition to this will be for the sake of populism, and should be crushed.

2.) From a broader standpoint, why should we need a “Cabinet note” recommending a price hike/cut? That is the fundamental problem with our Petroleum infrastructure. Once we have corporatized our Petroleum sector, we ought to leave decisions regarding imports, pricing, distribution, acquisition, diversification, and so on, to their managements. All that the Ministry of Petroleum ought to be doing is setting clear policy guidelines and making sure that they are adhered to. If the Petroleum minister is going to micro-manage the running of ONCG, OIL, IOC, HPCL, BPCL and GAIL, we might as well merge all of these corporations as Departments under the Ministry of Petroleum, and stop this sham of calling these organisations as “companies”.

Rediff special on the quality of India’s engineers

Update: Part 2 is here.

It’s time someone brought this up.

Rediff.com is running a special series (Part One is here) on the quality of India’s computer science graudates. The problem is clear – the abysmal state of India’s universities, across the board.

It is thrilling, at first glance, to read statistics like “From its 113 universities and 2,088 colleges — many of which teach various engineering disciplines — India produces nearly 350,000 engineering graduates every year. All of Europe produces 100,000 engineering graduates a year, and America produces only 70,000.” But, as the article goes on to say, the quality of these engineers is something best left unsaid.

Mumbai University is widely regarded as one of India’s best Universities, after the IITs and NITs. I myself am a graduate from an engineering college under MU. However, you only have to spend a day touring engineering colleges under MU to realise the absolutely pathetic infrastructure in place, the hopelessly outdated syllabus (we spent an entire semester learning the finer nuances of COBOL – as part of Business Processing Systems, cut our teeth on programming languages with PASCAL and didn’t touch C until half our engineering was done, learnt IBM’s ITS as a state-of-the-art database system – you get the point), the lacklustre faculty, arcane and archaic rules and regulations, an examination system that has all but collapsed, and, as the article mentions, heavy emphasis on rote learning and “theory”. And mine was one of the best colleges under MU.

I shudder to think how people who have become “Computer Engineers” through this sort of education are going to make India the world “Information superpower”.

Government Funding and Private Participation:
The article mentions a serious lack of funding, a lack of Government spending on Research and Development in Engineering. And elsewhere in the article, “… the gradual withdrawal of government support, with increased private participation in technical education, affected quality and led to commercialisation of education.” Well, I can tell you that private institutions that run educational institutions are some of the richest bodies in India today. From my observations, the bottom line for these “companies” is almost as high as their top lines, simply because so little is pooled back into the college. Simple, back-of-the-envelope calculations for income and expenditure (I will not go into figures here) for a typical enginering college in MU will reflect that. So the problem is definitely NOT lack of funds. Indeed, private participation in education must be encouraged – but then we need to have stringent laws, brutally enforced, with heavy penalties for those private institutions that do not pool back enough money to make their colleges meet the high standards that they are easily capable of.

Then there are other problems that the article has not yet mentioned – the most serious one is reservation. Then you have, among others, lack of a practical-oriented examination system, lack of continuously updated syllabi, lack of business education along with technical education, sever lack of exposure to, and participation with, the Industry. Writing about what ails our technical education has been on the cards for a long long time; perhaps this article will be the catalyst that gets me down to doing it.

IBM’s first steps into “social” software

Publish.com writes about IBM waking up to “social” software. Signs are that the company’s got it right. Here are exerpts:

Another major benefit of the systems will be to help people find topical experts more quickly, a major headache in companies the size of IBM, which had just under 370,000 workers in 2004.

..

By creating a centralized online resource where anyone in the company can contribute to the quandaries the firm said it not only finds answers faster, but also allows employees to find out who among them has experience on a particular topic, or which workers they might collaborate with for other projects.

“We knew that the ability to better network individuals could provide immediate benefits and help move the company to real time, to shift how people collaborate,” Sparkes said.

This is what marks the difference between “old wave” communucation software and the “new wave” social software. Focus on the individual, and real-time collaboration using open standards.

Another effect of “focus on the individual”:

In addition to helping companies organize, retain and share information more intelligently, experts said that social networking tools will also help businesses focus on the quality of individuals’ unique contributions to their employers.

By gathering evidence of workers’ specific contributions, businesses will be able to give credit to people who come up with truly innovative ideas, rather than hand down praise through levels of corporate hierarchy, said Dr. Bill Ives, an author and independent consultant focused on the arena of social networking.

Perhaps the surest sign that IBM truly “gets” the power of community content, comes from an article on ibm.com itself:

“The proliferation of blogs, news feeds, consumer review sites, newsgroups and articles published daily on the Web has created a phenomenon where public opinion about an organization spreads worldwide, faster than ever before. These sources are filled with insight from consumers, experts and competitors that can be analyzed and used by businesses to make better decisions on products, services and business strategies. This creates a tremendous opportunity for organizations to carefully monitor their image and more quickly address business opportunities, threats, quality concerns or changing public perception.”

India strangles Reform.

More evidence that the prescence of the Communists who hold India’s puppet Government hostage, is severely hurting both investor sentiment abroad, and denting India’s image internationally.

Part of an editorial in the Financial Times:

The slow progress of Mr Singh’s reform agenda has been blamed on the presence of Communist allies from Calcutta within the ruling coalition. They have resisted labour market reforms and they are hostile to threatening the livelihood of small shopkeepers by opening retail trade to giant supermarkets. Yet increasingly it looks as if Mr Singh’s own Congress party is dragging its feet on the vital process of deregulation and liberalisation needed to free India’s economic potential. There are few votes in reform, the party barons argue. They appear to have the backing of Sonia Gandhi, the party leader.

Political resistance is one side of the problem. The other concerns the mass of business-unfriendly regulation that still afflicts the Indian economy. It is all very well declaring new sectors open to foreign investment if red tape still hobbles new ventures, with excessive demands for registration and licensing, as well as highly restrictive labour laws. According to the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, India ranks 116 out of 155 countries in terms of the ease of doing business – between Indonesia and Albania. There is much reform to be done at the micro-level, as well as the macro.

That explains why India attracted only $5.5bn (£3.2bn)in FDI in 2004-5 – less than 10 per cent of China’s total. Yet the government needs $150bn in infrastructure investment alone over the next 10 years. If the door remains half shut, both India and those eager foreign investors will be frustrated.

Here’s a related article.

Too bad this Congress-led Government is so hungry for power, that it refuses to say “enough is enough” and call a mid-term poll. I can’t believe how the entire Union Cabinet can bow, wilt, bend and capitulate to every single whim and fancy of the 60-odd Communists who, by providing “outside support” to the Government, weild Power without Accountability, who put Ideology about Practicality.

India, quite simply, is Fed Up with this sorry state of affairs.

Writely – Word on the Web

Writely is “a web word processor that provides simple and secure document collaboration and publishing on the web using only the browser”.

Here are some screenshots from the Writely tour pages:


Sounds like just what I need – I used Gmail drafts to keep track of my documents that I needed to access from the web, and I was just about to start deploying a wiki on rahulgaitonde.org – just for myself. Both seemed rather clumsy solutions. Writely, here I come!