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Railways: Accounting for profit March 22, 2009

Posted by reader111 in Indian Companies.
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Was the Railways really ‘bankrupt’ in 2001?.


Mamuni Das


Had the accounting methods that the Indian Railways follows now been followed during Mr Nitish Kumar’s stint as a Railway Minister, the Railways would have had an annual cash surplus of Rs 4,789.5 crore in 2001, Rs 6,286.58 crore in 2002, and Rs 8583.25 crore in 2003. And, please hold your breath — in 2004, the year when Mr Nitish handed over charge to Mr Lalu Prasad, the Railways would have had a cash surplus of Rs 9,552.27 crore!


This startling information is tucked away in Appendix 6 of Sudhir Kumar and Shagun Mehrotra’s lucidly-written book, Bankruptcy to Billions (OUP, 2009, Rs 495). Indeed, it is one of the key takeaways from the book.


So, was the Indian Railways actually not bankrupt in 2001? It is this that has made Mr Lalu Prasad’s tenure seem so wonderful. The readers can take a call on the issue.


Great transformation


The authors also admit that, in 2008, accounting changes helped the Railways reflect an incremental cash surplus of Rs 3,489 crore (14 per cent of Rs 25,006 crore surplus).


Sudhir Kumar, a 1982-batch Bihar IAS officer, is the officer on special duty of Mr Lalu. Shagun Mehrotra, the co-author, is pursuing his doctoral studies at Columbia University and has worked in the World Bank on the infrastructure reforms.


Sudhir Kumar has been instrumental in implementing the profit-making policies for the Railways. He also deserves credit for managing the Minister’s image. A case in point is the sponsored study by IIM-Ahmedabad (where the ‘sponsored’ bit was hidden) on the Railways turnaround.


The first sentence in the first chapter — “How Indian Railways was transformed in four years under Lalu Prasad” — sets the tone for the book. From there, it does not look back and the reader is treated to a nice, long account of the Great Transformation. The Railways was quick to see an opportunity in the booming commodity cycle, and through consecutive freight rate hikes in iron ore for export, freight rates were increased by 400 per cent, say the authors. The Railways earned an additional Rs 9,000 crore in profits from this.


The chapter “Milking the Cow” provides more insights into how they utilised the assets. The authors provide a detailed account of how the Railways increased the freight earnings during Mr Lalu’s regime.


The Railways also increased axle loads. Mr Lalu realised there was rampant overloading in the system. By simply legalising higher axle loads — through some clever interpretation of the laws pertaining to it — the Railways started billing for much higher levels of loads without having to physically chase extra loads.


Thus, by adding six tonnes of load per wagon, the Railways transported 90 tonnes of incremental load each year or Rs 6,000 crore in incremental revenue.


The authors have accorded due credit for this strategy to the former chairman, Mr M. S. Gujral, who, as the Railway Board Chairman in the 1980s, had initiated a similar move. But his attempt was subsequently discarded due to risks associated with it.


The passenger rail business dynamics are extensively explained in the chapter “The Market”. Railways ran longer, faster, high capacity trains on a priority basis in areas with high demand and reduced fares by token amounts of even one rupee. But unlike the details provided regarding the freight business, the authors have not shared much details about how the Railways raised passenger fares by hiking reservation and cancellation charges, levying super-fast charges by converting many trains to super-fast trains.


Similarly, it would have been nice to read up on the Tatkal service that allows passengers to pay extra for securing a reserved ticket. Charges for booking under the Tatkal scheme were increased by Rs 100-150 for nine months of a year, in 2004.


They also do not mention how the Railways subsumed the safety surcharge into fares even after the charge was discontinued in 2007. This, in effect, disallowed a fare reduction for passengers.


Privatising The non-core areas


In the chapter “Political Economy of Reforms”, there is a detailed explanation on how the Railways identified areas for reforms. Mr Lalu Prasad was not against privatisation, say the authors, of non-core railway functions.


So, the Railways did partially try to follow some of the Rakesh Mohan Committee recommendations on privatising non-core functions such as allowing private container train operators, getting private firms to run the Rail Yatri Nivas and inviting private investment in new production units. But not much has come out of it.


Another key point is that under Mr Lalu, the Railways became more responsive to market conditions with a dynamic pricing policy. So through surcharges, freight charges were increased wherever possible and incremental freight was captured with incentives. In effect, he successfully milked the robust system created during Nitish Kumar’s regime.


Ref: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2009/03/13/stories/2009031350250900.htm


Try and say this in Hindi—bet you can’t March 8, 2009

Posted by reader111 in India, Language.
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Aakar Patel


Our dance floors light up only when Bollywood songs play. But why? Bollywood melodies are Indian in their modulation. We respond to the words; we feel their emotion, more than we do for songs in English. An Englishman will not “get” Mitwa, no matter how often he listens to it. This is because words are loaded with meaning that is more than just definition; we invest them with an emotion. Other words are based on evolved concepts. What happens when we borrow such words from another language is that often we don’t really understand what they mean.


Indians think secularism means inclusion. This is because we have no precise word for it in any Indian language. The word actually means distance from religion, but in no Indian language can distance from dharma be a good thing. The word does not exist because the concept is alien to us. Hindi uses binsampradayik, which means non-sectarian, and that’s why the meaning is lost to us. We have the strange phenomenon of parties with names such as Hyderabad’s Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (Group for the Unity of Muslims) and Kerala’s Indian Union Muslim League in the Lok Sabha calling themselves, and believing themselves to be, secular.


This inability to understand because of the limitations of our language and culture extends to concepts such as rights. When one points to the violence against Muslims in their state, Gujaratis will say, “but they started it first with Godhra”.


The Gujarati is not being evasive when he says this, nor is he being cruel. He is stating fact. He cannot understand why you cannot understand how “Muslims” could have “started it first” and then escaped punishment.


Gujaratis don’t have the vocabulary to internalize the horror of collective punishment, or the uniqueness of the individual. This is because identity comes from community in India, not from the individual. Unfortunately, though it’s India’s most urban state, English is not popular in Gujarat because it is not the language of success. Its merchants trade in Gujarati, which is a superb language of trade, given its rich and evolved vocabulary of Perso-Arabic (hawala, hundi, badla), which is used in all of India’s markets.


Gujaratis are pragmatic, but their language and culture do not accommodate individualism. Even their dances, Garba and Dandiya, are communal, another word which Indians do not understand clearly.


Seven years ago, the Editors Guild sent three of its members (I was one) to Gujarat to meet local editors and write a report on the role of media bias during the 2002 riots. What the team members heard made their hair stand on end.


Distance from English, from the European languages of reason, is always a bad thing for the developing world.


Isolationist states such as Iran and North Korea, defying the world at the cost of hurting their citizens, are more likely to have populations that don’t speak English. The danger to Pakistan comes mostly from its non-English culture, which wants the supremacy of religion. Urdu-medium Muslims are unhappy under secular law based on reason because the rule of reason is not utopian.


A study by Tariq Rahman, a professor of sociolinguistic history at Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azam University, (www.tariqrahman.net) showed that Urdu-medium Pakistani students were almost twice as likely as English-medium students to favour discriminatory laws for Pakistan’s Hindus. Madrasa students were four times more likely.


Allama Iqbal knew the limitations of Indian languages. Iqbal spoke Arabic, German and Punjabi. He knew Sanskrit well enough to translate the Gayatri Mantra.


He wrote his poetry in Persian and in Urdu. But his great text of reform was written in English because you cannot communicate reform without its vocabulary. He wrote the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam in the 1920s as a series of lectures. The lectures comprise the world’s finest document on Islamic reform, and lie mostly unread. Muslims love the emotional Iqbal who wrote stirring songs of Muslims on horseback conquering the world. They are bored by the rational Iqbal who talks of reason—or they cannot access him because he’s talking in English.


But Iqbal could not have written his Reconstruction lectures in Urdu, or for that matter in Persian or in Arabic, even though all the Islamic terminology he used was Arabic. He was giving those words flexibility through English, something he could not do in Urdu.


We connect emotionally to our culture through our language. And that is important, because it is our culture and we should be able to feel it not just through words but also visuals and sound and movement. But we understand the world, its science, its intricacies and its wisdom, through the language of Europe. It is the language of our universal civilization; Europeans have only achieved it before the rest of us, and that is fine.


The best Indian writers are those who understand this and are truly bilingual. They talk about our culture with the Westerner’s method and vocabulary. That is why we like the English writing of men such as Gandhi, Tagore and Iqbal, because it is illuminating.


English monolinguals, those who do not read their mother tongue fluently, are also at a disadvantage. They cannot understand their own culture fully since they have limited access, though they can sniff its odour. And their penetration into the West is cosmetic because of the attached prophylactic of the pidgin English which most of us know. We don’t really understand the West. We can follow its rules when we migrate but we cannot build a society along its lines here, even a housing society, because it’s not yet in our nature. That civilization hasn’t really been penetrated, because a study of its classical roots, its harmony, is needed to actually internalize it.


And so we return to the Englishman who cannot really “get” Mitwa.


Can we in turn really understand the English songs we listen to, and the books we read, the way that the English do?


Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media. Write to Aakar at replytoall@livemint.com


Ref: http://www.livemint.com/2009/03/05210959/Try-and-say-this-in-Hindibet.html

The same people? Surely not March 8, 2009

Posted by reader111 in India, Pakistan.
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Vir Sanghvi


Few things annoy me as much as the claim often advanced by well-meaning but woolly- headed (and usually Punjabi) liberals to the effect that when it comes to India and Pakistan, “We’re all the same people, yaar.”


This may have been true once upon a time. Before 1947, Pakistan was part of undivided India and you could claim that Punjabis from West Punjab (what is now Pakistan) were as Indian as, say, Tamils from Madras.


But time has a way of moving on. And while the gap between our Punjabis (from east Punjab which is now the only Punjab left in India) and our Tamils may actually have narrowed, thanks to improved communications, shared popular culture and greater physical mobility, the gap between Indians and Pakistanis has now widened to the extent that we are no longer the same people in any significant sense.


This was brought home to me most clearly by two major events over the last few weeks.


The first of these was the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team on the streets of Lahore. In their defence, Pakistanis said that they were powerless to act against the terrorists because religious fanaticism was growing. Each day more misguided youngsters joined jihadi outfits and the law and order situation worsened.


Further, they added, things had got so bad that in the tribal areas the government of Pakistan had agreed to suspend the rule of law under pressure from the Taliban and had conceded that sharia law would reign instead. Interestingly, while most civilised liberals should have been appalled by this surrender to the forces of extremism, many Pakistanis defended this concession.


Imran Khan (Keble College, Oxford, 1973-76) even declared that sharia law would be better because justice would be dispensed more swiftly! (I know this is politically incorrect but the Loin of the Punjab’s defence of sharia law reminded me of the famous Private Eye cover when his marriage to Jemima Goldsmith was announced. The Eye carried a picture of Khan speaking to Jemima’s father. “Can I have your daughter’s hand?” Imran was supposedly asking James Goldsmith. “Why? Has she been caught shoplifting?” Goldsmith replied. So much for sharia law.)


The second contrasting event was one that took place in Los Angeles but which was perhaps celebrated more in India than in any other country in the world. Three Indians won Oscars: A.R. Rahman, Resul Pookutty and Gulzar.


Their victory set off a frenzy of rejoicing. We were proud of our countrymen. We were pleased that India’s entertainment industry and its veterans had been recognised at an international platform. And all three men became even bigger heroes than they already were.


But here’s the thing: Not one of them is a Hindu.


Can you imagine such a thing happening in Pakistan? Can you even conceive of a situation where the whole country would celebrate the victory of three members of two religious minorities? For that matter, can you even imagine a situation where people from religious minorities would have got to the top of their fields and were, therefore, in the running for international awards?


On the one hand, you have Pakistan imposing sharia law, doing deals with the Taliban, teaching hatred in madrasas, declaring jihad on the world and trying to kill innocent Sri Lankan cricketers. On the other, you have the triumph of Indian secularism.


The same people?


Surely not.


We are defined by our nationality. They choose to define themselves by their religion.


But it gets even more complicated. As you probably know, Rahman was born Dilip Kumar. He converted to Islam when he was 21. His religious preferences made no difference to his prospects. Even now, his music cuts across all religious boundaries. He’s as much at home with Sufi music as he is with bhajans. Nor does he have any problem with saying ‘Vande Mataram’.


Now, think of a similar situation in Pakistan. Can you conceive of a Pakistani composer who converted to Hinduism at the age of 21 and still went on to become a national hero? Under sharia law, they’d probably have to execute him.


Resul Pookutty’s is an even more interesting case. Until you realise that Malayalis tend to put an ‘e’ where the rest of us would put an ‘a,’ (Ravi becomes Revi and sometimes the Gulf becomes the Gelf), you cannot work out that his name derives from Rasool, a fairly obviously Islamic name.


But here’s the point: even when you point out to people that Pookutty is in fact a Muslim, they don’t really care. It makes no difference to them. He’s an authentic Indian hero, his religion is irrelevant.


Can you imagine Pakistan being indifferent to a man’s religion? Can you believe that Pakistanis would not know that one of their Oscar winners came from a religious minority? And would any Pakistani have dared bridge the religious divide in the manner Resul did by referring to the primeval power of Om in his acceptance speech?


The same people?


Surely not.


Most interesting of all is the case of Gulzar who many Indians believe is a Muslim. He is not. He is a Sikh. And his real name is Sampooran Singh Kalra.


So why does he have a Muslim name?


It’s a good story and he told it on my TV show some years ago. He was born in West Pakistan and came over the border during the bloody days of Partition. He had seen so much hatred and religious violence on both sides, he said, that he was determined never to lose himself to that kind of blind religious prejudice and fanaticism.


Rather than blame Muslims for the violence inflicted on his community — after all, Hindus and Sikhs behaved with equal ferocity — he adopted a Muslim pen name to remind himself that his identity was beyond religion. He still writes in Urdu and considers it irrelevant whether a person is a Sikh, a Muslim or a Hindu.


Let’s forget about political correctness and come clean: can you see such a thing happening in Pakistan? Can you actually conceive of a famous Pakistani Muslim who adopts a Hindu or Sikh name out of choice to demonstrate the irrelevance of religion?


My point, exactly.


What all those misguided liberals who keep blathering on about us being the same people forget is that in the 60-odd years since Independence, our two nations have traversed very different paths.


Pakistan was founded on the basis of Islam. It still defines itself in terms of Islam. And over the next decade as it destroys itself, it will be because of Islamic extremism.


India was founded on the basis that religion had no role in determining citizenship or nationhood. An Indian can belong to any religion in the world and face no discrimination in his rights as a citizen.


It is nobody’s case that India is a perfect society or that Muslims face no discrimination. But only a fool would deny that in the last six decades, we have travelled a long way towards religious equality. In the early days of independent India, a Yusuf Khan had to call himself Dilip Kumar for fear of attracting religious prejudice.


In today’s India, a Dilip Kumar can change his name to A.R. Rahman and nobody really gives a damn either way.


So think back to the events of the last few weeks. To the murderous attack on innocent Sri Lankan cricketers by jihadi fanatics in a society that is being buried by Islamic extremism. And to the triumphs of Indian secularism.


Same people?


Don’t make me laugh.

Ref: http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?sectionName=HomePage&id=4e661b6b-ca91-43f6-8153-e927ad151c76&Headline=The+same+people%3f+Surely+not

Pakistan an ordinary nation March 8, 2009

Posted by reader111 in Pakistan.
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Salil Tripathi


So many myths came crashing down in Lahore. That Pakistan is an ordinary country with extraordinary problems. That Pakistan’s security forces are hand-in-glove with terrorists. That extremists would never attack cricketers.


In the end, the horror near the Gaddafi Stadium showed how the bizarre becomes the ordinary: Witness the number of people who said: “I told you so,” as cricket boards congratulated themselves for having avoided touring Pakistan. Recall, too, that all the dead are Pakistanis —all but one of them brave security guards who laid down their lives to protect the cricketers, nailing the myth that all Pakistanis are complicit with terrorism. And then the third myth—when Imran Khan said, the week before the Mumbai attacks, that cricket is safe from terror. How could one be so sure in a country where so many rules of war have been broken?


But Khan believed it just as Pakistan wanted to believe in another idea, which had better not be a myth—that it is a normal country—for the alternative—a nuclear-armed failed state—is too horrible to contemplate. Many, if not most, Pakistanis want to live normal lives. Their families want to go to Clifton in Karachi and admire the sunset. Their teenagers want to go hiking in the Karakoram, and their rich like to ski on the slopes of the Swat valley. They want their kids to go to schools that teach math and computers, and not only scriptures and hate-filled history. They take delight in the peccadilloes of Bollywood stars and hum along with the songs of the rock group, Junoon. They post videos critical of generals on YouTube and write blogs challenging their politicians who succumb to the mullahs and the military. Their lawyers protest the removal of the Supreme Court’s chief justice, and their novelists ridicule the pious nonsense of their imams and generals with an aplomb that’s lacking in the more didactic “socially relevant” fiction of new Indian authors. And they want to go to a stadium, to admire some nice stroke-play, inspired bowling and exceptional fielding.


And it is that normalcy which the terrorists attack, because the terrorists want what’s regular to be the unexpected, and the unexpected to make you afraid, and not wonder. That means audaciously razing Islamabad’s premier hotel; ruthlessly assassinating a politician who thought this time, the third time, she’d get it right; brazenly attacking presidential convoys; boldly humiliating the government by demanding, and getting, a large chunk of territory where only their peculiar tribal interpretation of religious laws would apply, not national laws or international norms. In this topsy-turvy universe, a conniving, petty trader of nuclear secrets, who saw a new world order in a mushroom cloud, is released from house arrest, and a foreign correspondent meeting a contact outside the hotel gets beheaded.


Finally, it is that peculiar country where its President has in the past claimed to be suffering from mental illness to avoid a corruption trial while in exile, and upon assuming presidency used all methods to get a rival politician outlawed, even though working with him to ward off the twin threats the cantonment and the mosque represent is in the interest of the nation’s fragile democracy.


That’s the universe many Pakistanis inhabit—caught between intransigent generals, incompetent politicians and intolerant mullahs. They don’t need reminding what terrorism is; they live with it. They have lost thousands of civilians and soldiers in the past decade. They live with the consequences of cynical, cold, political choices and compromises their leaders have made on their behalf.


And yet, many in India don’t see that reality, and see all Pakistanis as extremists, as if all of them accept at face value the rants of Zahid Hamid on Pakistani television—who believes everything that’s evil is because of “Hindu Zionist” conspiracy.


We must then learn to separate that sinister fringe from the Pakistani men and women who don’t believe in juvenile jihadis. We must not succumb to the idea—as Simi Garewal momentarily did (though she was hardly alone) —that if only we bomb Pakistan, all problems will be solved. Starting a war is a not a choice as easy as sending a “Yes” SMS to a televise on channel desperate to improve ratings, and which wants politicians to announce foreign policy manoeuvres on live television. It also means we must prevent our own saffron Taliban, which wants to empty our bookshops of Pakistani writers, and prevent Pakistani artists from performing in our theatres.


At its simplest, it means not gloating at what Ahmed Rashid calls Pakistan’s descent into chaos, but to appreciate Pakistanis’ struggle to reclaim their country from the triumvirate Tariq Ali describes as “greedy generals, corrupt politicians and bearded lunatics”.


That’s not easy. Building a civil society never is. It needs nerves of steel. We must wish strength to the millions in Pakistan who have that resolve.


Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London. Your comments are welcome at salil@livemint.com