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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Price rise: Oil's certainly not well

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With inflation raging at an all-time high, this was the wrong time to hike fuel prices
Vishwa Bandhu GuptaVishwa Bandhu Gupta
Former Additional Commissioner, Income Tax

The mounting public anger over the constantly increasing fuel prices is making New Delhi very nervous. Yet, it might seem that several important ministers in this government are suffering from some mental condition that compels them to repeatedly revert to the oil price issue much in the manner of a needle stuck on a cracked gramophone record.

First, in this year's Union Budget, Pranab Mukherjee hiked the prices of petrol and diesel, and then petroleum minister Murli Deora raised them even further. As if these were not enough, Manmohan Singh then went ahead and completely linked the price of diesel to international prices. This came after the PM had announced last June that he was not going to link diesel to international processes. The aam aadmi is at the receiving end of this blatant volte-face.

After fuel prices shot skywards, Opposition parties initiated a strike that hit normal life in the country for a few days. Schools closed down, businesses shut their doors and transportation ground to a halt with many flights and trains being cancelled. Even the nation's biggest trucking union sided with the strike, further complicating matters. But what the Opposition parties failed to do was call the government's bluff. The government was garnering Rs 100,000 crore as import and excise duties on gas and petroleum and subsidising Oil Marketing Corporations (OMCs) only to the extent of Rs 70,000 crore. If you take the gallon rate of petrol and diesel in American gas stations and convert that price into Indian rupees, the petrol rate comes to about Rs 37 per litre and the price of diesel to not more than Rs 24 a litre.

Governments the world over are doing their best to starve off fiscal deficit. India has taken to upping the cost of fuel to cover its overheads. The blunt truth is that it should bring down the import and excise duty for petrol and diesel to a near zero rate. The Indian people are being misled, cheated and completely lied to. The government covers the losses of OMCs but keeps silent about the nearly Rs 100,000 cash garnered by the ministry of finance. India's aam admi is being told the story of losses and not that of profits. The government might go to the extent of linking even cooking gas cylinders to international prices. The bottomline is that UPA-2 is working for the interests of big business. Petroleum price as quoted in the news generally refers to the spot price per imaginary 'barrel' (159 litres) of either WTI/light crude as traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) for delivery at Cushing, Oklahoma, or of Brent as traded on the Intercontinental Exchange for delivery at Sullom Voe. The price of a barrel is dependent on both its grade, determined by factors such as its specific gravity or API and its sulphur content and its location. The vast majority of oil is not traded on an exchange but on an over-the-counter basis. Other important benchmarks include Dubai, Tapis, and the OPEC basket. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) uses the imported refiner acquisition cost, the weighted average cost of all oil imported into the US, as its 'world oil price'.

The demand for oil hinges on global macroeconomic conditions. According to the International Energy Agency, high oil prices generally have a large negative impact on global economic growth. Others argue that the run-up in oil prices over the past few years actually led to an acceleration in global growth. The huge surpluses built up by oil exporting countries were recycled through sovereign wealth funds and the banking system greatly increased investments in emerging markets and helped hold down interest rates in the US.

China's oil demand and growth may be making headlines, but the world's fifth-largest crude oil producer is undergoing decelerating growth in oil consumption and is more a price taker than a price driver, says a new report. Only 19 per cent of China's energy needs are met by oil and the country's oil dependence is weakening. China expects lower consumption growth due to economic rebalancing and efficiency improvements. Oil demand in the rich, industrialised countries of the West already appears to have peaked and the trend in developing economies is toward an ever-smaller increase in the amount of oil consumed for every extra unit of economic growth. In India we have failed to undertake basic oil price reforms. Do away with excise on hybrid vehicles of mass transportation, and lower taxes on such cars. Make Indian Railways run on electricity grids that consume little energy.

Oil prices, in future, given the current bad shape of OECD economies, can only fall and not rise. This was just not the time for increasing oil prices. Food inflation is running at 20% at wholesale prices and 90% people do not have full two-course meals to eat.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Fans blame octopus for Holland's defeat in 2010 WC final


Rage against Paul
Thiruvananthapuram was witness to a unique protest last week. This time around the demonstration was against Paul, the octopus that predicted that Spain will beat Holland in the final of the 2010 World Cup Football held in South Africa.

Dutch fans converged on streets, carrying placards and shouting slogans against the psychic octopus. A group of youth, some wearing orange T-shirts, even carried a placard with the picture of Paul. Thomas Benanson, a die-hard Holland fan, who participated in the procession, said: 'The prediction of Paul led to the downfall of Netherlands in the final. They had reached this position without losing a single game in the tournament. The prediction must have knocked down players' confidence. That's why we protested against Paul.'

Benanson and friends had a strange companion to protest against Paul. Kerala's rationalists are up in arms against Paul, but for a different reason. Sreeni Pattathanam of Bharateeya Yuktivadi Sanghom said that Paul's prediction was nothing but commercialisation of superstition. 'The successful campaign of using Paul, proves one thing that human beings are intelligent enough to utilise a creature like an octopus for their gain,' said Sreeni.

V.A. Gireesh, journalist with a Malayalam newspaper attributes the youths' demonstration to Kerala society's over responsive nature. 'We are used to take out any issue to streets creating trouble to fellow citizens. If political parties can do this why can't a bunch of football lovers. That is how we react,' said Gireesh.

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Monday, January 31, 2011

Students can now do engineering courses in Tamil language

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Mother tongue advantage

There is good news for students who want to read engineering courses in their mother tongue. Some colleges in the prestigious Anna University, Tamil Nadu, are offering Bachelor of Engineering Degree courses (Mechanical and Civil engineering) in Tamil language.

The courses have been a huge hit as some 99 students have chosen BE in Tamil. Mannar Jawahar, vice-chancellor of Anna university, told TSI: 'Civil engineering can be studied in Tamil in 11 colleges of Anna University and mechanical engineering in 12 colleges. In the next year we will expand this to other disciplines also.''

Mohanraj of Kavundanur in Namakkal district is the first student to take admission is such a course. 'I have no hesitation in studying engineering in Tamil. I may need to know English while seeking job. I can hone my language skills later on,'' he told TSI. Despite high score, Mohanraj opted for the course in Tamil because of his love for the language. Besides, he feels that it will be easy for him to master the subject.

But there are many who are not impressed. Dr. Kalanidhi, former vice-chancellor of Anna University, said: 'When a student studies technical courses in Tamil, he can understand the subject easily, but he cannot get jobs outside the state, not even in Bangalore. In some way he is handicapped. In Japan those who studied in Japanese are struggling. Are private companies in Tamil Nadu ready to give jobs to students who take Tamil as a language to study B.E?''

P.R.Subramaniam, a lexicographer from Mozhi trust, said: 'Imparting education in the mother tongue is good. But before that there are certain steps that each university should take. They should rope in subject experts who could easily translate books into Tamil. Besides, from time to time it should also be upgraded so that new changes are incorporated in the books.'' Also, he suggests students studying in Tamil to improve their knowledge of English so that it could help them get a job.

But Mannar is not worried. He said: 'Nothing to worry about. There are many job opportunities in civil and mechanical fields in the state. That is why we started teaching these courses in Tamil. We will make sure that books are updated every four years. Students who are taking the course in Tamil will also be guided in English language skills.''

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Saturday, January 29, 2011



End of healthcare boom?!?
Ruining public health services is no solution to solve healthcare prob
India's healthcare industry is growing at a rapid pace, with a growth rate of 12 per cent '' driven by higher life expectancy and income, along with transforming demographics, and arrival of life-style diseases vis-'-vis chronic ones! The healthcare market in India is expected to touch $70 billion in 2012 from being half of that in 2007. Mckinsey has approximated a figure of 315 million to be insured by the end of 2010 across the country, which otherwise would have to bear the grubby and sordid environment and substandard facilities of government health centers. No wonder there are one million casualties from curable diseases every year, with very little admittance to specialists, especially in the rural areas as 80 per cent of them have clamored in the cities. Only 400 million in our country can reach specialists portrays a very gloomy picture, leading to deaths or aggravation of diseases for the unfortunate rests. Not only specialists, there are shortages at every level in government hospitals with 24 per cent admitted are below poverty line. The expenditure on health is 4.9 per cent, of which government spends a meager 0.9 per cent with rest 4 per cent being private expenditure. The states involvement in providing standard medical facilities to its masses is even worse ' as a percentage of budgetary allocation its investment has fallen from 7 per cent in 1990 to 5.5 per cent at present. Consequently, India's availability of hospital beds is abysmally low, when the global average is 3.6 beds per 1000, India has shamefully 0.7 beds.

The government, since the last few decades has systematically broken the backbone of public sector healthcare facilities leading to mushrooming of private sector units. There is a comprehensive failure of our government in providing access to basic healthcare of our people. Out of 11,25,000 medical practitioners, only 1,25,000 are involved in public sector units. The urban rural divide is lopsided as well. The cities constitute 59 per cent of all health practitioners although majority of our population live in rural areas. 60 per cent of all doctors in Maharashtra live in Mumbai which comprises only 11 per cent of the state population. Having said government's apathy towards improving health facilities in rural areas, in 2009-10 annual budgets however it has announced an increase of Rs.40 billion.

Behind the glitzy settings of private sector demand for monetary splurge, through avoidable diagnostic treatments, surgeries and other unethical practices has made the patients staggering for fund. Almost all developed nations have an organized health system, with government contribution of 60 per cent to 100 per cent ' with only exception of the United States ' whose treaded path we are following. Before we sum it up, it must be noted that high-end private hospitals, who were charging exorbitantly from the patients blessed with cashless mediclaim; can no longer do it as private sector as well as public sector insurance companies have denied this facility in select cities (it will extended soon in other cities as well) marking the end of a 'healthcare boom' phase. We should not be following American example as 30 million of it's own population is refuted of any kind of medical insurance, with have and have-not gap is widest and ever increasing!

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Master's voice: Discipline can't be imposed

IIPM Prof Rajita Chaudhuri: The New Age Woman

Corporal punishment can't be condoned but teachers need options to tame unruly students

SP Srivastava
Principal, DAV ACC Public School, Kymore, Katni

When I had joined school more than two decades back, circumstances and situations were altogether different from what things have become today. Earlier, students used to truly respect their teachers. Teachers used to command immense respect in the larger society as well. That was teaching's golden period. Since then, the society has undergone a tremendous transformation. Nowadays, the teacher-student relationship has become commercial. Teachers see a student more as a commodity than as a student. This statement, of course, cannot be held in generalisation as there are lot of teachers even these days who regard students as their responsibilities and who really care for their well-being. However, it is difficult to deny that moral values have changed now and nobody is unaffected by this wave of change. In our days those teachers who were stricter used to get more respect. Students could not even dare to complain about teachers to their parents.

Corporal punishment cannot be supported at all. Beating a child cannot solve his or her problems. However, there are certain things which need to be understood properly. For example, understanding science obviously demands an aptitude suited for the discipline. Parents force children to study science. The teacher understands that the student does not have the aptitude but he is helpless. As a result, he is compelled to force the student to study science more and in the process he might end up punishing him or her.

In our times, 'Spare the rod and spoil the child' was the universal truth. Nowadays, the concept has completely changed. Educationists agree that corporal punishment should not be condoned. I do agree with the point of view that physical punishment cannot do any good to any student. What is more important is to make a student realise his mistake. This can be done by other means too.

In a class of 50 to 60 students, it is certain that three to four students will be wild enough to destroy the atmosphere of the class. It is equally true that nobody can make them realise their mistakes, they are simply not ready to accept they are wrong. In such a situation, what should be the reaction from a teacher who is under immense pressure to finish the syllabus on time? These children enjoy at the cost of other students. Teachers must have options and alternatives to deal with such students. There are also students who take private tutions, they do not pay attention in class and thus destroy the quality time of other students. These days parents have become more possessive of their children as most have only one or two children. So they fear for their kids. They become more insecure. When they come to know that the teacher has punished their son/daughter, they immediately rush to the school and complain to the school administration. When a teacher is warned in front of parents he feels humiliated and later becomes indifferent to students. This is a scary scenario. The future of a child depends much on the taecher and if the teacher becomes indifferent to them, their overall growth suffers.

Incidents of corporal punishments are now widely reported in the media. There is hardly a day when we do not find such reports in newspapers or on the news channels. However, mediapersons fail to understand the gravity of the matter and they usually file biased reports in which the teacher is the perennial villain and the student the victim. They should go a bit deeper into the matter and should be able to differentiate on a case to case basis.

I feel, amidst the clamour for complete ban on corporal punishment, maintaining discipline in school is becoming increasingly problematic. Students, these days, are very smart. They know very well that teachers cannot punish them, he is teethless.

This situation encourages him to take undue advantage of the situation. Discipline cannnot be imposed, it comes from within. The need of the hour is to internalise the process of discipline and education simultaneously. Parents cannot shirk away from their responsibilities. They should devote time so that their children can share their feelings.

I fully accept that children should not be punished for silly reasons. Even the Central Board of Secondary Education has categorically stated that corporal punishment should be banned in schools.

But teachers must have options to tame unruly children.

I believe in positive action. Instead of beating the children, they can be asked to work in the garden or collect waste from the school campus. This way they will learn important lessons in life.

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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