Monday, March 16, 2015

AAP Government invites suggestions on Public WiFi Network for Delhi - My submission

Delhi Dialogue Commission has come up with a set of ten questions for a wider consultation. AAP govt has invited suggestions, viewpoints and recommendations to each of the 10 questions at My brief response to each of those questions along with links to more detailed studies are submitted below:

Q. 1. How do you define public wifi? Kindly suggest case studies on public wifi from other parts of the world?
Answer: Definition of Public WiFi: Public WiFi is any Wireless Local Area Network that is based on the (IEEE) 802.11 standards and is open for use by general public.
Some case studies on public WiFi:
  1. City of Adelaide Attracts Visitors with Free Outdoor Wi-Fi . Link:
  2. Case study: Birmingham rolls out free public Wi-Fi. Link:
  3. Case study: City of York connects citizens with Ruckus Wi-Fi. Link:
  4. Global Developments in Public Wi-Fi - Wireless Broadband. Link:
  5. Rethinking Wireless for the Developing World. Link:

Q. 2. A. What should be the ideal level of access to public wifi? Can it be made available right upto your doorstep?
Answer: WiFi should cover the entire city, ie, all areas inhabited by people (at least). The benefit should ultimately reach all sections of society irrespective of their economic strata (at their doorstep).
Q. 2. B. If yes, what is feasibility and tech challenges? Or should it be available at well-defined public neighbourhoods?
Answer: A combination of Wired & Cellular network infrastructure can be leveraged to build a WiFi network throughout Delhi in a phased manner.

Phase - 1) Develop HotSpots by installing WiFi routers/repeaters at public places by leveraging existing telephone/fibre optic lines laid out by by various PSU/Private Companies.
Phase - 2) Reach out to Residential areas that have well laid out wired communication lines.
Phase - 3) In this phase extend WiFi through 4G LTE compatible WiFi routers/repeaters in areas where fibre optic lines are not laid out.

Q. 3. What is the infrastructure and technology required to create the public WiFi network?
Answer: In areas where telecommunication/Fibre Optic lines have been laid out WiFi routers/repeaters can be connected to such lines by installing them on existing electric/telecommunication poles.

In areas where, Fibre Optic Lines are not laid out, 4G LTE compatible WiFi routers/repeaters may be used. Since, 4G networks are not yet operational in Delhi, the Government may opt to participate in the Project Loon experiment of Google. The balloon powered internet service would be cost efficient and provide wide coverage to all areas of the NCR. It is claimed by Google that a single Project Loon balloon that floats in the stratosphere can provide internet coverage to an area extending to 80KM. Thus, just two balloons will be sufficient to provide 4G LTE coverage to the entire National Capital Region. Further, these balloons have a life of about 6 months, therefore they need to be replaced regularly. Regular replacement provides the opportunity to do the necessary hardware & software technology upgrades continually.
The following links provide more details about Google’s Project Loon.  
Articles on Google’s Project Loon
  1. Google balloons, “cell towers in the sky,” can serve 4G to a whole state. Ars Technica - Link:
  2. Inside Project Loon: Google's internet in the sky is almost open for business. The Verge: Link:
  3. This is how Google will control Project Loon balloons’ altitudes. The Next Web - Link:

Q. 4. What should be the essential services that a government should aim at providing through public WiFi?
Answer: All types of government services that have interface with common people can be offered through WiFi. (For example, Ration Card applications, DTC bus tickets/passes, Aadhar, Election Commision Voter ID card, Transport related services like Driving License, Vehicle Registration, etc.)  Government could tie up with Non Profits like Khan Academy ( to make their high quality educational content available on the network in local languages. Khan Academy may also be requested to curate their content according to the local syllabi. The combination of free WiFi and curated educational content will be a boon for the underprivileged learners of Delhi.

Q. 5. What is the capex and opex required to create and operate public WiFi?
Answer: To arrive at these figures a detailed analysis of the existing infrastructure is required.
The Area of Delhi is - 1,484 km². Therefore, depending on the range of the WiFi routers/repeaters adequate numbers need to be installed. The prices of WiFi routers have been falling continually. Bulk purchasing for the project can be done at steep discounts.

Q. 6. What could be a model that makes public WiFi viable, sustainable and scalable in terms of usage, tech and financials?

Usage & Technological viability: The bandwidth allocation for different zones should be dynamically adjustable (automatically) so as to ensure a guaranteed predetermined bandwidth for each user logged into the WiFi network. A combination of technologies can be deployed to leverage existing wired infrastructure (wherever available) and Cellular infrastructure in places where wired infrastructure does not exist. Wireless Mesh Networks may be best suited for a densely populated city like Delhi. 

The following are some studies on Wireless Mesh Network:

2) "How to: Setup a Low-Cost Wi-Fi Mesh Hot Zone" by Jim Geier. Link:
3) "City Deploys Municipal Wireless Network". Link:

4) “The Nominal Capacity of Wireless Mesh Networks”. Link: -

Financial viability: Wherever, applicable, a small processing fee can be charged for Government services offered through the government portal accessible through the public WiFi network. Corporate advertisements on the network can be explored. Also, the portal can act as a marketplace/platform for buyers and sellers with small fee for each transaction.
Citizens above a certain age may be allowed to register into the network to avail the allotted free bandwidth. Users may be allowed to either use the free bandwidth allocated to them or sell it to others who may be in need of more bandwidth over & above what is allocated to them. Allowing resale of bandwidth would enable economic activity on the platform. Thus add value to the GDP and also enable revenue collection by provisioning tax on the resale of allocated bandwidth. The ability to encash their bandwidth on the platform will provide some relief for people in need of money. Further, the Company/Entity entrusted with running & maintaining the network can itself sell bandwidth to users over and above the free bandwidth allocated to them.

Q. 7. Can public WiFi network be made financially self-sustainable if viewed from the welfare service perspective alone?
Answer: It may be able to sustain itself financially if the suggestions listed in 6 above are implemented.

Q. 8. Should there be multiple operators or an exclusive operator in a well-defined zone of the city?
Answer: Multiple operators may be used depending on the areas covered by the operators in terms of their reach via their wired Optical Fibre Network as well as 3G / 4G Network.

Q. 9. What could be the operating architecture that brings all the stakeholders together?
Answer: A new company needs to be floated akin to the DMRC (preferably in the PPP model) for developing, operating and maintaining the Public WiFi network. This company would be tasked with coordination of all activities with all stakeholders pertaining to the WiFi network and effective delivery of services. For this purpose, a common gateway (website) needs to be maintained through which the users would connect to the network. The web portal should provide for user registration & authentication.

Q. 10. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a private enterprise model vis a vis a PSU model?
Advantages of Private enterprise vis a vis PSU
  1. Responsiveness towards customers/clients: Private enterprises are generally more responsive towards grievances of customers with respect to the delivery of service. Especially, in maintaining high reliability and continuity of services.
  2. Faster decision making: Private enterprises are more nimble in taking decisions as they are not hobbled by the bureaucratic tape of the government sector.
  3. Innovation: Private enterprises are more receptive to innovation and adoption of new technologies as opposed to the generally monolithic Public Sector Units.

Disadvantages of Private enterprise vis a vis PSU
  1. Profit being the primary motive, private companies may eventually focus more on making money (either directly through tariffs or, indirectly through targeted advertising at the cost of customer experience).

To know more about differences between Private & Public Sector, see “The difference between the public and private sectors” By Per Koch. Link:

By Manoj Tirkey,
Erstwhile Research Scholar at JNU, presently an academic at IGNOU

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Archaic patent laws are threatening innovation: Time to introspect

Some ills of patents in general and software patents in particular (presented in the context of the ongoing patents war in the industry that is threatening innovation itself):

1. Obtaining Patents cost a lot of money. They cost even more paying the lawyers to write the application than they cost to actually apply (and perhaps more than creating the invention itself.) 

2. It is ridiculous to provide a twenty year protection in an industry where rate of obsolescence is few months (especially at a time when the software industry is gradually moving to a cloud based service model and where innovations can come up overnight.) Patents are a hindrance to this natural growth of the industry and may result in unreasonably prolonging the life of a product.

3. Software is different from other engineering and mechanical inventions. The latter are generally the kind that can revolutionize a given mechanical process. Software is generally evolutionary in nature. Its utility does not depend as much on the newness of a specific technique as it does on the unique combination of known algorithms and methods. Such methods of innovation should not be protected.

4. The claim that software is a process (therefore patentable) may not be accurate because software is fundamentally a series of machine understandable code which is processed by the processing power that comes with the hardware of the computer. The hardware is patentable, therefore what is the need for patenting software (which is but a series of code and is well covered by Copyright laws.)

5. Combine Patent laws and the FRAND nonsense and you have a situation where a simple, frivolous UI patent like a human gesture of a swipe across the screen associated with an outcome (which may not be novel enough to be granted a patent in the first place) will be rendered more powerful to the extent of imposing a ban on innovative products of companies whose more technologically complex patents like methods for communication will be rendered impotent (in the name of being essential standard) so that large corporate interests like Microsoft and Apple can have a freehold of the market when all others get banned out of it.

6. There is something wrong with the present intellectual property regime in the US. The patent system suits the American businesses who seem to own all the intellectual property with little or no manufacturing capacity. Take the Apple Vs Samsung case... Apple has no manufacturing capacity... (it outsources all of its manufacturing) but has accumulated patents through frivolously aggressive patenting, outright purchases or coercive cross licensing whereas Samsung has end to end manufacturing capacity. Companies holding on to patents without real manufacturing capacity are nothing but trolls. Even worse is the area of software patents where the USPTO has been known to award fairly obvious and very broad patents to various companies. Perhaps, software should have remained solely under copyright protection and not under the restrictive patent regime which, in any case, was designed for the industries engaged in the production of physical products whose research & development costs are much higher and time consuming. Software (both embedded & embodied), on the other hand, is much cheaper to develop and is far less time consuming.

Apple Vs Samsung - A case in vain

Samsung has been in the phone business for about two decades earlier than Apple. It, along with other early entrants like Motorola and Nokia provided the early breakthroughs in technology to establish the mobile phone industry. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that a late entrant like Apple would have copied the all-important technologies that defined a mobile phone. But, no, it is Apple that amazingly, claims Samsung copied it. The in-numerous Apple fans who are blinded by the ‘reality distortion field’ of Apple obviously copy what ever Apple has to say. Similarly, the media too is overwhelmingly focused on the Apple’s side of the story.

The fact, however is Apple has rarely done any ground breaking work. It has merely aggregated already prevalent ideas and technologies to successfully commercialize its products with the help of its humongous PR machine which has mastered the art of creating a 'reality distortion field'. Those that are trapped into this field are totally hallucinated by it and seem to believe only what Apple wants them to believe in while being in complete denial of all other developments that happen in other companies around the world. These people may check out Samsung F700 and LG Prada. Both these devices were developed in 2006 before the iPhone was launched. These companies (including Apple) working separately, came up with remarkably similar designs. So, technologies evolve and parallel developments do happen.

The problem is that Apple and its irrational fans (including those in the media) have been rewriting a distorted history by attributing disproportionate/undue credit to Apple and maligning competitors as copycats. The sheer scale at which this distortion campaign is propagated over the web is mind boggling. Today, Apple is more a myth manufacturer than a real manufacturer, far from what a real manufacturer like Samsung is. Apple is the best perception manager, even though it may be at the cost of distorting computing history.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Some popular myths about Google

There are some myths that repeatedly get propagated by anti-Google fellows on the internet:

Myth 1.) Google is an advertising company.

Fact: Google may be making most of their revenue through advertising. That's their business model. But that doesn't mean all or most of their employees are engaged in advertising. Rather they are actively engaged in developing innovative technological platforms. Advertising is incidental, almost an afterthought. A way to survive and further develop their technology. On the contrary, Apple is more of a marketing & retailing company with a humongous advertising & PR budget. Though it does some software and design work, it does not actually manufacture anything. Its hugely overpriced products are manufactured by poor Asian workers on whose sweat blood their American masters have amassed a cash pile of a 100 billion dollars. 

Myth 2) Google sells its users.

Fact: Some accuse Google of selling its users. But by the same logic every publication (online, offline and the dead tree media) that gets its revenue through advertising is selling users. Such people either have no understanding of technology or are talking in twisted tones to appease some deities affiliated to Google's competitors who have been propagating such misinformation. Google does not sell any personal information. (It doesn'€™t need to because it owns the advertising platforms.) Its advertising platforms are automated and are driven algorithmically. I don't mind seeing some relevant ads for the benefit of being able to use world class free services. Relevant ads are of more value to me than an ad that I may not be interested in.

Thanks to the success of Google's ads based model, web based services like search engines, email services, etc can be accessed by vast majority of populations of the world (living in relative poverty) who would otherwise remain excluded from the benefits of the Internet. (Remember, during the late 1990s & early 2000s, when various email services were starting to charge fees for their toy like services, it was Google which reversed the trend by launching gmail with an unheard of gigabytes of storage space for free.)

Ads based revenue has also become a supplementary strategy for most of its premium pricing competitors so it isn't unique to Google any more. So all of them are €˜selling users€™ not just Google!

Myth 3) Google is evil.

Fact: In a world of evil, Google is among the best we have. No company can match Google in terms of transparency & user control. Further, if Google is 'evil' and a candidate for anti-trust investigation in the eyes of the media, I believe its rivals are a bigger (more deserving) candidates for the same treatment for their business practices are more evil and more likely to violate antitrust laws than Google'€™s. Facebook, for example, has close to 1 billion locked-in users who cannot easily take out their data and friend connections and move to competitors. (Only recently it has started data retrieval service, but that is clearly not enough.) All of Google's services on the other hand provide unprecedented control for the user to opt in, opt out, and move to other competitors with their data. Also, facebook by virtue of its large number of users is effectively a monopoly in the social networking market and may be violating section 1 of the Sherman Act and section 5 of the FTC Act by imposing such terms that prohibit automated indexing or retrieval of its users data thus blocking users from removing their own data and friend€™s email connections by reasonable automated means. To make matters worse, Facebook has entered into an exclusive agreement with Microsoft to provide general users'€™ data through automated means for use in its Bing search engine. Twitter too is guilty of such exclusive arrangement. All of these companies (Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter) involved in this exclusive arrangement may be candidates for antitrust investigations under section 1 of Sherman Act and potentially under section 5 of the FTC Act. Similarly, Apple too is a candidate for antitrust investigation under the same provisions for its restrictive (monopolistic) business practices with regard to its App Store and iOS platform. Therefore, people who accuse Google of being evil should look at its competitors and form a more balanced opinion.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Apple is a master of perception management

Apple is predominantly a marketing and retailing company. Though it does some software and design work, it outsources its manufacturing to third party manufacturers. It certainly isn't an integrated manufacturer in the same sense as Samsung. It is all about immense media clout; thanks to its immense advertising & PR machine with a humongous budget. This media clout over a period of 30 years has resulted in an army of irrational fan following who would buy every product that comes out of Apple and defend all devious acts of the company. It's amazing that the largest company by market value, despite having highly questionable/monopolistic restrictions with regard to the App store and its iOS platform, attracts no adverse attention by the media and the FTC. The kind of media coverage that Apple gets is incredible!

What Apple does exceedingly well is to create myths. As Eric Raymond has pointed out in the past, “Mac was a slick repackaging of design ideas from an engineering tradition that long predated Jobs (in this case, going back to the pioneering Xerox PARC WIMP interfaces of the early 1970s). Which would be fine, except that Jobs created a myth that arrogated that innovation to himself and threw the actual pioneers down the memory hole.”

Raymond goes on to state “nearly a quarter-century later Jobs would repeat the same game with the iPhone. The people who did the actual innovating in smartphones – notably Danger with their pioneering Hiptop – got thrown down the memory hole by Jobs’s mythmaking (though in this case some of its principals would later achieve a kind of revenge by designing Android)” , which was founded in 2003 by Andy Rubin and eventually got acquired by Google in 2005.

The problem with Apple and its fans is that they tend to be in complete denial of all other innovations that came before and along side Apple's products. They tend to appropriate all such developments to Apple while deprecating others, which is but a myth.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Google new terms are similar to other major companies

With the updated terms Google is treating an account holder as the same individual accross all its properties just like Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon. Like them, Google is enabling sharing of users' data across various applications/properties of Google to give a consistent user experience. Google's new privacy policy/terms have now come to the level of Microsoft whose privacy statement states: "information collected through one Microsoft service may be combined with information obtained through other Microsoft services." Other major internet based companies also have similar policies. So why is Google being targetted singularly?

The changes are obviously intended to improve user experience across Google products. Another obvious consequence of this change is relevant ads across all of Google properties.

Algorithmic usage tracking is a common industry practice. Most internet based firms/websites use tracking software. If you are an Amazon user, you would have surely noticed targetted ads to buy various products from Amazon purely on the basis of your browsing behaviour. By the way, on the internet, every click (that results in a http request) gets registered on multiple servers and is likely being used by the respective service providers. Google is only being transparent about its changes in terms of service.

The tail piece: Since, the changes took effect my search experience has notceably improved. For instance, I was looking for information on ways of installing Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) on my intel x86 PC and then I found the most relevant results as the first link on the search result page (even though they came from an obscure blogger). Thanks to the search engine, I was able to install Android on my USB drive and run it on my PC.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Unusually fussy media on Google’s updates in Privacy Policy and Terms of Use

Yet another preemptive hullabaloo has arisen in the media about some changes in Google’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Some early birds on this report like Cecilia Kang (Washington Post) and others are being unusually fussy about these fairly standard procedures. It makes sense to have one privacy policy rather than 70 different policies while maintaining the existing principles of privacy. It is easier for the users to understand and convenient for the company to maintain one standard Privacy Policy document. Nothing to cry foul about.

Some complain that they can’t opt out:

Opt out of agreement? Yes, you can opt out by declining the terms of use and refusing to use Google's services. Or, some people expect Google to prepare Terms of Use tailored according to the whims of every individual user? That is a ridiculous expectation and can only be proposed by nitpickers or mercenaries hired to attack Google. It is a common practice to update terms of use with impending changes in business/service conditions. Nothing unusual here.

Some have also very stupidly claimed that Google will increase its tracking:

Google (its algorithms) would not know anymore than what it already knows, or what users already provide them with (just like any other web based service provider). With the updated terms It is only attempting to improve the user experience across all Google products by treating you as a single user as explained on Google's Official blog post .  Besides, algorithmic usage tracking is the industry standard. Nearly every internet based firm/website uses tracking software. By the way, on the internet, every click gets registered on multiple servers and is likely being used by the respective service providers. Google is only being transparent about its changes in terms of service. It still has the best policy & terms of agreement compared to the likes of Facebook and Twitter who sell users data to Microsoft via their exclusive agreement for the Bing search engine.

Google and the US Anti Trust Laws

From all the hullabaloo about Google's recent changes in its search engine, two specific allegations that have stood out in the American media are: (1) that the changes potentially infringe on the privacy of people and (2) that the changes warrant anti-trust investigation.

As a disinterested net savvy observer of the recent changes and the subsequent media coverage I have to state the following:

1. The breach of privacy allegations appear to be unfounded and blown out of proportion either because of misinformation or because of lack of understanding of Google’s search system. The truth is that the personalised portion of the search shows only that much that you could already see and not any more than what you already had access to. Further, the personalised search results are unique & restricted to respective users (based on what they have shared and what others have shared to them) akin to viewing ones personal email or social network streams. All the fuss about the new search changes are either guided by misinformed paranoia or simply mischievous propaganda to malign Google.

2. Sections of the media have raised antitrust concerns for not including Facebook's and Twitter's data in Google's search results, but it should be realised that the terms of these companies obviously restrict Google from displaying/using their data on its search results page. Using any other (out of the way) means to bypass their terms of agreement to include Facebook’s and Twitter’s data in the search results page would make Google vulnerable to legal challenges from these firms. After all, these firms are extracting fees via agreements with Microsoft for giving access to users data on their network to be used in Bing's search results. Remember Google use to list profiles & data from these sites earlier, but it discontinued the practice after the terms of Facebook and Twitter became restrictive. Clearly, going by the adverse publicity in the media, Google is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't.

To understand and to investigate the propriety of the claims in the media I had an overview of the American anti-trust laws. After having seen the provisions of sections 1&2 of Sherman Act, section 7 of Clayton Act, section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act and FTC's policy Statement on the standards for determining 'unfairness' in business practices or methods I believe that the allegations against Google are flimsy, or even baseless and vexatious in nature, designed to harm the normal business functioning of Google by causing unnecessary distractions and delays in decision making.

Further, if Google is a candidate for such investigation in the eyes of the media, I believe its rivals are a bigger (more deserving) candidates for the same treatment for their business practices are more likely to violate antitrust laws than Google’s. Facebook, for exampe, has close to 1 billion locked-in users who cannot easily take out their data and move to competitors. All of Google's services on the other hand provide unprecedented control for the user to opt in, opt out, and move to other competitors with their data. Also, facebook by virtue of its large number of users is effectively a monopoly in the social networking market and may be violating section 1 of the Sherman Act and section 5 of the FTC Act by imposing such terms that prohibit automated indexing or retrieval of its users data thus effectively blocking users from removing their own data by reasonable automated means. To make matters worse, Facebook has entered into an exclusive agreement with Microsoft to provide general users’ data through automated means for use in its Bing search engine. Twitter too is guilty of such exclusive arrangement. All of these companies (Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter) involved in this exclusive arrangement may be candidates for antitrust investigations under section 1 of Sherman Act and potentially under section 5 of the FTC Act. Similarly, Apple too is a candidate for antiturst investigation under the same provisions for its restrictive business practices with regard to its iOS platform. Therefore, the media should be equally vocal with regard to business practices of Google’s competitors also.

To conclude, as a general observer of the practices of companies engaged in Internet based businesses that involve users data, I have found that Google's practices are most transparent with the best standards in providing user control over their data. Further, with regard to Google's search changes, let us not underestimate the users' wisdom and pre-empt their chance to make a choice. They would not use the features if the results do not match their expectation. Of course, lets not forget that Bing (whose results by and large mirror that of Google) is just a mouse click away.

Important Legal Notes:
1. It is important to understand that the antitrust laws are concerned with the functioning of the marketplace – i.e. competition and not the protection of any individual competitor.
2. According to the rules of reasonableness under American law, there is no per se rule against monopolization, or attempted monopolization.  There is no “no fault” monopolization, no situation in which there is some “magic” number beyond which a firm may not increase its size or market share; the determining factors will include the means by which those numbers were reached – the reasonableness of the actions which produced the final entity.

Sherman Act:
SECTION 1 (15 U.S.C. § 1). Prohibits contracts or conspiracies in restrain of trade, which phrase has been, since at least 1911, judicially interpreted as meaning unreasonable restraints of trade.

SECTION 2 (15 U.S.C. § 2). Prohibits monopolization or attempted monopolization; it is sometimes used in conjunction with section 7 of the Clayton Act (15 U.S.C. §18), which prohibits mergers or acquisitions which may tend to lessen competition.

Clayton Act:
SECTION 7 (15 U.S.C. § 7). Is probably the most prominent, substantive provision of the Clayton Act. Whereas the Sherman Act was enacted to prohibit concerted activity which actually restrains trade, this provision is directed at preventing activity in its incipiency which may tend to restrain trade. The Merger Guidelines issued by the Department of Justice offer an indication of the ways in which mergers and acquisitions will be analyzed by the Antitrust Division and the FTC; although they are not binding upon the courts, they are considered to be persuasive.

Federal Trade Commission Act:
SECTION 5 (15 U.S.C. §45) is the operative, substantive provision of the FTC Act. It prohibits “unfair methods of competition” and “unfair or deceptive acts” in commerce (15 U.S.C. §45(a)(1)). The provision applies to “unfair methods of competition involving commerce with foreign nations (other than import commerce),” however, only to the extent that such “unfair” conduct has a “direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect” on the foreign commerce in question (15 U.S.C. §45(a)(3)).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lessons in charity: India Inc says no to Buffett, Gates - Corporate Trends - News By Company - News - The Economic Times

Please do not mix Corporate Social Responsibility with philanthropy by the rich. While CSR is about corporate responsibility of the business involving the companies' resources, philanthropy involves the personal wealth of the individual business magnates. In the West, this trend of philanthropy was partly driven by the penalty of huge inheritence taxes (if wealth earned during a life time was not given away in charity before death). In India, sadly the such a strong institutional mechanism (to deter individuals from holding on to wealth till death) does not exist. A country like ours with large sections of its people living in poverty needs such institutional interventions to steer the wealthy towards building charitable foundations.

Lessons in charity: India Inc says no to Buffett, Gates - Corporate Trends - News By Company - News - The Economic Times

Monday, May 3, 2010

What has shaped Governance in India?

PeerPower : Culture and institutions matter in governance

As usual, another great article from R Gopalakrishnan. Drawing from Indian mythology, interesting insights have been provided on Indian mentality. My best part was his take on the "kiss up and kick down" culture pervalent in Indian society. Also his insight that "the giveaways of bad governance lie in behaviour".

"Pratip Kar, while at Tata Management Training Centre, showed that one or more of five signals from the C-Suite provide early warning: constantly being applauded by the media as being visionary and daring; displaying excessively risky but exciting ambitions; showing high connections and lifestyle; being hubristic and egoistic; being surrounded by ‘non-smelly’ individuals, yet appearing ‘smelly’."

My recommendation: hit the link and read on. It will be worth your while.

Monday, April 26, 2010

India needs a more equitable legal framework

This is in response to the article that appeared at:

Except for a few "सर फिरे ", nobody believes that democracy will fail in India.

Facts are disputable on both sides (Activists and the government). They are often manipulated for their own agenda. But as I mentioned elsewhere, India remains largely a country of conglomerates where existing business families hold sway in a crony capitalistic way. There is a dearth of self made business icons in the country barring some examples in the IT sector. (These success stories were possible because the product in this case was 'invisible' to the bureaucrats and also because the markets were abroad).

Some may argue, what about Dhirubai Ambani? Well, Dhirubai was already a wealthy man when he returned to India from the UAE. So he wasn't really self made entirely in India. Back in India, he was more a product of crony capitalism - the most undesirable form of capitalism. His sons Mukesh and Anil Ambani are anything but self made men. My point is that truly capitalistic societies have mechanisms to ensure that every generation has to toil to make it big and I believe that we should have those mechanisms in place.

As we take the capitalist route, we have an opportunity as a nation to adopt appropriate policies that would create a more equitable society. Otherwise, wealth will be concentrated in few hands and they will control everything else in the country.

On the issue of tribal development:

I am all for development, but if you take a headcount of people in the tribal lands where industrial development has taken place. Tribals have become a minority in their own land. All jobs have gone to the settlers. (Barring a few, tribals are mostly unemployable). If sophisticated Maharshtrians can be miffed about it, why not tribals?

Industrial development isn't having much effect on their lives. For that to happen human development is required. Human development of tribals requires a missionary zeal which a corrupt administration cannot offer. The British administration in conjunction with the missionaries had such a zeal and the results are 85 to 90 percent literacy rates in some of the North Eastern states.

Clearly, the government needs to move ahead from the current legal framework that has resulted in crony capitalism and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, to one which would enable a more equitable capitalistic society. Therefore, laws need be tweaked to create a more level playing field for the emergence of new business icons from each generation. We need to investigate the legal framework which exists in the US and most other developed nations which allows the rise of first time entrepreneurs like Bill Gates who goes on to become the richest man on earth and then creates a foundation to give back most of his wealth in charity. Apart from philanthropy, what is inducing this behavior? Here's some hint.

I bank on charitable foundations to deliver human development more than the government because of their efficiency. And I mean Charitable foundations created from individuals' personal wealth not corporate social responsibilty. There is a difference.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

India's great escape from the socialist zoo : India : S A Aiyar : TOI Blogs

This article appeared in the Times of India on 18-04-10.
India's great escape from the socialist zoo : India : S A Aiyar : TOI Blogs

My reaction to this article: Excellent analysis, I agree with most of it. But India remains largely a country of conglomerates where existing business families hold sway in a crony capitalistic way. The examples cited of the IT sector are exceptions not the rule. These success stories were possible because the product in this case was 'invisible' to the bureaucrats and also because the markets were abroad.

To take a contrarian view, the fact remains that about 30 crore people in this country live in abject poverty. The tribals in this country were perhaps relatively better off under the British rule than they are today. They have lost most of their land to the settlers and have become a minority in their own land. In many places, arbitrary political boundaries have divided the tribals or adivasis of one ethnicity between several states. Their culture has been hijacked. Their children who come to towns & cities to work as household servants are abused or raped every day. (Most of it goes unreported).

I have wondered what is it about the developed nations and many of these newly industrialized nations that makes them prosperous and equitable. One law in particular that comes to my mind is the Estate tax which is imposed when wealth is passed on to the offspring via a will or on the death of a person. (This law mostly applies to the super rich). The crux of the law is that people who have amassed huge amounts of wealth in their life time can bequeath only a reasonable portion of their wealth to their children while the excess wealth becomes part of the state exchequer if not already given away in charity. This tough law has resulted in numerous charitable foundations and universities in the US. (If Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others are giving away all their billions in charity, it’s partly because of this law). It’s amazing, even the communists in India haven’t lobbied for this law. It is countries like India; with wide spread disparities in income levels that need this law.