Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Money doesn’t matter

The RBI governor may have been a disaster during his 5 year tenure. But can he alone be blamed for the rot ?
As RBI Governor D. Subbarao unveils today the first quarterly policy review for the current financial year, one wonders if there is much for him to show. Pummelled by a precipitous fall in the value of the rupee, which touched a horrifying low of 61.20 to a dollar earlier this month, the Governor and the Union Government have embarked on something like necromancy, or what witch doctors do to make a corpse stand up.
Since last week, an asphyxiating squeeze on credit has come into effect without any change in the policy rate. Instead the central bank has put an array of quantitative restrictions on rates at which banks can access money from it. As a result, the bank-to-bank borrowing cost has shot up to more than 10 per cent, against 7 per cent a while ago. The Finance Minister has said the monetary control is temporary.  Even the Prime Minister echoed similar sentiments. But the RBI Governor is ominously silent till now. Continuation of this credit squeeze is something akin to holding the price of chicken by putting away all the birds in the coop. But controlling supply of currency has its own risks. It may hurt growth for a long time—way beyond the 2014 election where the calculation of everyone in authority tends to stop. It may be like the bad surgeon’s classic post-operation utterance: “The operation is successful but the patient is dead”.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Changing tune

Sub heading: There is no finality now either in law and  judicial pronouncements. The thumb rule is that you show me the face and I show you the rule or a ruling

Stare decisi et non quieta movere. It is a Latin legal phrase that means: Stand by decisions and do not disturb the undisturbed. It is this principle of ‘stare decisi’ that has for centuries given to the countries guided by common law, like Britain and the US, a near-unfailing predictability of outcome of cases. It became a cardinal principle in law in Britain since the 17th century, when Royal whims were cut short by a famous regicide. In the US, justice became thoroughly precedent-driven after 1800, with printed accounts of cases becoming readily available across the country. Britain had to wait a few decades more for the ‘bar libraries’ to get lined with case reports. So have we, supposedly Britain’s ardent followers in judicial practices, as we too identify the places connected with courts, including lawyers’ chambers, with the rows of hardbound spines of the ‘All India Reporter’ (AIR).
But does our judicial system respect precedents as much it should? Sadly, it is not so. Results of cases in India are a gamble, more or less. As late as 2010, the apex court decided that even though the standards of medical education are somewhat flexible in the private medical colleges, which are about as many in number as the government-run ones, the future medical doctors of the country must be all of a reasonably high cerebral quality—a demand that called for their qualifying in a nationwide entrance test for medical colleges, on the model of the joint entrance test for engineering colleges. But there was no finality is this view. Last week, the outgoing Chief Justice of India ruled, with a majority of two in a three-judge bench, that there would be no National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) across the board for MBBS, BDS and MD courses, and that the private medical colleges are free to set their own standards for admission. If it is in exchange of hefty capitation fees, as is the practice now, so be it. With all due respect to the Hon’ble court, it can be said that the judgment has put the medical education entrepreneurs’ urge for money above the ordinary citizen’s right to quality treatment, and therefore life. It is heard that a review petition from the government is in the offing, and that may lead to a judgment being overturned not once but twice. The Law Minister wants an amendment in the Medical Council of India rules to reverse the judgment.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Made in USA

Obama may be carrying idol of Lord Hanuman and admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. But he is not a friend of India
In the recent US trip of Finance Minister P Chidambaram, his third in recent months, nobody expected any downpour of American FDI to end the unrelenting drought of dollars. Still, it was expected that there would be some concrete developments on thorny bilateral economic issues, be it drug patent, or the constant niggling by President Obama about an imaginary exodus of American jobs to Bangalore.
For that matter, many in India are anxious to know how the US will respond to the growing economic crisis in India, a nation which three successive American presidents have described as an “important ally”. A foreign reserve crisis is impending. India had short-term debt amounting to US $172 billion in end-March this year, which means it has to pay that much money to creditors on or before 31 March 2014. It will knock off two-thirds of the foreign reserve as of today. The bite may be even bigger if there is a new crisis, putting us back to the 1991 situation where there were just enough greenbacks to fund 15 days’ import.  Can a part of the short-term debt, mostly owed to American financiers, be rolled over? Or what?
Instead, what took place between the articulate Indian finance minister and a phalanx of American bureaucrats and businessmen was a dialogue between the deaf and the dumb. American investors of today seem no more generous than their British indigo-planter forebears two centuries ago. They’re livid because the Indian Supreme Court has thrown out the patent claim by Novartis, a pharmaceutical MNC with its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, of Glivec, a leukaemia drug. After it had gone off patent, Novartis put the stuff in a pill and claimed it to be an innovation. The drug costs $75,000 a year in the US, and $31,000 in India. However, the court upheld Indian authorities’ decision that Novartis could not milk the drug any longer, and allowed generic drug-makers to market it—at a dream price of $2,100 a year.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Modi: The Dark Horse

Those betting on Modi, have started hedging their stakes. 
Has anything changed on the racecourse

On Narendra Modi’s engagement with  Uttarakhand flood relief operations, which has become a contentious issue, I am citing two opinions appearing recently in newspapers:
“…he (Modi) synergized resources, energized BJP workers to get going, not just for immediate relief but also long-term reconstruction work…There was genuine spirit of cooperation and teamwork. The Congress party is understandably upset because its chief minister has proved a disaster, its party machinery is in disarray, Congress Seva Dal workers are nowhere in sight, Rahul Gandhi’s Youth Brigade is clueless even in routine situations, leave alone know how to face a crisis like the Uttarakhand deluge. That is the reality of the Uttarakhand relief operation led by Narendra Modi”
-Madhu Kishwar in The Economic Times, 26 June 2013.
“In every area the Modi narrative is a tale of bluster and bluff. But his Himalayan miracle is a barefaced cynical lie”
--Abhek Barman in The Times of India, 26 June 2013.