Friday, March 26, 2010

The Kelkar Effect

Ramesh Ramanathan, in his latest article, writes about a landmark victory for the crusaders of decentralization in India.

Ever since the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment made local governments an independent third tier of India`s federal system (after the federal government and state government), cities and local-government bodies (Panchayats) have been saddled with a peculiar problem - too many responsibilities without the funds to tackle them.

Now, thanks to the 13th Financial Commission headed by Mr. Vijay Kelkar, there will be `a substantial, buoyant, predictable source of funds for local governments; building in rigorous performance incentives`. Kelkar has recommended that a four-fold increase in the funds transferred to local bodies between 2010 and 2015, through a formula allocating about 2% of the total divisible pool of taxes in this period.

As usual, it is individuals and not committees or commissions that move mountains. So this piece is not about decentralization, its about the Kelkars.

This is the second time I`ve come across glowing praises for a Kelkar. The first was during a visit to Kanpur when the IIT Director, Prof. Dhande, described the origins of his institution, and the role of Dr. Puroshottam Kashinath Kelkar (1909-1990).

Sometime during the early 1950s the Americans has expressed their interest in the establishment of the third IIT in India (after Kharagpur and Bombay). The US ambassador at the time, eminent economist, John Kenneth Galbraith had many cities shortlisted for the new institution and Kanpur was nowhere in the reckoning. Apparently, Kelkar met Galbraith, and in a single meeting, persuaded him to consider a location on the outskirts of Kanpur, a town infamous for its polluting leather-tanning and metal-casting industries.

Galbraith then, in turn, persuaded his neighbor at MIT, Prof. Dahl to relocate to India as the co-founding director of the Kanpur Indo-American Program (KIAP), which went on to pool the talents of nine leading American universities and set the foundations for IIT-Kanpur.

What I admire the most about P.K Kelkar is that he saw himself as an "instrument of a historical process" and insisted that he should not be idolized in any manner - no statues, busts, photo-frames or buildings were to be linked to his name. What a refreshing change in a country where almost every street and building is named after some individual or the other!

After Kelkar's death, the guiding lights of IITK decided to go against his wishes and , in 2003, named the central library after him. Now it is called the "P.K. Kelkar Library". Strangely, there is nothing on display in the library (except a b/w photo-frame in an office upstairs) or on the IIT homepage that tells you anything more about Kelkar the individual.

Even a basic Wikipedia entry was missing - until today.


Ramanathan, Ramesh (2010), Well Done, Mr. Kelkar, The Mint-WSJ, 24 March 2010

IIT Kanpur History - Convocation Address by Dr. P.K. Kelkar, 17 May, 1981

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Eating Beef in India

"You eat beef?!? I thought it was forbidden for Hindus!"

How many times have I heard this and how many time did I have to explain and defend the wide-wide range of eating habits in India?...well, I've stopped counting.

Until sometime back, I would hold forth on the cultural diversity of India; that Hinduism is not a religion of the book and that it does not presume to micro-manage the life and habits of its adherants; and that in many Indian states - especially in the South, North-Eastern and Himalayan region, Hindus have absolutely no qualms about consuming beef. It is possible, I tell them, that the Indians they met earlier were all Hindus from the Gangetic-plains or the Western states where cattle had been traditionally a valuable economic asset, etc,.

If the look of disbelief and that you-are-just-a-subversive look persists, I try to tell them that in my home state, Kerala, no public non-veg eatery (or college canteen) would stay in business if it did not serve "parotta & beef-fry".

I guess the surprise is understandable. So rather than going on the "cultural diversity" pitch, I've been trying to understand when and how the dogma against beef-eating came into practice.

It was not surprising to discover that there is no stricture against beef-eating in any of the ancient texts. According to Prof. Ram Puniyani, in the great epics and classics -

Many gods such as Indra and Agni are described as having special preferences for different types of flesh - Indra had weakness for bull's meat and Agni for bull's and cow's. It is recorded that the Maruts and the Asvins were also offered cows. In the Vedas there is a mention of around 250 animals out of which at least 50 were supposed to be fit for sacrifice and consumption. In the Mahabharata there is a mention of a king named Rantideva who achieved great fame by distributing foodgrains and beef to Brahmins. Taittiriya Brahman categorically tells us: `Verily the cow is food' (atho annam via gauh) and Yajnavalkya's insistence on eating the tender (amsala) flesh of the cow is well known. Even later Brahminical texts provide the evidence for eating beef. Even Manusmriti did not prohibit the consumption of beef.
Also -
In therapeutic section of Charak Samhita (pages 86-87) the flesh of cow is prescribed as a medicine for various diseases. It is also prescribed for making soup. It is emphatically advised as a cure for irregular fever, consumption, and emaciation. The fat of the cow is recommended for debility and rheumatism
The "Ashtanga Hrdaya Sutra Sthana" (the essence of eight limbs), written or compiled by Vagbhata, a Karachi-born buddhist savant, in circa 800AD  includes references to specific foods that are to consumed or avoided as a part of the healing regimen ("pathyam"). It includes specific references to the medicinal properties of beef (cow and buffalo - verse 66 & 67, Chapter - Annaswarupa Vijnaniya).

Apparently, one of the cudgels that Gautama Buddha picked against Hinduism was that the Brahmins were sacrificing cattle needlessly. At the same time, his emphasis on non-violence was not blind or rigid. Buddha did taste beef and the fact that he died due to eating pork is well known.

So when did the Brahmins, who were happily slaughtering cattle do a U-turn and wake up to the virtues of vegetarianism? Prof. Puniyani believes that -

One of the appeals to the spread of Buddhism was the protection of cattle wealth, which was needed for the agricultural economy. In a way while Brahminism `succeeded' in banishing Buddhism from India, it had also to transform itself from the `animal sacrifice' state to the one which could be in tune with the times. It is here that this ideology took up the cow as a symbol of their ideological march. But unlike Buddha whose pronouncements were based on reason, the counteraction of Brahminical ideology took the form of a blind faith based on assertion. So while Buddha's non-violence was for the preservation of animal wealth for the social and compassionate reasons the counter was based purely on symbolism.
So, there you are. The ban on beef-eating did not emerge as an affirmation of the value of life or from a clear conviction about the virtues of vegetarianism. It was just a convenient political ideology to sway the masses against Buddhism.
Today, it continues to be used exactly the same way by the right-wing "Hindutva" fanatics in their efforts to broaden their political support base. Therefore the issue of beef-eating in India has always been just another stepping stone for those who lust for power and influence. It has absolutely nothing to do with the spiritual moorings of Hinduism as a religion.

(If only I could lay my hands now on a plate of hot parotta &beef-fry!!...  :P' ' ' )

Saudahataki: What is the name of the guest who has arrived today with a big train of women?Dandayana: Stop joking. It is no less a person than the revered Vasishta himself.Saudahataki: Is it Vasishta, eh?Dandayana: Who else?Saudahataki: I thought it was a tiger or a wolf. For, as soon as he came, he crunched up our poor tawny heifer.Dandayana: It is written that meat should be given along with curds and honey. So every host offers a heifer, a big bull, or a goat to a learned Brahmin who comes as a guest. This is laid down in sacred law.
This is a dialogue between two hermit boys at Ayodhya in Uttara-Rama-Charitra, one of the most celebrated versions of the Ramayana written by Bhavabhuti in the 8th century AD (Aiyar 2003).

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    A Show-piece Garbage Incinerator

    The visit to Kanazawa Waste Incineration Plant was a real eye-opener.

    In a country where just about every consumable is over-packaged and where every garbage-bin is segregated, I have often wondered where all the waste goes. Now I know - it all ends up in massive incineration plants where the waste is converted into energy and a range of bye-products, with hardly any harmful emissions.

    The plant building covers an area of ~ 50,000 sq.m. It was designed by NKK & Daiken Design and took about six years to build in March 2001, at a cost of about Yen 62.6 billion. Its three furnaces have a combined processing capacity of 1,200t/day, and if you thought that this was rather lavish for a city of just 3.5 million, just remember that this just one of the four inceineration facilities in Yokohama!

    The other four plants are at Hodogaya, Tsuzuki, Tsurumi and Asahi. But the Kanazawa facility is the latest one equipped with a high temperature and pressure boiler (for pollution control and effective use of residual heat) and an ash fusion-furnace which produces a slag used as base material for road construction.

    Another amazing thing is that the whole facility has been designed with public-relations in mind. The main entrance leads to an exhibition area where simple models (made from discarded bottles and boxes) are used to explain the plant operations to kids; a visitor's gallery runs around the perimeter of the building providing a bird's eye-view of all but the most hazardous operations.

    However, there were many things I just could not understand, and on top of this list was the question of operating costs.

    According to the guide, the annual budget for this plant is Yen 43 billion but it receives an income of only Yen 2 billion/year from electricity sales (Another official stated that last year's income from electricity sales was Yen 700 million with units sold at Yen 13/kW). The cost of garbage collection, processing and disposal was given as Yen 50,000/tonne...somehow things just don't seem to add up.

    I guess its not easy to get a clear picture from a two-hour conducted tour. However, it does seem to be fairly obvious that this impressive, show-piece facility is viable only because of government subsidies.
    Main control-room

    Dumping area

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Geographical Indications & Trade Marks

    Prof. Jean-Pierre Boutonnet from INRA-France recently delivered a guest lecture at Tsukuba University, titled - `Value Building from Local resources or market segmentation: the role of geographical indicators for food products in France`.

    Having read something about Geographical Indications (GI) in the context of Basmati rice, I had always assumed that the whole concept was based on solid scientific foundations. It now turns out that it is just a ruse; a legal construct to  protect the interests of producers in rich countries.

    The WTO defines GI as indications which identify a good (food, handicraft, etc.,) which has a given quality, reputation or other characteristic essentially attributable to its geographical origin (art.22.1 TRIPS). The crux of this definition is "characteristic essentially attributable" which seems more and more dubious as you look closer...Nobody really seems to know how or on what basis the quality of a product can be attributed to its geographical origin. This dilemma can be illustrated nicely with the example of Pelardon Cheese in France.

    In order to encourage diverse agricultural production, and to maintain rural income and population, the EC has recently come up with a regulation (no.510/2006, 10 March 2006), which elaborates GI into two categories -
    1. PDO - Protected Designation of Origin, which covers agricultural products nd foodstuffs which are produced, processed and packed at a given location using recognised know-how; and
    2. PGI - Protected Geographical Indication, which covers the same products where at least one stage of the production, processing or preparation takes places in a given area.
    And then you have the notion of a `Terroir` - a defined boundary within which a community generates and accumulated along its history, a collective production know-how based on a system of interaction between bio-physical and human factors.

    Pelardon is goat-cheese made in the terroir's of Southern France. In the PDO area, there are 300 goat-keepers who produce about 1100 tonnes of goat-cheese annually. Of the 300 farmers, 260 make their own cheese while the remaining 40 sell the milk to dairy farms. Since PDO certification requires membership fees, as well as compliance to rules and inspections, less than half the farmers (110) are allowed to market their product as Pelardon.

    At the local level, there is obviously no difference in taste since nobody is willing to pay extra for goat-cheese marked as Pelardon. But at the regional and national level, the same product commands a premium because only the members can call their goat-cheese Pelardon.

    Other interesting examples -
    • Bareges-Gavarnie Sheep Meat: From Baregeoise breed of Sheep reared by just 20 producers, at the altitude of 500 to 2800m in France
    • Kobe Beef - beef from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle, raised according to strict tradition in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
    • Parma Ham - Originally the name of dry-cured ham from Parma region of Italy, it has now become a brand-name for a USA-based company. The Italians fought - and lost - the battle for the trade-mark because the US court ruled that since Palma Ham packets were clearly marked "Made in USA", customers would not be confused about its origins. 
    If this is the case, why can't wine-producers in India market 'Champagne', as long as the bottles are clearly marked "Made in India"?  

    The simple answer seems to be that all the definitions, rules and regulations are geared to protect the interests of a relatively small number of well organized, influential producers based in developed countries. This explains the dogged tenacity with which “Champagne” has been protected for the past 80 years.

    The biggest market in the world, USA, does not recognize GIs. So Champagne is protected as a trademark (“TM”) in USA (+Japan, Australia) and as a PDO/GI product in Europe. Behind all this legal drama, one critical fact is often brushed over – that there is no conclusive scientific proof, either through “blind-tests” or through lab-analysis to prove that sparkling wine from Champagne region of France is any different from similar wines coming from vineyards in USA, Australia or even South India!

    Same is the case with Café de Colombia. The company that markets this product has managed to pull the Champagne-trick for this brand of coffee as well. Coffee from Colombia – a modern political entity, not even specific geographical region – has been registered as a TM in USA and as a GI in Europe. The EU did so admittedly for “political reasons” because it did not want to give the impression that GIs are the exclusive preserve of products from developed countries.

    Basmati-rice is yet another ‘third-world’ product which “unfortunately” could not “escape” being termed as a generic-name instead of getting a TM or GI, due to the “late action” from India / Pakistan.

    As with many other issues, the rules-of-the-game in international trade seem to be tailored for the benefit of a rich few. Also perhaps another instance of snobbishness & hypocrisy being institutionalized to protect the farmers in rich countries.




    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Hike to Takao-san

    Some pics from a short hike to Mt. Takao (599m) - a little hill 50km west of Tokyo.The hike was organized by the Tsukuba Walking & Mountaineering Club (TWMC).


    School of Magic

    Tuesday, March 09, 2010

    Education versus Indoctrination

    When does education turn into indoctrination? Can one be separated from the other?

    The dictionary meaning of the two verbs seems clear enough -

    /ˈɛdʒʊˌkeɪt/ Show Spelled [ej-oo-keyt] verb,-cat·ed, -cat·ing.
    –verb (used with object) develop the faculties and powers of (a person) by teaching, instruction, or schooling.

    /ɪnˈdɒktrəˌneɪt/ Show Spelled[in-dok-truh-neyt] –verb (used with object),-nat·ed, -nat·ing.
    1. to instruct in a doctrine, principle, ideology, etc., esp. to imbue with a specific partisan or biased belief or point of view.

    However, one could say that definitions can be molded to fit an argument that supports your own reasoning or rhetoric. In this case too the meaning of the phrases - `to develop faculties` or `biased belief` simply depends on an individual’s point of view.

    Was there a difference between the men who led the infamous `Charge of the Light Brigade`; Japanese kamikaze fighters; those who flew airplanes into the World Trade Towers (9/11) and the Jehadi’s who stormed hotels and homes in Mumbai (26/11)?

    Japanese history provides a fascinating study of how myths and history can be invented, and how, within a span of a few years, an entire generation can be indoctrinated and driven over the edge like lemmings.

    At one point of time during the Tokugawa period, the emperor had become such an insignificant person that he would not be recognized on the streets. Then came the Mito Critique, and thanks to the sweeping educational reforms initiated by the Meiji oligarchs, the mindset of a whole country was transformed.

    By early 1900s, Japanese soldiers sincerely believed what they had been taught all through their formative years - that they were a superior race; that the rest of the Asians were sub-human who could be slaughtered and raped without batting an eyelid, and that the entire war-effort was for the glory of their God-Emperor.

    Perhaps it was no different from the constructed self-belief that inspired the colonists from western Europeans (18-19 century) or the carefully calibrated rage that drives the Islamic fanatics today.

    Sunday, March 07, 2010

    Three Documentaries

    Three interesting documentaries.

    The first two describe the fatal miscalculations that led to the end of French and British imperial/colonial aspirations in Asia and Africa respectively. The third one is about the realpolitik behind Egypt's recovery of the Sinai peninsula.

    Battlefield Vietnam - Dien Bien Phu (Episode 1/6)

    The Other Side of Suez, 1956 (BBC Documentary 1/3)

    Yom Kippur War, 1973: The Egyptian Revenge (1/4)

    Friday, March 05, 2010

    Bombers from Guam

    Was it really necessary to use the nuclear bombs to end WW2?

    Conventional wisdom says that the allies, at one point of time, were convinced that the usual bombing would not work. So they resorted to `shock & awe` of new weaponry, and, as anticipated, the Japanese surrendered within weeks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Unconventional wisdom says that the real point of using N-weapons was to stop USSR (and communism) from steamrolling across East Asia.

    The latest New Yorker has some startling numbers. It quotes the former Secretary of State, Rober McNamara as saying that the B29 bomber raids accounted for 900,000 deaths in Japanese cities in just over six months. The two nuclear bombs, on the other hand, killed `just` 140,000 in Hiroshima and 75,000 in Nagasaki (including those who succumbed to radiation poisoing later).

    One year before the Japanese surrender (Aug, 1945), in the beginning in June of 1944, the Mariana`s had been invaded, in a bloody Navy, Marine and Army operation, specifically to provide the closest base within reach of Japan for the B-29s. The clearing work and construction of heavy duty airstrips began even before the islands were secure.

    800 bombers were then formed into five wings and based on the islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian. Official figures had put the devastation caused by the B-29s before Hiroshima at 65 burnt out cities, 581 destroyed factories, 158 urban square miles turned to ashes, with accompanying casualties of 310,000 dead, 412,000 wounded and more than 9 million rendered homeless.

    Wonder why there is such a huge difference between the previous official US statistic of 310,000 and 900,000 - the figures disclosed by Robert McNamara in 2003.

    Whatever the actual story, there seems to be some merit in Hitler`s wry comment - `The victor will never be asked if he told the truth`. 

    And maybe we`ll have to wait another fifty years to know what actually happened in Saddam`s Iraq.

    • The Guam Capers - A New Yorker stalwart exits the war (Roger Angell); The New Yorker, February 15-22, 2010, pp 78-87

    Wednesday, March 03, 2010

    China`s Official Development Assistance

    Q - How much is China spending in terms of `development aid` to Asia, Africa and Latin America?

    A - Nobody knows – except the Chinese politburo.
    If there is one million (or billion) dollar question that worries the Bretton-Woods Institutions (IMF, WB, UN), this must be it. Worrying, because nobody except the Chinese bureaucracy really knows how much money is really going towards propping up unstable regimes in Africa; how much aid is tied to extraction of oil & minerals for the Chinese market, and how much aid is actually going for building institutions and teaching poor countries `how to fish`.

    Over the past half-century, development aid had become a cozy little game for politicians in the `developed` world. Set aside a small portion of the national budget for 'helping poor countries', get them to sanction projects in sectors where your own companies are competent; ‘persuade’ them to sanction projects and contracts to these companies, and everybody does home feeling happy – except, of course, the bewildered poor in the recipient countries.

    Now, when the so-called ‘developing countries’ try to play the same game, they are called `neo-colonists`.

    Last month (22 Feb.), we had a rare opportunity to interact with Prof. Jiang Shixue from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences at a workshop titled, Comparative research of Chinese International Assistance to Asia, Africa and Latin America.

    Here are some Q& A’s from the session:

    Why is China so secretive about its aid programs?

    There are two reasons for this - first of all, China continues to be a recipient of foreign aid so, for the time being, it wants to play down the numbers and keep an low profile. Secondly, it wants to avoid competitive comparison between its aid-recipients, and the diplomatic tussles that might follow.

    What are the forms of Chinese Aid?

    Grant Aid (free lunch), Zero or low-interest loans, technical assistance, training (over 100,000 trainees at present), disaster relief, debt relief (374 packages for 49 countries in 2007), medical aid (20,000 doctors in 65 countries), language-courses in Confucius Institutes (200 teachers in 10 countries)

    According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (2008), over 2000 projects are being implemented in 160 countries worldwide.

    What are the principles underlying China’s aid programmes? 
    • Since 1964, Eight Principles underlie Chinese assitance to other countries - mutual benefit, no political pre-conditions, equal treatment for loal & Chinese experts, supply of quality equipment, etc.,
    • From the 1980 onwards there have been some additions and amendments - there are fewer large-scale projects; Africa focus (Mao - `China was carried to UN on the back of African countries); emphasis on ‘south-south’ cooperation and in `teaching how to fish` (capacity building) rather than ‘gifting fishes’ (grant-aid)
    • Countering Taiwan – Opposing Taiwan`s `dollar diplomacy` - especially in Africa and Latin America (12 or 24 countries which recognize Taiwan are in South America). Eg – In an African country China preempted Taiwan by providing ‘aid-money’ for paying salary for army personnel and a raise for its bureaucrats.
    • Avoiding `Slapping own face to look fat` - avoid harming oneself by giving aid to other countries
    • Not feeding the `white-eyed wolves` (reference to Vietnam which allegedly used Chinese armaments against the Chinese themselves!)
    Landmark Projects?

    • Public buildings in Barbados (GDP percap $12,000)
    • National stadium in Bahamas (GDP pc $24000) with a capacity to seat 30,000 people (1/10 total population)
    • Africa – The Tanzania-Zambia railway built using 56,000 Chinese technicians of whom 70 died.

    The presentations and discussions that followed were unfortunately clouded by the mix-up between FDI and ODA.

    Prof. Seifudein Adem (Binghamton Univ), in his paper, `China`s dual diplomacy in Africa and its consequences: Preliminary Assessment`, alleged that Chinese aid for the ICT sector is used by Zimbabwe to suppress information. He also noted that China is only No.4 in terms of FDI to Africa (After Singapore, India and Malaysia), and that only 3% of Chinese FDI goes to Africa - as opposed to 37% to Latin America. He pointed out that Africa suffers a huge infrastructure deficit (needs $22b) so any Chinese input gets magnified. In 2006, China provided $7b to Africa (France $11b)

    Dr. Claude Sumata (University of Sussex), presented a paper titled, ‘The Challenges of Chinese-DRC Economic Cooperation: Is it a win-win partnership?`. He noted that in the Democratic Republic of Congo – one of the biggest recipients of Chinese aid - between 1980-1990 the GDP climbed by an average of 1.2% a year; from 1990-1994, it has been declining at the rate of 9.5% a year. Chinese FDI goes mainly to extractive sectors - oil and mining (Eg. In 2007, a JV Socomin signed a deal for 10mT of copper & cobalt)

    At the end of the day it is the numbers that speak for themselves. China has the largest foreign exchange reserves in the world - over $ 2 trillion. A fraction of this - $ 763 billion -  is deposited with the US Treasury, and helps in propping up the budget deficit in the American economy. 

    So perhaps it is only logical for the Chinese to spread around the excess cash to butress their own safety and security in a world where the only certainty is that the dominance of WW2 victors' is on the wane.



    Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    Exploring Western Classical Music - I

    The free, online version I liked the best has been hyper-linked (Max rating - *****)

    Adam, A. 
    Cantique de Noël "O holy night"

    Bach, C.P.E.

    Sonata for Flute solo in A minor  

    Bach, J.S.

    Cello Suite No. 1 in G major 

    Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor 

    Fugue in G minor "Little"  BWV 578  
    **** Simone Stella -

    Goldberg Variations

    Italian concerto 

    Mass in B minor 
    **** ///
    `Agnus Dei`(Lamb of God) Andreas Scholl -

    Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D 
    **** Air -

    St. Matthew Passion

    Toccata and Fugue in D minor

    Two-part Inventions 
    *** (by a kid)

    Violin Partita no. 2 in D Minor 
    **  ///
    *** Itzak Perlman -

    Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor
    **Yehudi Menuhin - ///  ***Henryk Szeryng -

    Well-Tempered Clavier I 
    ** Glen Gould -


    Handel`s Hallelujah Chorus
    Music from the movie Requiem for a Dream By Clint Mansell -  

    Music for the movie - Hannibal - (Bach - Aria Goldberg Variations) -