India Insight

Dharavi’s once-booming leather industry losing its edge

A busy street in Asia’s largest slum Dharavi leads to a quiet lane where Anita Leathers operates its colouring unit. As children play near shops that sell everything from mobile phones and garments to raw meat and sweets, the mood at the leather unit is sombre.

The leather business is one of the biggest contributors to the Mumbai slum’s informal economy, estimated to have an annual turnover of more than $500 million. About 15,000 small-scale industries, spread over an area of 500 acres, deal in businesses such as pottery, plastic recycling and garment manufacturing.

But the leather trade has been hit hard by increasing competition, an influx of cheap Chinese goods, rising raw material costs and labour shortages in recent years, leading to a decline in demand and dimming prospects of the once-flourishing business.

At Anita Leathers, which has been colouring and supplying leather sheets to merchants in Mumbai for more than three decades, annual sales fell from 5 million rupees ($83,000) in 2007 to 500,000 rupees ($8,300) last year. This has forced its owner Babu Rao to put some workers on paid leave.

“In every season our sales are falling, there is no business,” said Rao as he chewed tobacco in his Dharavi office where samples of coloured leather were displayed on the wall. “Even retailers are suffering. If customers come, they will buy bags; if bags are not sold, who will buy leather from us?”

Strange weather: how a bad monsoon could be good for India

By Mayank Bhardwaj and Jo Winterbottom

A bad monsoon in India is the one that fails to deliver enough rain … most of the time. This year, a lack of rainclouds could be the silver lining that the government needs. India has no place left to store more grain, and can ill afford a hefty payout to farmers for the truckloads of produce that another monsoon could produce.

The annual four-month monsoon rains begin around June 1. More than half of the country’s arable land relies on the monsoon to grow the crops that help feed the world’s second-biggest country by population and put India’s rice and sugar on the global market.

But India’s last drought was five years ago. Food stocks have swelled so much since then that government warehouses, which house the grain sold at very low prices to the poor, are overflowing. Much is wasted, rotting or eaten by rats. The last thing that the government needs is another big crop yield.

Ashutosh gears up for Chandni Chowk race; talks about ‘biased’ media

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Aam Aadmi Party’s Ashutosh might have been a TV news host, but now he talks like an experienced politician. “I am enjoying” being on the other side of the microphone, the former managing editor of Hindi news channel IBN7 told India Insight during an interview in which he discussed his decision to stand for Parliament.

It probably won’t be easy. He is taking on Kapil Sibal, a Congress party veteran and influential government minister. Sibal, a two-time member of the Lok Sabha from central Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency, has a knack for landing in controversies. From trying to police social media to trashing a popular upsurge against corrupt politicians in 2011, he often has become a target of public wrath.

Ashutosh, who goes by a single name, said the media is being manipulated by political parties and corporations to make sure that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wins the prime minister’s race in May. Regarding his own former media company Network18, which accepted a large investment from Reliance Industries in 2012 in a complex deal, he had little to say. Nevertheless, he shared his thoughts on how he sees the media now that he is on the other side of the camera. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

Organised players, growing acceptance boost India’s used car market

One would expect the former head of India’s No. 1 car maker to drive a glitzy new SUV or an imported luxury car, but Jagdish Khattar thinks differently. The industry veteran who spent 14 years at Maruti Suzuki now buys only second-hand cars and drives a used Volkswagen Passat.

Rich people buy new cars, intelligent people buy second-hand cars,” said Khattar, the founder of Carnation Auto, a service and used-cars company he started in 2008 after leaving Maruti. The used car market, he said, is the future of automobiles.

The rising presence of well known car brands in the used cars business, coupled with growing acceptance of second-hand vehicles, is spurring demand. That is putting in shape the largely unorganised used-car business at a time when new car sales have slumped for the first time in more than a decade.

Interview: Chidambaram on the state of India’s economy

By John Chalmers, Frank Jack Daniel and Manoj Kumar

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

The Indian government will have to rein in spending and cut subsidies to meet its fiscal deficit target, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said on Monday, underlining that an austerity drive will not be blown off course by an election due next year.

The urbane Harvard-educated lawyer, now in his third stint as finance minister, spoke to Reuters in an interview ahead of a trip to the United States. Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

Do you think that the government has done enough to pull the economy out of the crisis that we saw it in several weeks ago?
One can never say we’ve done enough. We’ve done a lot of things, but we have to do many more things, and I think we will do them in the next few weeks and months, both by the government and by the central bank.

Outlook weak for India economic growth: analysts

India’s economy grew at 4.4 percent in the June quarter, its slowest rate since the first three months of 2009 and weaker than analysts’ consensus of 4.7 percent in a Reuters poll.

With the rupee still trading near record lows and a ballooning current account deficit alarming investors and policymakers, several investment banks are worried about the road ahead.

Here are some comments on India’s economic growth released by investment banks after the recent GDP data:

Tracking Sensex: L&T top loser this week

By Aditya Kalra and Sankalp Phartiyal

The Sensex lost 2 percent and the Nifty slipped 2.3 percent in a tough week for stocks as Indian markets remained cautious ahead of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) policy review on July 30.

The benchmark Sensex, which ended in the red for three of five trading sessions, touched a 2-1/2 year high during the week as consumer goods shares surged.

The rupee continues to be in focus as it hit a five-week high on Friday. The RBI tightened liquidity further on Tuesday to support the rupee and the central bank is likely to hold rates at its policy review next week.

L&T Infra Finance CEO upbeat on India’s economic recovery by 2015

India’s economy recorded its slowest growth in a decade in the fiscal year ending in March but the CEO of L&T Infrastructure Finance, that provides loans to companies such as Jaypee Group to develop roads and other infrastructure, is hopeful of an economic turnaround in less than two years that will boost business prospects.

The company, part of India’s largest engineering and construction conglomerate Larsen & Toubro, will likely end up dealing with a slowdown in business growth in the current financial year, but might bounce right back next year if the winner of India’s federal elections due in 2014 starts spending on infrastructure projects.

Reuters spoke to Chief Executive Officer Suneet Maheshwari about his outlook for the industry and the Indian economy. Here are excerpts from the interview:

India GDP: What the economists are predicting

Investors and policymakers will be closely watching India’s fourth-quarter and full fiscal year 2012/13 gross domestic product (GDP) growth figures on Friday.

The economy grew 4.5 percent in the December quarter, but a Reuters poll has shown that Asia’s third-largest economy will likely perform a little better and expand by 4.8 percent in the quarter that ended in March.

For the financial year 2013, the government had estimated the economy will grow 5 percent, the lowest in a decade. However, if the poll consensus proves right, full-year growth will be worse than the government’s estimate.

Taxing times for reporters on the Chidambaram beat

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s drive to shore up government coffers is not just giving businessmen sleepless nights.

Just when reporters were taking a breather after filing stories based on inflation data on Thursday, the finance ministry sent them text messages about a press briefing. The recipients were supposed to rush to Chidambaram’s office in 15 minutes to cover what appeared to be a major policy announcement. After all, the finance minister doesn’t call on such short notice for chitchat.

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