India Insight

from The Human Impact:

Dial-a-maid, get-a-slave in middle class India

When I arrived in India some years back as a single mother and full-time journalist, there was one thing I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about – finding domestic help.

Maids, nannies, drivers, cooks and cleaners are ten-a-penny amongst the urban middle classes here.

In New Delhi’s neighbourhoods, for example, most families employ full- or part-time help, who do everything from feeding and bathing babies and cooking family meals to sweeping and washing floors.

These are often young, uneducated women from impoverished villages hundreds of miles away, trying to earn money to support their families back home.

So when a friend handed me the phone number of a placement agency which would help me find a live-in nanny, I didn’t think twice.

Subbarao: an RBI governor who can hold his own

When RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao had his tenure extended last year, a TV channel reported that 90 percent of bankers, economists and bond dealers in a poll felt the extension was good for the economy.

In June 2012, less than a year later, people were criticising him for defying widespread calls to cut interest rates, as stubborn inflation continued to bother him more than slowing growth .

Subbarao’s latest decision on Tuesday to hold the central bank’s key policy rate steady may increase the number of his detractors.

from Breakingviews:

India begins the post-Mukherjee clear-up

By Jeff Glekin

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Pranab Mukherjee’s reign as Indian finance minister was stained by economic meddling and political favouritism. Now he is gone, and some of his excesses are being reversed. An enemy has been pardoned and a friend has not received a plum job. This could be the beginning of a better era.

Imagine if Tim Geithner had been accused of putting pressure on the securities regulator to protect some political friends. The U.S. Treasury Secretary would be in serious hot water. But when the former number two at the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) accused Mukherjee of something similar – putting pressure on the SEBI chairman to “manage” some high-profile corporate cases – there was little attention.

from Anooja Debnath:

In India, what goes up must keep going up

With a faltering economy, political gridlock, high interest rates, delayed monsoons and an epic power outage that has plunged half its 1.2 billion population into darkness, optimism is a sparse commodity in India.

Just not when it comes to rising house prices.

'What goes up a lot must keep going up' was the conclusion from the very first Reuters Indian housing market poll this week. And it sounded very familiar.

Past experience shows that respondents to housing market polls - whether they be independent analysts, mortgage brokers, chartered surveyors - tend to cling to an optimistic tone even as trouble clearly brews below the surface.

It’s time India bites the diesel bullet

“81 rupees?” asked an astonished TV anchor when an irate Bengaluru-based consumer called in after the recent 7.5-rupee hike in petrol prices. Perhaps cars that run on milk are now needed, the anchor suggested — when the caller said the dairy product costs around 30 rupees a litre.

While milk-powered automobiles might be a distant dream, the reality remains that those relying on petrol vehicles will now need to do their budgeting again. If a falling rupee and high inflation were not enough, this steepest-ever rise in petrol prices will surely pinch.

The fact remains that petrol prices were decontrolled way back in June 2010. That move gave oil marketing companies (OMCs) freedom to revise prices and also gave the government some saving grace as ministers can now easily say that petrol prices are market driven.

India’s busy Auto Expo and the risk of an industry believing its own publicity

After fighting through the sea of camera-wielding car enthusiasts clutching their bags filled with corporate gifts to meet with Anand Mahindra, vice-chairman of the Mahindra group, it was difficult to argue with his rosy view of India’s car industry.

“Just look at all these people,” said Mahindra. “If these crowds translate into market appetite, it’s not much of a slowdown,” he added, shaking his head at the view from a glass-walled office high above the teeming masses at the India Auto Expo on Friday.

Mahindra has reason to be cheerful. Sales of cars by his group’s autos arm have remained strong this year. But he wasn’t the only executive shrugging off a slump in India’s car industry with glib comments about the sharp elbows of hundreds of thousands of excited punters that thronged the India Auto Expo this weekend.

Amid parliamentary impasse, MPs cheer more perks

By Annie Banerji

On the way to New Delhi’s international airport, three armed men lean out of the windows of a jeep, furiously waving at the steady stream of traffic to pull over.

As the cars swerve to the dusty edge of the highway, a convoy of a dozen sleek sedans zips past in a blaze of whining sirens and flashing red beacons, breaking all traffic regulations and leaving behind a tangle of vehicles in its wake.

A local politician is late for his flight.

Such situations are likely to become even more commonplace in Asia’s third-largest economy, thanks to a committee that this week submitted a report calling for all MPs to have flashing lights put on their cars to allow them to speed through the country’s clogged streets.

The dog days of India’s bizarre summer of politics

Perhaps the government’s decision to push back the opening of the upcoming monsoon session of parliament was not the best idea. For as the dog days of the sub-continent’s sweltering summer drag on, the parliament-less politicians sweat from the sublime to the ridiculous in the baking heat.

From the haphazard ensemble of senior ministers that flocked to New Delhi’s airport to greet yoga guru turned social activist Swami Ramdev with more fanfare than is reserved for visiting heads of state, to the current conspiracy swirling New Delhi surrounding espionage chewing gum found in the finance minister’s private chambers, it has been a bizarre summer for politics fuelled by the hungry media in the world’s largest democracy.

Kapil Sibal, as Human Resource and Development minister, could have spent his summer break drawing up plans to overhaul an education sector that looks dangerously inadequate to deal with the demographic dividend of millions of young Indians that New Delhi likes to trumpet. Instead, he spent his days holed up in five-star hotels begging Ramdev not to stop eating, and playing it coy in press conferences after quietly ignoring veteran activist Anna Hazare’s demands for a stronger anti-graft bill.

Should Britain continue its controversial £1bln India aid package?

The UK will continue to send more than £1 billion to India over the next four years, despite huge cuts to government spending under London’s Conservative-led coalition government and soaring economic growth in the Asian giant.
Britain's Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell speaks during a plenary meeting of the 64th General Assembly of the United Nations  August 19, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s international development secretary, told the Financial Times on Monday that Britain’s annual £280 million aid payments to India would not be reduced, in spite of the country’s space ambitions, nuclear energy development, soaring numbers of billionaires and its own aid program to many African nations.

Mitchell’s comments, a day before an official announcement, are likely to infuriate some UK MPs who have seen spending slashed in their constituencies, and those who have called for a reduction in overseas payments as British taxpayers brace for a period of tough austerity measures.

In September, suggestions from Westminster that aid may be reduced sparked a terse response from New Delhi, as Indian officials reportedly mulled rejecting UK support rather than waiting for London to decide whether its slice of the pie would shrink.

Has Congress lost the plot on inflation?

“Government Plan To Tackle Prices Is Just Hot Air” screamed the front page of Friday’s Mail Today, as India’s political media lined up to belittle what was billed as a list of anti-inflationary remedies but was robustly rejected as “already failed measures and oft-repeated homilies.”

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ruling Congress party Chief Sonia Gandhi and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee stand to attention as the national anthem is played during an oath-taking ceremony inside the presidential palace in New Delhi May 28, 2009. REUTERS/B Mathur

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meetings this week with senior cabinet ministers to tackle year-high food inflation dragged on long into the night, keeping editors on tenterhooks and assuring Congress of front page headlines.

This morning, those headlines would have made for painful reading. After rumours of export curbs and future markets tweaks, what emerged to be a paltry list of recommendations was seen by many as nothing but ineffective band-aids for a broken economy requiring surgery.

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