Vipul's Feed
Oct 7, 2009
via India Insight

Nobel for an Indian?

Photo

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan has been awarded the chemistry Nobel this year.He joins a select club of scientists recognised by the Nobel foundation.But Ramakrishnan joins an even more exclusive group — Indians (by birth) who received such recognition.The country still awaits a second entry in the most exclusive group — an Indian who gets a Nobel staying and working in India.So far only C.V. Raman, the founder-member of this club, qualifies.In the days to come, Indians around the world, especially those in the country, will derive vicarious pleasure from another Indian (at least by birth) earning the top honour.The Times of India listed India’s Nobel connections on their website, a list which includes British surgeon Ronald Ross and poet Rudyard Kipling — both born in India.The list stretched to include all categories, as evident from above, contains only 12 names.Whereas Ramakrishnan is the 13th Nobel prize winner from Cambridge-based MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology alone.The WolframAlpha search engine returns an estimate of 14,172 patents filed in 2009 for U.S. for the query “U.S. patents filed”.The comparative figure for China is 2097. For India it returns a figure of 256.Venkatraman Ramakrishnan took his PhD in physics and gets a Nobel for chemistry while investigating a biological process.Why has no Indian working in India won a science Nobel since independence?Is it the lack of multi-disciplinary approach in Indian institutions?Is it our expenditure on R&D? Or the brain drain?

Sep 28, 2009
via India Insight

Do we need the big bomb?

Photo

It’s been more than a decade since the Buddha smiled again.A debate has exploded in the Indian media about the circumstances of India’s hydrogen bomb test, with a group of scientists questioning the yield of the test.The government claimed a yield of 45 kilotons; while the sceptics say the yield was much less at 25 kilotons.K. Santhanam who claims the thermonuclear bomb was a ‘fizzle’ called for more nuclear tests to develop hydrogen bombs.The argument in a nutshell is that if India doesn’t have a bomb big enough with which it can threaten an adversary, then the adversary may be emboldened to carry out a nuclear strike.However, many experts demur given the changed international environment.The controversy came right before President Obama made a call for all UN states to ratify the NPT.The nuclear bomb at Hiroshima had a smaller estimated yield of 14 kilotons and killed 80,000 people instantly.The logic of having nuclear weapons when other friendly and not-so- friendly countries have it is derived from deterrence theory.However, strategic analysts differ widely on the size of the deterrent.To put it plainly a nuclear bomb is as effective as the number of people it can kill.But a consensus on how many deaths are enough seems to be elusive.Do we need the big bomb at this stage?Or do we need more of smaller ones as argued by Manoj Joshi?Is it possible to agree at the number of deaths that would be unacceptable to the other side and then work back to how many bombs or how big a bomb we need?

Sep 22, 2009
via India Insight

Should Nalini be released?

Photo

(UPDATE: Media reports say Nalini Sriharan may soon be freed)

Nalini Sriharan is currently serving a life sentence for her role in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Part of Nalini’s plea is that she does not expect to live long due to her deteriorating health after spending nearly two decades in prison.

Sep 12, 2009
via India Insight

What were you doing on 9/11?

Photo

September 11, 2001 — I was at university attending a freshers’ welcome bash in New Delhi.That was a time before cell phones had become affordable and news travelled slowly.There were murmurs of an attack, something about the U.S. and a trade center but I didn’t pay much attention.”Is Osama coming?” someone sniggered, about a senior who shares his name with the infamous al Qaeda chief.”Osama is sleeping in the hostel. Why are you bothering him?”Back at the hostel, my roommate asked me if I had heard the news.”Go look, it’s on TV. They ploughed planes into a building.”I went to the common room, thinking randomly of Timothy McVeigh and David Koresh.All the TV news channels were showing footage from the attacks — over and over again.I had just read the book ‘The Inscrutable Americans’ and as I saw the towers go down, I remembered these were the first buildings the novel’s protagonist had seen in New York.I was glued to the television screen, unable to tear myself away.Scenes from assorted Hollywood movies played through my head as I tried and failed to make sense of it.The spectacle of thousands dying beggared my imagination.As I turned in for the night, I couldn’t shake of the thought that if this could happen to the most powerful country in the world, then what about us in India?

Sep 11, 2009
via India Insight

The Jet strike: Where does the buck stop?

Photo

The distraught foreign national and her wheelchair-bound mother on TV is a compelling argument against the Jet Airways pilots’ strike which has dragged on for four days.The stand-off between the pilots and the airline management over the sacking of four pilots has forced the airline to cancel hundreds of flights, affecting at least 14,000 passengers since Tuesday.The public inconvenience caused by such strikes is so pressing that the cause of the strike almost always seems petty.But striking employees are not always to blame over fragile labour relations.There have been years when man-days lost due to lockouts have surpassed those caused by employee strikes.In the current strike, the management as well as the pilots’ union have been pointing fingers.On Wednesday, the High Court had issued a contempt notice to the pilots for going on ‘mass leave’.A day later, the chief labour commissioner said that it was illegal to dismiss the pilots while conciliation proceedings were still on.So who is responsible for this chain of events?

Sep 1, 2009
via India Insight

Playing spoilsport with Formula One?

Photo

Despite the Force India team taking second place at the podium at the Belgian Grand Prix there is no rethinking in the sports ministry on its view that Formula One is not enough of a sport.Sports minister M.S. Gill congratulated Vijay Mallya on his team’s win but labelled Formula One as ‘expensive entertainment’.The sports ministry has refused approval to the promoters of Formula 1 in India, JPSK Sports, to pay 1.7 billion rupees to the Formula One Administration for the proposed Indian Grand Prix of 2011.The ministry has reasoned that the Formula One race “does not satisfy conditions which focus on human endeavour for excelling in competition with others, keeping in view the whole sports movement from Olympic downwards.”It wrote to the promoters that Formula One is not purely sports, it is entertainment and the venture by JPSK Sports was a commercial initiative.The sports ministry’s argument stands on two legs. Formula One is expensive entertainment and the outcome is determined by technology hence it is not ‘pure sports’.Is sport supposed to be boring — that’s a question which can be posed at least rhetorically?Sports like golf and tennis aren’t exactly cheap sports I can play in my backyard, assuming I had one.As for human endeavour in Formula One, former world champion Michael Schumacher couldn’t return to the sport because of fitness concerns. Surely there is more to Formula One than just zippy cars and technology.Technology and better training determine the outcome in all sports. Use of polyurethane swimsuits has been debated in swimming.Commercialisation of sports has for long been debated. Cricket is probably one of the most commercialised sports in India.Should we go back to some pristine version of the game when it was played on the village greens?Cricket is heavily tilted in favour of batsmen because the gentry used to bat and the commoners used to bowl when the game was evolving, according to a school text book I chanced upon once.Can any sport be divorced from its social context? Are there any sports in the country which can be called ‘purely sports’?Commercialisation and flow of money in sports has surely helped sportsmen get by better.Periodicals have carried stories of old sports warhorses living the last days of their lives in penury.Sports certainly became respectable in the middle-class society I grew up in after they linked up with money.Otherwise sports was for the academic losers and failures, seen as the cause as well as the effect.India’s absence in most sporting arenas didn’t help either.My six-storey school building did not even have a playground. It was built over for the science labs.The Olympics, mentioned by the sports ministry, have allowed professional athletes to compete in certain sports like tennis since 1988.Is the ministry’s view justified?

Aug 14, 2009
via India Insight

Peddling reforms for street vendors?

Photo

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken a step towards unshackling the poorest of entrepreneurs — the street vendors.In a letter to chief ministers, this week, Singh called for a “new deal” for urban street vendors and implementation of the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009 — which would enable vendors to ply their trade without harassment.These include hawkers, sidewalk traders or even the people selling clothes or utensils at the weekly market.For them, the landmark economic reforms of 1991 carry little meaning. The Centre for Civil Society, citing an example of persistent ‘license raj’, says that only 75,000 of half a million cycle-rickshaws plying in Delhi are licensed. The rest pay an estimated 80 million rupees a month in bribes.Like rickshaw-pullers, street vendors also have to cough up money to the police, fearing eviction or confiscation of wares.It was estimated that they pay 400 million rupees yearly in bribes in the national capital alone. People paying these bribes have an average daily income of Rs. 70 for men and Rs. 40 for women as estimated by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector. They borrow from money lenders at rates up to 110 percent.  In Sodan Singh and Others versus New Delhi Municipal Council in 1989, the Supreme Court had ruled : “The right to carry on trade or business mentioned in Article 19 (1) g of the constitution, on street pavements, if properly regulated, cannot be denied on the ground that the streets are meant exclusively for passing or re-passing and no other use.” The revised National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009  by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation recognizes the “need for regulation of street vending by way of designated ‘Restricted-free Vending’, ‘Restricted Vending’ and ‘No Vending’ zones based on certain objective principles.” It lays down that there should not be any cut off date or limit imposed on the number of vendors who should be permitted to sell their goods. The policy aims to “eschew imposing numerical limits on access to public spaces by discretionary licenses, and instead moving to nominal fee-based regulation of access.” A model bill on regulation of street vending has been drafted but it is for the states to enact the laws. That is where the prime minister’s letter comes in. As part of its campaign for street vendor rights, civil society group Manushi set up in 2005 a temple dedicated to what it describes as a secular goddess “Swachha Narayani”. The goddess holds a broom to symbolize strength from unity and cleanliness, a clock to signify changing times, a coin to communicate right to livelihood and also a weighing balance, video-camera and pen. So is the goddess ready to smile on vendors and small entrepreneurs?[ Photos: A hawker sells computer and electronic spare parts on a pavement in Kolkata while another hawker in Mumbai prepares a cosmetic for men as a customer looks into a mirror. ]

Jul 26, 2009
via India Insight

How should we ‘celebrate’ the Kargil war?

Photo

Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the conflict between India and Pakistan in Kargil.The fighting ended with a ceasefire on this day, ten years back.As a college student I witnessed Captain Manoj Pandey’s body being brought into the Command Hospital in Lucknow cantonment before his cremation later.He died a war hero while recapturing the Khalubar ridgeline, a dominating feature, and was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest gallantry award, posthumously.That day driving by the place I had little idea of what was happening, but the solemnity and the silence of the crowd and passers-by peering over the walls of the hospital on a busy road invited a second look.Ten years on, Sunday was the first instance of the UPA government, in office for five and more years, participating in the celebrations.”The best tribute we can pay to the gallant officers and jawans is to dedicate ourselves to the gigantic task of nation building and work steadfastly to protect the unity and integrity of our nation,” said the Prime Minister at the India Gate war memorial in a wreath laying ceremony.The government has been seen to be dragging its feet on the celebrations. Initially only division-level celebrations were planned.Is that good for the morale of the forces and for the nation?It has been commented in the media that the unwillingness stemmed from the fact that the victory was won under the rival NDA regime and because of renewed focus on mending fences with Pakistan.What has been seen as even more of a disservice is that the lessons learnt from the brief but bloody conflict are yet to be implemented.Apparently the NDA government promoted celebrations of the Kargil conflict over the 1971 celebrations of the India- Pakistan war that led to the creation of Bangladesh won under the Congress leader Indira Gandhi.“Unless you commemorate all wars, a nation cannot respect its martyrs. Kargil was not commemorated for political reasons, even though the strategic implications were high. In a way, the government has taken a good step,” said Major General (retd) Afsar Karim on the belated decision to join in the celebrations by the government.A cousin who serves in the Indian army asked me, two weeks back, about how enthusiastic the people are about the Vijay Diwas – the Kargil war day.He wasn’t too worried about the government’s stand as much as what the attitude of the people was.I had to muddle through with a response; perhaps the question was calculated to embarrass a civilian like me.Some fear that such celebrations can encourage jingoism.But the word celebrate also means:  to perform (a sacrament or solemn ceremony) publicly and with appropriate rites.Do you think a people who cannot appreciate the cost of war in terms of lives lost can appreciate the benefits of peace?

Jul 12, 2009
via India Insight

Prohibition policy in Gujarat — a tragic farce?

Photo

More than 130 people died after consuming bootleg liquor in Gujarat last week.While prohibition is in place in Gujarat, liquor is often smuggled in from neighbouring states and people are forced to buy it at inflated prices.What can the poor do? They cannot afford to buy branded alcohol so they consume illicit liquor. Plastic pouches called ‘potlis’ of illegally brewed liquor are available for as little as ten rupees.Some have said that Gujarat’s prohibition policy encourages bootlegging. Liquor baron Vijay Mallya argues that apart from loss of revenue this leads to “illegal, unhygienic and unsupervised production of deadly cocktails which claim innocent lives.”During the Great Depression, the ‘Noble Experiment’ prohibition policy in the United States was repealed just 14 years after the sale of alcohol was banned.An article in the Foreign Policy magazine, a couple of years ago, argued:“A ‘drug-free world,’ which the United Nations describes as a realistic goal, is no more attainable than an ‘alcohol-free world’ – and no one has talked about that with a straight face since the repeal of Prohibition in the United States in 1933.”In the context of legalising use of marijuana, author and journalist Christopher Hitchens argues that:“It’s beyond the competence of the state to decide a question like this. You can’t hope the government to go out and control what substance somebody puts in their own body. So even if I thought that marijuana was poisonous I would still say the government is not going to be able to stop it, so it shouldn’t try.”In the 1990s, Andhra Pradesh took up and abandoned the prohibition policy in less than two years.”Despite our best efforts, the prohibition-related offences, particularly illicit distillation and smuggling, have been steadily increasing in the state,” the state Excise minister said when the ban was being lifted.In New Delhi, you have to be above twenty-five years of age to be legally served alcohol in a bar.I have been occasionally asked for identification but have got away with a little bit of bluster. I am well over twenty-five but bartenders have no means of confirming it ifI refuse to produce proof of my age.The age policy is routinely flouted.In Gujarat, the more resourceful “get a medical certificate from a designated civil surgeon, who prescribes a dose of liquor necessary for curing an ailment.”The Constitution mandates in Part Four (carrying the legally unenforceable provisions which ideally should be enforced by governments):“To bring about the prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs that are injurious to health.”If banning alcohol puts people in the way of more harmful drinks, then is the government fulfilling the constitutional mandate?