Friday, 28 August 2015

life in financial markets: the flip side of mutual fund & equity SIPs

No investor would not already be aware of SIP-based (systematic investment plan-based) investing, particularly in equity schemes of mutual funds and directly in equity shares of listed companies. Given the marketing motivation to entice investors to commit funds for a long term into SIPs, mutual funds and brokerage firms spare no effort to highlight the pros of SIPs.

Sure, systematic investing is a far better way to invest than irregular or lumpsum-based investing, but SIPs, the way it is marketed and promoted by the industry, is not the best way to reap the benefits of systematic investing.

Here is why.

Problem with MF SIPs
SIPs in mutual fund schemes suffer from mainly one, but severe, problem. It ignores the element of diversification which is crucial for any investment portfolio. An investor has a limited amount to deploy and scheme-specific SIPs tend to demand commitments of a higher sum.. Thus, if a large portion of deployable sum goes into a SIP of just one or at most a handful of schemes the investor is risking being caught in a vortex of badly performing schemes. For equity investors, there are over 200 equity schemes to choose from and it may not feasible for most investors to use SIPs for more than a handful of them. A SIP into a poorly-performing scheme can be disastrous.

Problem with SIPs in direct equities

The same problem of lack of diversification, like in MFs, applied to direct equity investments. You have limited amount of money to deploy in equity shares. SIPs force you to commit disproportionately high sums into a very few number of companies. Badly-performing stocks in your un-diversified SIP portfolio can destroy your wealth.

What is the solution
Investors must still do systematic investing but not through SIPs. With better technologies available in internet trading and mobile app-based trading by mutual funds and brokerage firms, it is easier to be self-disciplined and invest once every month in MF schemes or equities directly in a more-diversified set of MF schemes and stocks than what you would typically do in inflexible SIP plans that MFs and equity brokerage firms offer you.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

life in financial markets: lessons for the indian life insurance industry

I recently wrote on what lessons behold for the life insurance industry players in India on account for a recent rush in market-linked policies surrenders in an editorial contribution in the newspaper I present work for.

Here is what I wrote:

Insurance lessons
The surrender rush in ulips is not a problem. It is a symptom of an old problem

The means to an end is as important as the end itself. The life insurance industry, as this paper reported in Monday's front page, is in the throes of high surrenders taking place in unit-linked insurance policies (ulips). This is evidently on the back of rising net asset values of the equity-oriented ulips which has activated investors' ability to surrender nothwithing the high surrender charges of about three per cent.

Some of the insurance companies appear to be cribbing that this is having a crippling effect on their business. But, really, there is a need for honest introspection by the big players in the insurance industry. Surrenders taking place at a very high rate is the creation of the insurance companies and their agents in their attempts to get new business by any means even if it meant mis-leading the non-savvy investors. Mis-selling was the norm in the life insurance industry till at least 2010 when the insurance regulator, Irda, stepped in to reign in exorbitant commission charges and unfair surrender terms and charges. But this applied to new policies sold therefrom and so old policyholders were still tied up with the dreadful old regime.

The exact details of which ulip investors are surrendering their policies are not known but it is possible a big chunk of them may be from the pre-2010 period. The front-loading of fund management and other charges in them meant any investor wanting to surrender in the first 3-4 years of the policy would get even less than the value of their investments. With four years behind and stock market indices touching higher and higher peaks every week the hit to investors who would want to surrender is not that high as it was till a year ago.

But the issue is not that the stock market conditions have been conducive for such a happening in insurance ulips or other traditional policies. The real question to ask is why so many investors are motivated to surrender their policies. It is clearly the large amount of mis-selling by insurance companies and their agents which took place in the past, with no real accountability or regulatory desire to take action, which is forcing to investors to get out when they can. Instead of blaming the policyholders for the redemption pressure, the insurance companies need to see the pain undergone by these very policyholders as they, once stuck with a mis-sold policy involving a high annual premium, were forced to renew for a few years in order to get back a significant portion of what was their due.

Many investors in ulip and other traditional life policy have. in the past, even lost their entire investments by not renewing their policies since they could not even afford to pay the high premium amounts at the time of yearly renewal. In each and every such case the insurance industry gleefully pocketed the premiums already paid by those investors and it was like a free money for them.

But the chickens are now coming home to roost. Those investors who had the ability to renew and wait for a few years have now decided 'no more' and are getting out. It does not mean they are naive in their timing of exit. A lot of them could very well to re-invest their redeemed money back in equities through non-insurance channels such as equity mutual fund schemes. This hopefully will sensitise the insurance industry to the real needs of investors and not get blinded by the competitive fervour to show high growth rates in premium collections.

Monday, 23 June 2014

life in financial markets: motivate the honest taxpayers

The honest taxpayer in India, whether an individual or a corporate, needs to be encouraged further and incentivised by the government of India and its finance ministry if more revenues are to be raised.

The news that the current government is thinking of starting a scheme to settle pending income tax tax disputes between the corporate/individual taxpayer and the Income Tax Department through a one-time settlement offer. Disputes between corporate or individual
taxpayers and the IT Dept arises primarily because IT Dept raises demands of a tax liability much higher than the tax already paid by the corporate/individual taxpayer. The tax payer contests such a demand and the cases go on for years due to heavy backlog in the IT tribunals. 

Realisttically speaking to get the corporate taxpayer to settle such a demand will mean asking it to pay only a fraction of the demand amount. If higher amounts were to be asked for in the settlement then the companies and other tax payers will prefer to continue contesting the cases in the tribunals.

Proposals such as this or the tax amnesty one floated by the previous government are not in the best interests of the honest tax payer. A dispute settlment or a tax amnesty scheme may rake in some revenues but it will also lose the confidence of the honest taxpayers who will see merit in evading tax or contesting tax demands.  

If the government of India thinks the IT Department has raised more tax demand from taxpayers than it should have then the correct thing to do would be to drop the earlier demand notices and raise new ones with accurate demand amounts. Else, the IT Department should not be forced to settle off-court under a government scheme.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

life in general: making sense of russian invasion of crimea in ukraine

Too much of power makes the person holding it not only blind to the long-term boomeranging ill-effects but also a slave to competing with a rival powerful person whose interests clash with yours.

This is why Russia's president Putin has invaded the Crimean region of Ukraine and the rival powerful entitiy in his case is the US and US' allies.

My American friend, Sean-Paul Kelley, whose blog is among the most reasonably authentic blogs I refer to from time to time, has articulated the Russia-Crimea-Ukraine-US issue very well in his blog posts in the past one week. I share a couple of his blog posts below in chronologoical order.

Ray McGovern, an ex-CIA official, provides a brilliant historical perspective to the same issue. One can read it here. I am also sharing his write-up at the very end below.


Here Come the Russians
By Sean Paul Kelley, on February 28th, 2014

Apparently the Russians have sent 2,000 extra troops to one of their bases in the Crimea.

Let me spell a few things out for you.

The United States, the EU and NATO will not lift a finger for the Ukraine.

The United States, the EU and NATO will, if push comes to shove, acquiesce in the partitioning of the Ukraine.

The United States, the EU and NATO will not offer the Ukraine any serious amounts of cash. They have not done so up to this point. They offered the Ukraine $700 million. In contrast the Russians offered $15 billion.

That being said, I’m pretty sure the US/EU/NATO would offer the Ukraine loans at usurious rates backed by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank

The media is now calling Russia a bully.

Yeah, and the United States just waged aggressive war against Iraq because we’re nice people, right?

The rhetoric will only get more infantilizing. Why? Because Russia doesn’t need the West and this absolutely infuriates DC policy elites. They cannot handle the fact that the US cannot push everyone around. They cannot stomach the fact that someone is pushing back.

And they are going to scream, and cry, and piss and moan and meanwhile, the people of the Ukraine will suffer. The good news is this: they’ll suffer less than if the US got involved. If we got involved, the suffering and death and chaos would be much greater.


The View From DC on Russia, Putin and the Ukraine
By Sean Paul Kelley, on March 3rd, 2014

So, below the fold is tonight’s Nelson Report. Honestly, I just don’t know where to begin, what to say, what I could possible add. We’re clearly at a point in the West, including Merkel, where no one, not a single leader, has the power of imagining themselves in another leader’s shoes. Seriously, Merkel’s leak, as reported by Nelson, means this: “fuck it, I’m out. Y’all handle Putin.” This kind of behavior bodes extremely ill for the successful and prudent conduct of foreign policy, not to mention Western civilization.

Further, please, don’t get me started on the whole “Putin’s lost his sanity” thing. That to me is a clear indication that no one is even remotely ready to consider the full spectrum of reality. Calling a leader crazy is a political cop-out. It’s intellectually lazy. It’s an easy way of telling the home crowd: “I can’t deal with this dude, he cray-cray,” and then you get a free pass. That’s bullshit. That isn’t statesmanship. It’s not responsible. It’s cowardly. It’s also a sign you are ethically bankrupt, not to mention strategically incompetent. You engage with the people you must, not the people whom you wish you could. The world is not Burger King, you cannot always have it your way. It simply does not work that way.

I read this stuff and all I see and hear are rationales and excuses for bad Western behavior. There is literally zero ability or willingness to see this from any other perspective. Now, do I need to add that Putin’s a profoundly evil man? Do I need to add that Yanukovich was a deeply odious and flawed leader of the Ukraine? Maybe I should. Apparently all these caveats and conditions are necessary before you can have a “serious” discussion. But, I think you all know that. I don’t think Agonist readers are stupid at all. (Your leaders think you are fools, however.)

And you know what? That’s all beside the point. What concerns me most here is the danger of miscalculation. This is a real crisis now, people. Three weeks ago everyone said nothing like this would happen. Guess what?

It did.

So, how do we manage the climb-down from this crisis? How do our leaders (God help us!) do this? Can they? Can a group of people who are so fundamentally in intellectual lock-step with each other find a negotiated solution to this crisis with someone with whom they believe they are morally superior? Wow, do I need to mention how dangerous a position it is to be morally superior when your interlocutor has nukes.

Why is that important? Well, if the West is to get this done peacefully, the West is going to have to give Putin something in return. They are going to have to give someone they believe they are fundamentally morally superior to what is in essence, from their perspective, a bribe. You see where this is headed? Deadlock. I don’t see any leader in the West capable of making an intellectual leap like that. I don’t know a single one who has the courage to do what must be done, as opposed to flinging cheap rhetorical boogers from the cheap seats. Can Obama? Cameron? Harper? Merkel? Hollande? Are you kidding me?

And you know what’s most important and lost in all this? This crisis could have been avoided. But because it wasn’t innocent people are going to die. I’m really sick of that happening.

So, go ahead, read tonight’s Nelson Report and just weep for the Baby Jesus; then go read this interview of Dmitry Simes.

Who you think is more rational? Or in tune with reality?

Ray McGovern -- ex-CIA official
Ukraine: One "Regime Change" Too Many?

Monday, 03 March 2014 10:46 By Ray McGovern, Consortium News | News Analysis

Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative “regime changers” of Official Washington and their sophomoric “responsibility-to-protect” (R2P) allies in the Obama administration? Have they dangerously over-reached by pushing the putsch that removed duly-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has given an unmistakable “yes” to those questions – in deeds, not words. His message is clear: “Back off our near-frontier!”

Moscow announced on Saturday that Russia’s parliament has approved Putin’s request for permission to use Russia’s armed forces “on the territory of the Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country.”

Unidentified troops march as they block a military base in the village of Privolnoye in the Crimea region of Ukraine, March 2, 2014. Russia’s move to seize the Crimean Peninsula brought a warning from Ukraine against further incursions. Ukraine’s premier said on Sunday that the nation was on the “brink of disaster.” (Photo: Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times)Putin described this move as necessary to protect ethnic Russians and military personnel stationed in Crimea in southern Ukraine, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet and other key military installations are located. But there is no indication that the Russian parliament has restricted the use of Russian armed forces to the Crimea.

Unless Obama is completely bereft of advisers who know something about Russia, it should have been a “known-known” (pardon the Rumsfeldian mal mot) that the Russians would react this way to a putsch removing Yanukovich. It would have been a no-brainer that Russia would use military force, if necessary, to counter attempts to use economic enticement and subversive incitement to slide Ukraine into the orbit of the West and eventually NATO.

This was all the more predictable in the case of Ukraine, where Putin – although the bête noire in corporate Western media – holds very high strategic cards geographically, militarily, economically and politically.

Unlike ‘Prague Spring’ 1968

Moscow’s advantage was not nearly as clear during the short-lived “Prague Spring” of 1968 when knee-jerk, non-thinking euphoria reigned in Washington and West European capitals. The cognoscenti were, by and large, smugly convinced that reformer Alexander Dubcek could break Czechoslovakia away from the U.S.S.R.’s embrace and still keep the Russian bear at bay.

My CIA analyst portfolio at the time included Soviet policy toward Eastern Europe, and I was amazed to see analysts of Eastern Europe caught up in the euphoria that typically ended with, “And the Soviets can’t do a damned thing about it!”

That summer a new posting found me advising Radio Free Europe Director Ralph Walter who, virtually alone among his similarly euphoric colleagues, shared my view that Russian tanks would inevitably roll onto Prague’s Wenceslaus Square, which they did in late August.

Past is not always prologue. But it is easy for me to imagine the Russian Army cartographic agency busily preparing maps of the best routes for tanks into Independence Square in Kiev, and that before too many months have gone by, Russian tank commanders may be given orders to invade, if those stoking the fires of violent dissent in the western parts of Ukraine keep pushing too far.

That said, Putin has many other cards to play and time to play them. These include sitting back and doing nothing, cutting off Russia’s subsidies to Ukraine, making it ever more difficult for Yanukovich’s successors to cope with the harsh realities. And Moscow has ways to remind the rest of Europe of its dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Another Interference

There is one huge difference between Prague in 1968 and Kiev 2014. The “Prague Spring” revolution led by Dubcek enjoyed such widespread spontaneous popular support that it was difficult for Russian leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksey Kosygin to argue plausibly that it was spurred by subversion from the West.

Not so 45-plus years later. In early February, as violent protests raged in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and the White House professed neutrality, U.S. State Department officials were, in the words of NYU professor emeritus of Russian studies Stephen Cohen, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”

We know that thanks to neocon prima donna Victoria Nuland, now Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, who seemed intent on giving new dimension to the “cookie-pushing” role of U.S. diplomats. Recall the photo showing Nuland in a metaphor of over-reach, as she reached deep into a large plastic bag to give each anti-government demonstrator on the square a cookie before the putsch.

More important, recall her amateurish, boorish use of an open telephone to plot regime change in Ukraine with a fellow neocon, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. Crass U.S. interference in Ukrainian affairs can be seen (actually, better, heard) in an intercepted conversation posted on YouTube on Feb. 4.

Yikes! It’s Yats!

Nuland was recorded as saying: “Yats is the guy. He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know. … Yats will need all the help he can get to stave off collapse in the ex-Soviet state. He has warned there is an urgent need for unpopular cutting of subsidies and social payments before Ukraine can improve.”

And guess what. The stopgap government formed after the coup designated Nuland’s guy Yats, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, prime minister! What luck! Yats is 39 and has served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister. And, as designated pinch-hitter-prime-minister, he has already talked about the overriding need for “responsible government,” one willing to commit “political suicide,” as he put it, by taking unpopular social measures.

U.S. meddling has been so obvious that at President Barack Obama’s hastily scheduled Friday press conference on Ukraine, Yats’s name seemed to get stuck in Obama’s throat. Toward the end of his scripted remarks, which he read verbatim, the President said: “Vice President Biden just spoke with Prime Minister [pause] – the prime minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment the United States supports his government’s efforts and stands for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic future of Ukraine.”

Obama doesn’t usually stumble like that – especially when reading a text, and is normally quite good at pronouncing foreign names. Perhaps he worried that one of the White House stenographic corps might shout out, “You mean our man, Yats?” Obama departed right after reading his prepared remarks, leaving no opportunity for such an outburst.

Western media was abuzz with the big question: Will the Russians apply military force? The answer came quickly, though President Obama chose the subjunctive mood in addressing the question on Friday.

Throwing Down a Hanky

There was a surreal quality to President Obama’s remarks, several hours after Russian (or pro-Russian) troops took control of key airports and other key installations in the Crimea, which is part of Ukraine, and home to a large Russian naval base and other key Russian military installations.

Obama referred merely to “reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine” and warned piously that “any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing.”

That Obama chose the subjunctive mood – when the indicative was, well, indicated – will not be lost on the Russians. Here was Obama, in his typically lawyerly way, trying to square the circle, giving a sop to his administration’s neocon holdovers and R2P courtiers, with a Milquetoasty expression of support for the new-Nuland-approved government (citing Biden’s assurances to old whatshisname/yatshisname).

While Obama stuck to the subjunctive tense, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk appealed to Russia to recall its forces and “stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine.”

Obama’s comments seemed almost designed to sound condescending – paternalistic, even – to the Russians. Already into his second paragraph of his scripted remarks, the President took a line larded with words likely to be regarded as a gratuitous insult by Moscow, post-putsch.

“We’ve made clear that they [Russian officials] can be part of an international community’s effort to support the stability of a united Ukraine going forward, which is not only in the interest of the people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interest.”

By now, Russian President Vladimir Putin is accustomed to Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, et al. telling the Kremlin where its interests lie, and I am sure he is appropriately grateful. Putin is likely to read more significance into these words of Obama:

“The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine … and we will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies.”

Fissures in Atlantic Alliance

There are bound to be fissures in the international community and in the Western alliance on whether further provocation in Ukraine is advisable. Many countries have much to lose if Moscow uses its considerable economic leverage over natural gas supplies, for example.

And, aspiring diplomat though she may be, Victoria Nuland presumably has not endeared herself to the EC by her expressed “Fuck the EC” attitude.

Aside from the most servile allies of the U.S. there may be a growing caucus of Europeans who would like to return the compliment to Nuland. After all does anyone other than the most extreme neocon ideologue think that instigating a civil war on the border of nuclear-armed Russia is a good idea? Or that it makes sense to dump another economic basket case, which Ukraine surely is, on the EU’s doorstep while it’s still struggling to get its own economic house in order?

Europe has other reasons to feel annoyed about the overreach of U.S. power and arrogance. The NSA spying revelations – that continue, just like the eavesdropping itself does – seem to have done some permanent damage to transatlantic relationships.

In any case, Obama presumably knows by now that he pleased no one on Friday by reading that flaccid statement on Ukraine. And, more generally, the sooner he realizes that – without doing dumb and costly things – he can placate neither the neocons nor the R2P folks (naively well meaning though the latter may be), the better for everyone.

In sum, the Nulands of this world have bit off far more than they can chew; they need to be reined in before they cause even more dangerous harm. Broader issues than Ukraine are at stake. Like it or not, the United States can benefit from a cooperative relationship with Putin’s Russia – the kind of relationship that caused Putin to see merit last summer in pulling Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire on Syria, for example, and in helping address thorny issues with Iran.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

life in general: aap's means to the right end was wrong

The real wrong of Somnath Bharti ((Delhi government's law minister from Aam Admi Party) is in having biased and ugly impressions of Africans and black-coloured people in general. This definitely makes him racist.

For the illegal treatment of the Ugandan women in their home and then being illegally confined in a vehicle Somnath Bharti is responsible directly (if he did this himself along with others) or indirectly (with his supporters getting the courage to do this because of Bharti's presence).

The AAP is wrong on the count of going by the logic that the police should have followed the directions of the state government Minister. This is very wrong.

But Bharti is not wrong in following up on the complaints of Khirki residents that there was a dangerous situation being created on the streets of their locality due to the fact that several outsider men (mostly hoodlums) were coming to their locality because of the open solicitation by some prostitutes (who happened to be Africans) on the streets of their locality. Other female residents of the locality were facing very ugly forms of harassment by outsiders visiting their locality for the prostitutes (including heightened risks of being forced into a moving vehicle and being raped). Is it their fault that they should suffer because of the prostitution going on openly on the streets? Is it not the police's constitutional job to ensure their rights and dignity? Are they children of a lesser God?

The prostitutes are, of course, not doing soliciting out of their own volition but being forced to do so by the pimps who control them. The pimps may or may not be staying in the same locality but the local police would know who they are. These pimps are paying off the police heavily (large proportions of which go directly to the home ministry and the ruling party). The mid-night timing of the action by Bharti and local residents was due to the fact that solicitation goes on heavily at that time and is clearly visible to anyone who can see with their eyes.

It is very important to understand the Delhi police's refusal to listen to Bharti   Were they doing so out of concern of human rights? A vast majority of the prostitutes are victims of a serious crime -- that of illegal trafficking. In all cases of trafficking, the sex is forced upon the woman whether or not the woman is objecting to the act at that point in time or not. I hope those who abhor coerced sex have the sensitivity to see this ugly reality in prostitution.

Has any one in the Delhi police or has any significant portion of BJP-Congress critics of AAP ever helped in freeing the prostitutes from their prisons? Is it not the constitutional duty of Delhi police and the central government to ensure justice to victims of human trafficking? If they haven't done this already so far, do we have to blindly believe that the police SHO did not listen to Bharti's orders because he was concerned about violation of human rights of the prostitutes? Of course, Bharti and local residents should have also seen the difference between prostitutes and pimps and acted accordingly and it is extremely unfortunate that they did not do so. But we must remember that neither the local residents, nor Bharti, have the necessary wherewithal to go after the pimps who are backed by powerful and dangerous political elements. They tried taking a short-cut approach which was wrong because it was victimising the victims further. In fact the residents and the prostitues, are jointly the victims of the fallout of the same problem of human trafficking.

In all of the above, add the second deadly element of drugs. Are we absolutely certain that only harmless marijuana was being sold and consumed by the pimps/peddlars on the streets over there? Were there no other deadly drugs being sold over there? And if deadly drugs were being sold are we blind to the devastating effects drug addiction is having on youth of this country and all other countries in the world?

The AAP was wrong in defending Bharti's thinking and in demanding that police listed to its Ministers. But AAP is not wrong in saying Delhi police is completely sold to the drug and trafficking mafia backed by central government politicians. In December 2012 when Sheila Dikshit also pointed out to the fact that Delhi police was under state government control, Kejriwal still went hammer and tongs on her over the issue of women safety. But should he therefore now not do anything about it? Is it wrong to demand now that Delhi police should be under state government control? Not that state governments do not manipulate the state police, but still why should Delhi be different? If the central government is concerned about the safety of Parliament and other central government buldings and residences of central ministers then let there be a separate police force governing and policing only those areas.

The AAP should remove Bharti from the law minister's post. This should have done it on day one itself and still gone on dharna over the issue of women safety, human trafficking and peddling of dangerous drugs.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

life in general & financial markets: criminal acts in the name of economic development

Does capitalism which is supposed to protect property rights really do so? The answer is no, when it comes to rural and tribal people living in remote areas of a country. The Narmada dam issue in India was among the first so-called development projects which demonstrated the hypocrisy and criminal intent of the capitalists and governments subscribing to their ideology. 

I say this to all capitalism-believing people with specific regard to the tenet of property rights: By all means do protect property rights, but do it for everyone. Else, you are nothing but a criminal disguised as a capitalist.

Below is the latest development in the Narmada valley taken from

September 10th,2013

Historic Civil Disobedience Movement by Oustees of Indira Sagar Dam
Jal satyagraha ongoing at 6 places in three districts
Delegation of oustees meets Mrs. Sushma Swaraj
Oustees should also be beneficiaries of development projects
Oustees human chain in protest
Oustees sit-in-water agitation

Since the last ten days, a historic civil disobedience movement is being carried out by thousands of oustees of the Districts Dewas, Khandwa, and Harda of Madhya Pradesh affected by the Indira Sagar dam which has the largest impoundment in the country. Although the State has tried to crush the movement by declaring S.144 on the waters of the Indira Sagar dam, but in all three districts, thousands of oustees have broken S.144 and offered arrests, and spread Jal satyagraha further. Thus Jal satyagraha is being carried out in 6 places with full vigor and determination. The Narmada Bachao Andolan demands that instead of using police force on the people, the State Government should fulfill their legitimate demands and undo the historic injustice that has been wreaked on them.
 It is noteworthy that 254 villages are affected by this dam causing the largest submergence in the country. Despite there being a land for land policy, not a single oustee was offered land, and the oustees were evicted after giving pittances in the name of compensation. As per government figures, 85% of the farmers whose lands were acquired were unable to purchase any land, and became landless. The landless were also evicted after being given pittances, and were rendered paupers. In addition, the acquisition of lands and homes falling in the submergence and the rehabilitation of thousands of families is pending. Despite stay orders of the Hon’ble High Court and the Apex Court staying any reservoir filling above 260 M, the water level in the reservoir was filled up to 262.13 m, because of which houses in the villages of Lachora, Kalisaray, Piplani and many other villages became submerged, and 2000 acres of land became islands.
 Delegation of representatives meet Sushma Swaraj
 A delegation of representatives from the three affected districts of the Indira Sagar dam along with NBA activist Ms. Chittaroopa Palit met Ms. Sushma Swaraj, and apprised her of the grave situation of submergence, the health of the affected persons and the Jal satyagraha.  Ms. Swaraj heard the oustees with seriousness and assured that she would converse with the Chief Minister and a decision would soon be taken.
 Jal Satyagraha: Civil disobedience by displaced persons
 On the 1st of September, Jal satyagraha was started in the three districts of Khandwa, Dewas and Harda in the villages of Barkhalia, Mel-Piplia and Uwa respectively. However instead of considering their demands, the State invoked S.144 in the submerged area and began arresting hundreds of satyagrahis. However the satyagrahis accepted the challenge and began a civil disobedience movement by repeatedly breaking S.144 and entering the waters. Senior activist of the movement, Ms. Chittaroopa Palit and displaced persons from Barkhalia were arrested and sent to jail. Hundreds of men and women oustees from Mel Pipliya were arrested and 67 were sent to jail.  In Harda district, the satyagrahis were arrested first in Uwa, then Bichola, then Kalisaray and Saktia. However the resolute satyagrahis continued with their satyagrahas which is now ongoing at 6 places. Today the Jal-satyagraha is ongoing with great vigor and vitality in villages of Malud, Nandana, Piplani and Lachora in District Khandwa, Village Hanifabad in District Harda, and Village Mel-Pipliya in District Dewas.

Health of satyagrahis dwindles, but spirits soar
Women showing wrinkle legs caused by water
Women showing wrinkle feet caused by water
The satyagrahis are gradually becoming weaker and developing fever, boils, allergies.The skin of many satyagrahis is falling off, and blood is seeping out, Thie r bodies are being eaten by animals who live in the reservoir. Since the water is polluted, grave diseases are apprehended. But despite these adverse circumstances, their spirits are high. Today, 14 women satyagrahies had to be hospitalized from Malud Satyagrah.

Wrinkle feet
Wrinkle feet

Largest displacement in the country
 The Indira Sagar dam on the Narmada has caused the largest displacement in the country. More than 50,000 families or 3 lakh persons have been affected by this project. The rehabilitation policy enacted for this project has been completely violated and the oustees were evicted without giving a single oustee land for land. Today these oustees are fighting for their rights. The oustees demand (1) the water level in the Indira Sagar dam should be brought down to 260 m. (2) Land holders should be provided land for land with a minimum of 2 ha of land or assisted to purchase the same. (3) Landless persons should be given a grant of Rs. 2.5 lakhs so that he can arrange for his livelihood at the new place. (4) Thousands of farms and houses affected by the submergence should be acquired and the concerned families rehabilitated and resettled. (5) Bridges and roads be constructed to create access to the islands formed by the reservoir.
 Oustees must be beneficiaries of development
 Any development project based on exclusion of and injury to thousands of oustees cannot be called a development project. It is essential that the oustees must be included and benefit from the process of development. It is a matter of shame in this democracy, that the oustees are being compelled to rot their bodies in the reservoir created over their own lands, only in order to obtain their rights. The Narmada Bachao Andolan appeals to the general public to support the movement of the oustees, and demands that the State Government must immediately provide the required rehabilitation to the affected people. Gandhiji had taken the path of civil disobedience for the freedom struggle. Today the oustees have also chosen the path of civil disobedience. The oustees are determined that they will obtain their rights by placing even their lives at stake.

 Alok Agarwal                    Ram Vilas Rathor    Rajendra Prasad      Ramnath Singh
Village-Uwa (Harda)   Village-Badgaon       Village-Mel Pipliya
Shyam singh                              Krishnabai                Devisingh            Rameshwar Patel
Village Malud(Khandwa) Village Bichola, Harda Village Lachora, Khandwa Vilage Mirzapur, Dewas
2, Sai Nagar, Mata Chowk, Khandwa, M.P.
Tel: 9425394606, 9009710068,

Thursday, 22 August 2013

life in general: has syria used deadly, toxic chemical gas weapons on its citizens?

Has Syria used deadly, toxic chemical gas weapons on its citizens?

Below is a newsreport from Guardian and after that is  one of many videos (at which claim to depict the horror underwent by the victims:

If all this is indeed true (my sense tells me there is no deception here and that chemical weapons has indeed been used) then it is one of the greatest criminal acts being committed by a government/regime (or whoever the perpetrators are) on its own citizens. Little children, men and women -- all gassed with toxic chemicals! I can not but not cry.


Syria conflict: chemical weapons blamed as hundreds reported killed

Death toll claimed to be as high as 1,400 as Syrian government admits launching offensive but denies using chemical weapons

Martin Chulov, Mona Mahmood and Ian Sample
The Guardian, Thursday 22 August 2013

Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed in an apparent gas attack on rebel-held parts of eastern Damascus that is thought to be the most significant use of chemical weapons since thousands of Kurds were gassed by Saddam Hussein in Halabja 25 years ago.
Medics, as well as opposition fighters and political leaders, said the death toll had reached 1,400 and was likely to rise further with hundreds more critically wounded in districts besieged by the Syrian military. Other estimates put the current death toll at between 200 and 500. None of the figures could be independently verified. On Thursday morning rebels said new bombardments of rockets and mortars struck neighbourhoods hit by the gas attack.
The Syrian government acknowledged it had launched a major offensive in rebel-held districts in the east of the capital – described by pro-regime media as the biggest since the start of the civil war – but strongly denied using chemical weapons.
"These are lies that serve the propaganda of the terrorists," a Syrian official said, referring to the armed opposition. "We would not use such weapons."
However, George Sabra, the head of the main Syrian opposition group, laid the blame squarely at the Assad regime, saying the scenes "constitute a turning point in the regime's operations".
"This time it was for annihilation, rather than terror," he said.
Syria gas attack Location of Wednesday's attack. Credit: Guardian graphics International reaction intensified throughout the day. The UN security council called an emergency session and the White House formally requested the UN to investigate the attack. William Hague, the foreign secretary, said the UK was "deeply concerned".
The UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called for "a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation" of allegations of chemical weapons use.
UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said earlier that the secretary-general was "shocked" at the alleged use of chemical weapons and is determined to ensure a "thorough investigation" of all reported incidents.
After a two-hour, closed-door meeting, the council president said there was "strong concern" about the allegations "and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened."
A UN inspection team arrived in Damascus this week to look into earlier claims of chemical weapon use, but was granted permission to enter Syria with a limited mission to investigate only three specific sites. An expanded mandate to investigate Wednesday's attack in eastern Ghouta – only 10 miles from the team's hotel – must be sought by the UN secretary general and then approved by Syria.
The US moved quickly to make the request. The White House said: "For the UN's efforts to be credible they must have immediate access to witnesses and affected individuals, and have the ability to examine and collect physical evidence without any interference or manipulation from the Syrian government. If the Syrian government has nothing to hide and is truly committed to an impartial and credible investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria, it will facilitate the UN team's immediate and unfettered access to this site."
Rescuers and victims said the shelling of eastern Ghouta started shortly after 2am and targeted three districts, Ein Tarma, Zermalka and Jobar, all rebel strongholds for the past year.
"It was around 2.30am Wednesday when we received calls from Zemalka and Jobar," said a Free Syria Army (FSA) officer, Captain Alla'a al-Basha, who has documented previous alleged chemical attacks in the area.
"The FSA members were asking for more forces to evacuate the civilians as the shells were coming in at around five per minute. As soon as I and my team arrived at the scene, I saw bodies scattered in the streets. I saw whole houses – none of their residents were alive. When I got there, I could smell what seemed to be burning sulphur and something like cooked eggs. The smoke was not pure white.
"Most of the victims were shivering and they turned yellow. I saw a woman who was tearing at her clothes as she could not breathe. The number of the casualties that we were able to document so far is 1,228 martyrs. The doctors think that more than 20 shells were fired with fatal gases.
"Most of the victims did not appear to be injured but died out of suffocation. I held a young boy whose body was like a piece of wood and his colour was very blue. He did not have any wound."
By Wednesday night, more than 120 videos had been uploaded to the internet, most depicting scenes of men women and children in respiratory distress, on watery floors, and doctors describing the victims' symptoms. Other videos showed scores of bodies wrapped in white shrouds, or lying on grey concrete. White foam was bubbling from the mouth and nostrils of many victims. Some writhed in distress, apparently struggling to breathe.
Doctors at makeshift clinics said they were working without oxygen and had been overrun by the number of victims, many of whom needed lifesaving treatment that they could not provide.
Treatment of victims appeared rudimentary, with water and vinegar among the means of trying to dilute the effects. "We know when we have an area targeted by fatal gases we would take plastic masks and put wet cloths on our noses and mouths," said Basha. "But most of the civilians do not know that they have to do that."
Sergeant Abu Ali, who runs a field hospital in the Nashabiya area of eastern Damascus, said he had received patients who were vomiting and had high temperatures, breathing problems, limb stiffness and were in comas. "We received 60 cases. Most of them were sent to the nearby farms after their situation was stabilised and those with acute symptoms were kept here. I have very few medicines and all the oxygen tubes I have had run out now. People need intensive care."
One witness told Reuters: "We would go into a house and everything was in its place, every person was in their place. They were lying where they had been. They looked like they were asleep. But they were dead."
Ralf Trapp, a consultant on chemical and biological weapons, said getting access to the scenes of the attacks was paramount for inspectors. "The logical thing to do would be to go in and start interviewing doctors and getting blood and urine samples.
"This is the ideal moment to collect samples because it is so shortly after the attack. They may get intact agent – in the first day or so you would still find intact sarin, for example.
"Within a few days, you would find degradation products. If you link those to clinical examinations and testimony, you can build up a very precise picture of what happened.
"They need to try to get to the site where it happened, talk to people who were on the spot when it happened, to victims and observers, to create as complete a picture of the actual attack. They want to discriminate against other types of weapons that might cause similar effects or release something by chance."
Charles Duelfer, a former US chief weapons inspector, said: "[Video] reports of doctors treating these people, that's real data." Duelfer said the scale of the attack could probably be proved by the intelligence community. "It will be pretty clear pretty quickly because various countries' intelligence apparatus will have noticed something on this scale, whether it's artillery, rockets, or shells. These are knowable things."The White House is going to be hard pressed to construct an answer to this one. It was easy to waffle a bit so long as alleged use was minor and didn't happen again, but this is really putting the administration in a corner.""


Saturday, 17 August 2013

life in general & financial markets: sand mining in india -- government's head buried in the sand

Here is an editorial I contributed recently in the newspaper I work for presently on the issue of sand mining in India (picture to the left is courtesy a November 2010 blogpost in 

Head in the sand
The country can ill-afford to ignore the perils of un-fettered sand mining, legal or not

Almost every state in the country which has sea coasts or rivers flowing through their territories, the issue of illegal sand mining crops every now and then with alarming frequency. The recent spotlight on sand mining in Uttar Pradesh, as a result of the sacking of an Indian Administrative Services' official most probably due to action taken by her against illegal sand miners, is only the latest incidence. For reasons, political or otherwise, the ministry of environment was quick to set up a 3-member panel on August 6 to look into the adverse environmental impact of alleged illegal sand mining. The panel was also fast enough to submit its report, late last week, less than four days after being set up, with a conclusion of a confirmation of illegal sand mining. All the panel members did was collective visit the sites by car, take photographic evidence and speak informally to some local villagers.

Given that it was quite easy and quick to arrive a conclusion of illegal sand mining, one wonders why no similar efforts can be deployed to hundreds of river banks and coastal sea-beds across the country where citizens and activists have been straining to make governments sit up and take notice of illegal sand mining happening there. An all-India audit on the issue of sand mining is long overdue.

Mined sand is used in construction as the main ingredient in concrete whose use is perhaps second only to the use of water in the country given the construction spree in all the cities and towns of the past two decades. Given this economic aspect, mining of sand along coastal sea-beds and river banks is not banned in the country. The fact that construction makes up for around 8 per cent of our GDP and the fervent endeavours to show higher GDP growth rates means that, barring for isolated political opportunism cases, sand mining will continue to get the short thrift from policy-makers and law-enforcers. Be that as it may, rampant, un-regulated and un-scientific sand mining does destroys sensitive ecologies and we all know about the climatic havoc and resultant economic losses which can be caused by devastated ecologies

Successive central governments and state governments have been reluctant to frame tough laws and been more than willing to look the other way in case of violations of the existing ones. Only as recently as 2006 did the central government tightened a little bit the norms pertaining to sand mining by requiring mining projects to obtain prior environmental clearance under the amendments made to environment impact assessment notification of that year. But it left a loop hole -- clearances were not required for lease areas of below 5 hectares. One had to wait for Supreme Court, hearing citizens' petitions on sand mining, to issue a direction in February last year to the government to require environmental clearances for all mining areas, regardless of size.

Un-fettered sand mining ought not to be allowed to continue. Even when state governments legally allot lease areas for sand mining these should be monitored rigorously, and not lazily, by the environment protection agencies of the government, as well as get audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General to cull out instances of fake bidders or benami allotees.

Alternatives to sand-based concrete by the construction industry ought to be seriously and quickly pursued. These do exist such as the cast-off from copper furnaces and granulated blast furnaces (in the iron and steel industry), and many more including the use of construction and demolition waste. The Indian standards on construction need to allow for these to be used as a viable substitute for sand. The government should no longer bury its head in the sand.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

life in financial markets: two contrasting ways at apply continuous asset allocation

Asset allocation is interesting but to do it on a continuous basis, year after year, requires an investor to be aware of some complex elements.

Here is a story on this subject which I contributed recently in the newspaper I work for presently:

Two contrasting ways to apply new asset allocations
Not much is understood about the application method of dynamic asset allocations. Here is a primer.

With financial planning taking firm roots among investors the concept of asset allocation is no longer an alien one. There is, however, some confusion of its actual application in the process of continuous investing. Investing is a continuous process for investors in their working years as they keep generating fresh investible surpluses from their earnings.

How to apply dynamic asset allocations. Asset allocation disciplines an investor since it compels her to think clearly and decide on how much to invest in equities, debt, gold and other asset classes. But it is not a one-time process since dynamic, age-based financial planning requires her to allocate different percentages every year or every few years.

The question facing such investors is whether the new asset allocations should be applied only to the fresh investible surplus or also to the existing, accumulated investment portfolio from the previously-allocated percentages. There are two views on this.

Applying new allocations to accumulated investments as well. One view is similar to portfolio re-balancing. Says Rahul Mantri, certified financial planner and founder of Midas Touch, a Pune-based advisory firm, "we provide new asset allocation advise to our clients after an interval of five years and we advise the new allocations to be applied to both--to the existing portfolio as well as to any new investible surplus from thereon." In Mantri's firm's asset allocation re-jig equities get lower percentages as the client's age increases. "You need to skew your entire portfolio towards debt as you approach the retirement age of 60 years. When you reach retirement we believe equities should not make up for more than 10 per cent of your accumulated portfolio," says Mantri.

Only on fresh investible surpluses. There is another view which says changing asset allocations should not be applied to earlier investments and should only apply to new investments made from new investible surpluses. So, for instance, a new investor, say 27 years old, invests Rs 50,000 for the first time and of this she deploys 60 per cent in equities, 30 per cent in debt and 10 per cent in gold. Say, she follows these same allocations every time she has fresh investible surplus from her annual salary. But when she attains 33 years of age, say, she decides to tweak her allocation ratios to 50:35:15 in equities:debt:gold.

Her current portfolio, accumulated over the previous five years, would have grown to some amount. But she will not touch this portfolio to apply the new allocations although she may want to re-jig existing securities in each asset class based on her chosen investment philosophy for each asset class from various styles such as 'buy and hold' and 'book profits in some and re-invest in other'.

She will, instead, apply her new allocations only to the investments she makes from the new investible surpluses she generates from the salary she earns in her 34th year and thereafter. After five years, when she is in her 39th year, she may decide to apply newly-changed allocations to her investible surplus from her 39th year salary onwards. This cycle will continue.

The justification her is that an equity exposure taken when she was 27 years old will fetch her far higher annualised return than any new investible surplus she deploys in equities in her 40s and 50s

Thursday, 25 July 2013

life in financial markets: stock exchanges' own financials--analysis of revenues & profits of nse & bse

I did an analytical piece on Indian stock exchanges' financials, a few days ago for the newspaper I work for presently. Here is what I wrote:

F&O turnover rise of no help to NSE's own financials

NSE sees a fall in operating revenue, gets bailed out by investment income

Corporatised stock exchanges attract attention on their own financials and not just on the financials of the companies listed on their stock exchange platforms. An analysis of the financial statements of the two major stock exchanges in the country, National Stock Exchange (BSE) and Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) reveals some interesting facets of the financial consequences of their trading services.

Despite a 6.5 per cent decline in its revenues from trading services which form its core stock exchange operations to Rs 1,001 crore, the NSE managed to shore up its net profit by almost 25 per cent to Rs 878 crore in FY13. Its operating profit from trading services, however, did take a knocking of 8.8 per cent falling from Rs 522 crore in FY12 to Rs 476 crore in FY13.

NSE's financial statement for FY13 splits its total income from operations into two accounting heads, one of which is referred to as 'income from operations' and the other as 'other operating revenues'. The first, apparently, covers the core of NSE's operations which is the transaction charge NSE imposes on its member-brokers on every trade. In the past, the exchange's transaction fee income had risen from Rs 573 crore in FY09 to Rs 768 crore in FY10. It peaked recently in FY12 when it touched Rs 821 crore, only to fall by 6.2 per cent in FY13 to a level of Rs 770 crore.

NSE's turnover in its equity cash market on the decline since FY10, came down in FY13 as well but the quantum of fall was less than in previous years. The cash market turnover was about Rs 27,08,000 crore in FY13 compared to Rs 28,11,000 crore in FY12, Rs 35,77,000 crore in FY11 and Rs 41,38,000 crore in FY10.

No such decline was seen in NSE's equity futures and options turnover but that did not help its core operating revenues since the level of transaction charges in equity F&O segment are far lower than that in cash market. In FY13, NSE's equity F&O turnover rose to an all-time yearly aggregate high of Rs 315,33,000 crore, up from FY12's level of Rs 313,50,000 crore.

The 'other operation revenues' head, in the case of NSE, includes listing fees, annual subscription charges on members, book building fees and the charges the exchange collects on its co-location services for brokers.

Interestingly, NSE's income from its investments and deposits in the form of interest and dividends helped shore up its bottomline such that a 24.5 per cent growth was seen in NSE's profit after tax figures from Rs 705 crore in FY12 to Rs 878 crore in FY13. The FY13 figure included an exceptional income item of Rs 36 crore which was a profit NSE recorded on selling its equity holdings in two of its subsidiary companies, to a newly formed subsidiary called NSE Strategic Investment Corporation.

BSE, main competitor to NSE, had no luck with its profit after tax, which on a consolidated accounting basis, fell from Rs 178 crore in FY12 to Rs 109 crore in FY13. Its total income from its stock exchange operations fell to Rs 384 crore in FY13 from Rs 418 crore in the previous year, while its operating profit from stock exchange operations fell to Rs 118 crore from Rs 203 crore.

Part of the hit on BSE's net profit was the amount it expended on its liquidity enhancements schemes for its equity F&O segement which shot up to Rs 95.50 crore in FY13 from Rs 60.50 crore in FY12.

Monday, 15 July 2013

life in financial markets & general: food security ordinance does not augur well

India does need a strong legislation on food security but the politicisation of it by Congress-UPA and the BJP & other opposition parties is unfortunate.

Here is an editorial I contributed on the issue of food security in the newspaper I presently work for:

This rush does not augur well
Food security is indeed needed for the nation but not the least in the manner as it is being rushed through by the current government

The months leading to a general election in the country are almost never conducive for a majority of the nation's population if one looks at the long-term impact. Much-needed and well-intentioned ideas and solutions, benefiting the non-affluent sections of the population, otherwise gathering dust in ministerial files get pulled up and after regressive distortions these are sought to speedily executed. 

Because all this takes place at the fag end of a government's tenure one has no choice but to surmise that this is largely to extract the maximum electoral gains and very little to do with a genuine desire to help the people of the country. This is the context under which the frantic efforts, late last week, by the central government to press for the immediate implementation of the National Food Security Ordinance with the chief ministers of Congress-ruled states. 

Other political parties, not in the ruling alliance, too, have left no stone unturned to belittle the issue of food security for our rural and urban poor; much of it coming solely due to lack of any electoral gains for themselves. 

In a country such as ours where either fatal starvation or a vicious lack of health impoverishes a vast section of the population, the idea of food security which tries to provide assured access to low-cost food is extremely vital for the long-term well-being of the nation and its economy, notwithstanding the short-term pain an economy in deficit has to endure. In their impishness, the political parties of our country have turned this sensitive matter into a nasty football match.
Even if we keep aside the untidy nature of rushing through a National Food Security Ordinance and getting it passed in a jiffy by the President who was till recently a high-ranking minister in the same government, this piece of legislation needed to be debated by the entire parliament in order to give a chance of strengthening it further. 

The food security legislation, as passed by the ordinance, encompasses two-thirds of the country's population. If there exists no adequate infrastructure and preparations to implement it to reach every man, woman and child concerned, then a phase-wise approach would have made better sense. In the greed for electoral gains the rushed attempts to reach out to the entire target level could seriously botch up the entire program. The over Rs 1,00,000 crore amount which is expected to be foregone on account of the food security program is not exactly a small sum to fritter away in inefficiencies. 

Of course, such high amounts of revenue foregone is not unique to the issue of food security. Other subsidy areas, including petroleum, fertilisers and others, together gobbled up close to Rs 2,50,000 crore in financial year 2012-13. This is not all. The government's statement of revenue foregone to difference between effective tax rates and actual applied tax rates for FY13 indicated huge sums such as Rs 68,000 crore for corporate taxpayers, Rs 37,000 crore for individual taxpayers, Rs 2,06,000 crore in excise duties and Rs 2,56,000 crore in customs duties. 

Consider, for instance, the break-up of revenue foregone in customs duties, Rs 61,000 crore for gold and other precious stones and their jewellery, and Rs 57,000 crore for petroleum. The high cost which the food security bill will impose on the country, therefore, does not stand out in isolation. 

But the country can not afford another adverse future audit report by Comptroller and Auditor General like its recent one on the Rs 58,000 crore farm loan waiver scheme. That scheme was doled out at the fag end of UPA-1 government's tenure and CAG in its audit found several cases of mis-appropriations and other issues such as exclusions of genuine loan-affected farmers. No one, therefore, can find it easy to believe that the UPA-2 government will not do the same with the food security ordinance. 

If food security is not really achieved and only an erroneous impression of it being achieved is created, it would be a tragedy.


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