Sunday, November 27, 2005

Few of my old artwork

Here are the links to a few of my old artwork which have been scanned and put up.
These can also be found at my web page link (Old page at

Apollo :
Falcon Trainer:
War General:
Purandara Dasa:
Dragon Slayer:
Wuthering Heights:
Francis Xavier's Church:

Note: All these are pencil sketches of photographs and other sketches done by me while learning the art.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Allow Foreign Direct Investment in Retail.

With the bad showing of the Union government’s party and its coalition partners in the recently concluded Bihar state elections, serious rifts which are evident among many members of the coalition who fought against each other is likely to aggravate during the oncoming winter session of parliament. Amongst the many topics which will test the strength of the coalition, with the Congress party and the Left Front taking opposing view points would be on the issue of Foreign Direct Investment in Retail industry. The government’s indication that it would be in favor of opening up the Indian retail sector to foreign investment has been as expected met with the left’s threats to withdraw support to the UPA government. In the 90’s during the early days of the globalization, with Dr. Manmohan Singh as the union finance minister, the retail trade industry had been opened up for FDI, but later was repealed under pressure from the left by P. Chidambaram during the days of the third front government. It seems that by some funny twist of fate the same two people in similar capacities again have to face the left front on this issue now.

FDI has been opened up in other sector of industry and the number of government approvals has been on the increase steadily. During the 1st seven months of 2004, there has been a net inflow of Rs. 9503 crores which is approximately 80% of total FDI inflow 2003. 2005 has also seen a lot of reform in this sector. With reforms like the increase of FDI cap in aviation from 40% to 49% the overall growth rate in 2005 has also been on similar lines. Press note 18-the restrictive regulation which required a foreign partner in an Indian joint venture to get the Indian partner’s no objection to start a new venture in the same field, has been abolished. In the retail industry however, the picture is not very rosy. According to an A.T. Kearney report, the market in India is estimated at around $225 billion out of which only a dismal 2% or $4.5 billion amounts for organized retailing. With the demography of India indicating a young population and an overall booming economy the spending power of the populace has increased. The need for new shopping environs and increased spending is bound to fillip the growth in this sector by 15% to 20% in the coming two to three years. Retail in India is amongst the largest industries accounting for 10% of GDP and around 8% of employment.

With India on the global map for foreign investors around the world, there is a large amount of foreign capital waiting to pour in. India is listed 5th in the UNCTAD survey of favorable investment locations. In the retail scene, global conglomerates like Wal-Mart from US, Shoprite from South Africa have been eyeing the Indian market keenly. METRO GmbH, the German retail bigwig has opened shop in Bangalore. Although fraught with regulatory restrictions, the METRO group with their “Cash & Carry” format has started business selling for resale and corporate purchases. The Foreign Investment Promotion Board of FIPB allows foreign investors to enter the market under the banner of test marketing products for a period of two years. Under these norms the FDI is allowed in wholesale cash & carry but not under the retail trade. With the similarities in the test marketing route to actual retail trading the commerce ministry is hoping to scrap this test marketing route to plug FDI in retail trading.

The entry of METRO GmbH had sparked of protests from the left wing. The company has been accused of starting retail trading directly at their outlets in the name of wholesale. The propaganda machine has been blaming the government of looking the other way by allowing the company to continue operations even when there have been reports of METRO selling products not essentially meant for resale which is stipulated under norms. The Indian retail industries share a large market, which is mainly unorganized. The entry of these large foreign conglomerates is set to usher in an era of large scale organization in this market with modern strategies and newer technology. The left parties are willing to downplay these constructive features by mooting concerns over the so called predatory pricing regimes followed by such companies sounding a death knell to the smaller Indian retail companies.

Predatory pricing practices have been a common feature in arguments against large retail chains around the world like Wal-Mart. Although companies like Wal-Mart have in the past engaged in such practices, it is a case in point to note that such practices have failed and been the bane of these companies. To further allay such misconceptions it might be worthwhile to look into the rates of inflation which are a key index to the struggle in pricing. In fact trying to decrease rates of inflation by practices like monetary infusion, or increase in the stock of country’s money can prove counterproductive. There has been a debate over this issue in economic circles recently with Ben Bernake, the successor to Alan Greenspan as the chairman of US Federal Reserve being in support of such a policy of monetary infusion. The capitalist frame of thought on this issue propounded by none other than Ludwig Von Mises, the famous economist of yesteryear is that trying to increase the stock of money when the inflation rises above a certain level and decreasing it when there is deflation at a certain level, in other words, inflation targeting, cannot be achieved without misleading economy with an illusory boom. This would in simple common sense mean that, practices like predatory pricing will not be successfully possible if there is no indulgence of the Reserve bank of India in socialist practices like monetary infusion.

With India targeting a GDP growth rate of 8% there is definitely a need for more capital investment in retail, it being among the largest industries of the country. The influx of new technology like RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Tags) in the retail industry which is bound to follow any FDI in retail will make businesses more efficient. Also the organization which this capital is bound to bring will actually play in favor of the Indian retail scene. A survey by FICCI indicated that there also needs to be a reform in the FDI policy guidelines set up by FIPB. A whopping majority of surveyed foreign investors have indicated that one of the most obvious deterrents for investing in India is the unstable nature of these policy guidelines. It has to be acknowledged that FIPB has put up online a manual which allays the fears of foreign investors by clearly indicating the guidelines and restrictions to foreign investment in India. But a rethink on increasing the cap of investments is required. Economic policy under socialist pretexts tends to be perfunctory in terms of dealing with illusory booms which lead to recessions by calling for more government control, thereby threatening the ideal of a free economy. The caprice by successive Indian governments with regard to reform in FDI policy is a case of a lack of will to weed out communist influence from economic polity. With countries like China being ranked higher than India in the UNCTAD survey of profitable investment locations one is bound to see that there is definitely a trend in favor of a capitalist economy around the world. Ludwig Von Mises, the noted economist strongly voiced his support for lassiez-faire capitalism as the most advanced economic theory; whether India can move, albeit slowly, towards such a system would in part depend on how it deals with this contentious issue of allowing private capital to flow into one of India’s largest industries.


1. Investing in India: Foreign Direct Investment-Policy & Procedures, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India.

2. Retail Trading- Why FDI should be allowed: Jayanthi Iyengar in the Hindu Business Line

3. FDI in Retail must be allowed- Dr. Subramainan Swamy, Rediff Business portal.

4. Mises Institute: Why money supply matters- Thorsten Polliet

5. Mises Institute: What does inflation targeting mean- Roger Garrison

6. People’s Democracy, December 14, 2003: FDI threatens 3 crore Indian retailers- weekly organ of CPI(M)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

On the Volcker Committee Report

For anyone interested in the turbid world of international power brokers, the report by the “Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-For Food Program”, known as the Volcker Report is a fascinating piece of material. This report recently submitted by the Independent Inquiry Committee chaired by the Paul A. Volcker, Professor Emeritus of the International Economic Policy at Princeton University and former United States Federal Reserve Chairman (position currently held by Mr. Alan Greenspan) is a probe into the illicit activities that transpired under the banner of the United Nations Oil-For Food Program in Iraq. Although, I have not read through the entirety of the report, which is freely available on the internet, the basic intent of the report is to serve as a description of the investigation and draw certain conclusions and recommendations. The conclusions, amongst other things also relates to listing the names of individuals and entities against whom the investigation by the committee has found certain damaging evidence. It mentions incriminatingly, the names of people who fare in the who’s-who list of international politics and diplomacy, like Mr. Kojo Annan, the son of the current Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Kofi Annan, and Mr. Joseph Stephanides, a former Director of the Security Council Affairs Division in the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA), amongst others. The reason this report has kicked up a political storm in India is the mention of K. Natwar Singh, the current Minister of External Affairs in the Government of India and the Congress Party as “Non-Contractual Beneficiaries”.

To understand the implications one needs to make a brief background study about the United Nations Oil-For Food Program and the circumstances in which this report has been prepared. After the Gulf War in the early 1990’s, economic sanctions were imposed on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In the aftermath of these comprehensive sanctions which stifled the Iraqi economy, the United Nations Security council instituted the Oil-For Food Program to aid in the humanitarian recovery of the Iraqi people. This was done after the sanction regime came under serious criticism and was instituted under a Security Council which was deeply divided over the issue. Maybe because of the division of interest amongst the members of the Security Council over this issue, certain NGO’s were “enlisted” to monitor the transactions of Iraqi oil exports and oversee activities of the United Nations Oil-For Food Program. After the recent war in Iraq, the Independent Inquiry Committee was set up to look into the alleged illicit payments which were made to the Saddam Hussein regime by individuals and companies in exchange for oil, under the pretext of the United Nations Oil-For Food Program.

Now, coming back to the India connection, all in all there has been a mention of India in four locations in the “Summary of Oil sales by Non-Contractual Beneficiary” referenced in the report as “Committee Oil Beneficiary Table”. The table is in alphabetical order and the following is a brief description of the four entries.

  1. Appearing in page 25 of 60, under beneficiary, is India- Congress Party. The total number of barrels allocated is mentioned as 4,000,000 and barrels lifted as 1,001,000. There is also a mention of a contracting company, Masefield AG whose mission country is stated as Switzerland.

  1. Appearing in page 40 of 60, under beneficiary, is Reliance Petroleum Limited. The total number of barrels allocated is mentioned as 19,000,000 and barrels lifted as 15,760,000. The contracting company in this case is mentioned as Alcon Petroleum whose mission country is mentioned as Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

  1. Appearing in page 49 of 60, under beneficiary, is Mr. Bhim Singh. The total number of barrels allocated is mentioned as 7,300,000. There is no mention of the number of barrels lifted or any contracting company.

  1. The next entry on page 49 of 60, under beneficiary, is Mr. K. Natwar Singh. The total number of barrels allocated is mentioned as 4,000,000 and total barrels lifted as 1,035,000. The contracting company mentioned in this case is again Masefield AG. It is also mentioned here the person is a Member of Indian Congress Party.

There are other details also mentioned alongside each entry in the table. To understand better the meaning of the entries, the meaning of the term “Beneficiary” is described as names of individuals or entities other than the contracting companies, which were mentioned in the Iraqi Ministry of Oil records of the Saddam Hussein government, as the intended beneficiary of the oil allocation. The appendix of the “Report on Program Manipulation” states the sources of information for these tables as mainly from the Records of the Government of Iraq, primarily from the Ministry of Oil and State Oil Marketing Organization.

Thus the groundwork has been laid for a diplomatic tussle which has pitched the Indian Government against the septuagenarian chairman of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-For Food Program, Mr. Paul Volcker. Amongst the main areas of contention is the evidence based on which the allegations have been purported. The Ministry of Oil and State Oil Marketing Organization records listed as one of the source has also been mentioned by Mr. Volcker in a recent press conference as the main source of data for the tables. This list is supposed to be authentic and is said to include ledgers of oil surcharge payments made by companies and individuals around the world, which is illegal under the international laws. Refuting the authenticity of these documents may prove to be a tricky task for the Indian Foreign Office, mainly because these documents are a remnant of the Iraqi Regime with which India had maintained friendly diplomatic ties. Mr. Natwar Singh and his son are also linked with the Baathist party of Saddam Hussein in friendly terms. It may also prove tricky to completely disparage these report tables as another interesting entry which is mentioned in the reports is as follows.

  1. Appearing in page 37 of 60, as beneficiary, is the Government of Pakistan. The total number of barrels allocated is mentioned as 4,000,000. There is no mention of the number of barrels lifted or any contracting company.

Clearly, refuting a report which implicates the Government of Pakistan as a beneficiary which paid oil surcharges and illegally funded the Saddam Hussein’s government may not prove to be very beneficial for the current Indian stand in international diplomatic circles.

Another point raised by Mr. Natwar Singh as to the indignation of the Indian government towards the report is in regard to the lack of prior notification to those implicated, by the Volcker committee about the names to be mentioned in the report, providing opportunity for those mentioned to produce evidence to thwart such claims. The report does include long letters sent by people who had been mentioned in the first interim report refuting claims by the committee about their involvement. Many letters are also included where many of the implicated persons reputations and intentions have been upheld by certain other peers and members of the United Nations so as to refute claims of their involvement in the scandal. It might be interesting to note that these letters sent to the committee are reproduced verbatim as Photostat copies of the original documents. Most of these letters sent as emails also have the preamble of the email addresses of noted diplomats and subjects mentioned by them in their original form. It is worthwhile to mention the many letters repudiating any involvement of Mr. Joseph Stephanides in the allocation of certain oil contracts as a personal favor to Lloyd Register, a British company, as claimed by the Volcker report. Even certain legal notices served by Mr. Stephanides’ counsel are also included as a part of the report. Although, Mr. Volcker and the report have claimed that they have sent notifications to “addresses in the UN databases” of all those mentioned in the report, providing opportunities for them to refute any allegations, no response from any Indian entity is included in the report.

The report by the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-For Food Program has ruffled quite a few feathers in India and around the world. The serious implications, against the son of the Secretary General of the United Nations are sufficient proof of the seriousness and reach of the report. Nevertheless, irrespective of the dubious political implications in India and around the world, the Volcker report is an eye opener into the dealings of power hungry politicians of the world who even stoop to acts illegally financing militant regimes in pursuit of power. With inclusions of actual transcripts of the investigation and candid appeals by international diplomats it makes for interesting reading too!


  1. The report by the “Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-For Food Program”- Mr. Paul Adolph Volcker, Chairman.

  1. News reports,

Thursday, November 03, 2005


To be very honest, I started to write this piece with intentions of heaping adulation on a vegetarian diet, since I was of the opinion that the new disease in town, the Bird Flu was going to affect only poultry eaters. Although there has been a lot of news coverage on this recently both in the international media and the Indian press, I had ignored it as something not very relevant to a hardcore vegan. What caught my attention to it was a news piece about the settlement in the Lipitor battle between Pfizer and Ranbaxy. The article about the high profile global lawsuit about interpretation of patent laws also carried an interesting side note about the dire consequences of a draconian patent regime in case of a bird flu pandemic where the pharmaceutical company licensed to produce a anti viral drug used for treatment, could not match up to the global demand.

This obviously caught my attention and I did a little research about this new disease on the internet and found that there definitely is a cause for concern in case of world wide out break of Bird Flu. Not going into very detailed description of the genetics of the issue, which I certainly am not qualified to explain, here is a gist of the biology behind this disease, which I have been able to understand. Bird flu or H5N1 as it is called in scientific terminology is one amongst the many strains of influenza virus found in migratory birds. These birds carry these and many other strains of the virus in there intestines and they have no harmful effect on the birds which do not fall sick or die as a result of such infections. The different strains of the virus have varied reactions on different species of animals and H5N1 seems to have a fatal effect on poultry birds like ducks, turkeys and particularly chicken, and when these migratory birds come in contact with these poultry birds the virus jumps from one species to another and here begin all the problems. The disease spreads when the infected bird’s saliva or feces comes in contact with other animals. I am not sure of the symptoms of the disease in these birds which may involve cough and fever, but the crux of the issue is the highly contagious nature, among these birds of the H5N1 virus.

Before going any further, for those interested in the terminology of H5N1 let us examine in slightly more detail what this stands for. As we all know there are vaccines available for influenza and treatment for cases of flu is common in human medicine. But why then do people need to take flu shots ever so frequently and why do doctors prescribe different medicines at different times? This is because the influenza virus can mutate and these leads to different strains of the virus and the same vaccination can not work for all strains. Also, some of these mutations develop into drug resistant strains and hence there is a need for constant upheaval of the drugs which can counter these new strains. Now, a virus is a genetic material encapsulated in a protective coating material. When this entity attaches itself to the cells of the host that’s when a virus “attack” takes place. The surface of the virus has spike like extensions which are mainly protein components, and these receptor binding proteins, as they are called are responsible for the process of attaching the virus to the host cell. The influenza virus has around 500 such spikes and they are made up of two types of viral proteins called Hemagglutinin (HA) and Neuraminidase (NA). Different combinations of these proteins are denoted with different HN terminology like H5N1, H3N2 etc. If the host cell tissue, the upper respiratory tract in case of influenza virus, is not conducive for a particular combination of the viral proteins then the virus cannot attach itself and hence is harmless to the particular species having that tissue.

This strain is still a predominant threat only among poultry birds and there still is very little evidence of it making successful jump to humans. What is worrying the medical fraternity is that among the 100 or so reported cases of humans being infected with H5N1, there has been a 60% mortality rate. The first case of a human being infected with this strain was reported in 1997 in Hong Kong and since then there have been around 100 odd cases reported, around 60 of them since 2003. Although these statistics may not be very indicative of a major epidemic, the worry is about the hitherto un-reported cases of this virus. The people directly in contact with infected birds like the poor poultry farmers in South East Asia are the people mainly affected by the disease. It has been spotted extensively in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and China. The concern in the international community seems to be about countries like China not disclosing the extent of the cases of bird flu, as a safeguard against trade restrictions on poultry products. Another cause for concern is the impending mutation of the virus which may make it easier for the disease to be transmitted to humans from these poultry.

Research has intensified for developing the drug and vaccines for this strain and although a vaccine is not available as yet, Glaxo SmithKline has indicated that they are on the verge of developing a H5N1 vaccine. Currently the disease is being treated using two drugs, Tamiflu, available in capsule form from the Swiss drug maker Roche and Relenza, available as in to be inhaled, powder form GSK. Going by the estimates of past flu pandemics, where the people affected world wide being around 50 million, and at a rate of 40 tablets per person, it is not difficult to fathom the large market for drugs like Tamiflu should the disease breakout among humans. It is also believed that the extent of pandemic may be worse than before affecting well over a 100 million people world wide. All these indications and the pressure from governments has made drug companies including Roche, who own rights to Tamiflu to declare that in the event of a global pandemic outbreak, they would be willing to share the rights to manufacture of these drugs to other companies. Such schemes of patent sharing does not always lead to the desired social good which they start out to achieve, as drug quality is the first to be hit in such cases where there is a substantial demand for a new drug to be manufactured by those companies who have not done so before. Nevertheless, it is imperative that a better solution to deal with the capacity shortages in companies like Roche be addressed at the earliest. In such situations, it might be worthwhile to track the stocks of these companies in the near future!

There has been precious little said or done about this situation in India. I for one have not seen in the press much talk about preemptive action to counter a threat of H5N1. Although the bird flu as of now seems to be still confined in the South East Asian countries, the poor hygienic conditions of the poultry markets in India and the seasonal interaction of poultry with the migratory birds are all very conducive for a widespread outbreak. In spite of the belief in the medical circles that consumption of poultry products may not lead to spread of the disease, more than 100 million poor chickens have slaughtered as preemptive action in South East Asian countries. It is yet to be seen if such barbaric yet required preemptive action is being considered in India. The congested and populated environment in India may actually prove to be a deadly breeding ground in case of a mass outbreak.

There may not be a case for an alarmist reaction to the situation but the general consensus amongst the medical fraternity is that caution has to be exercised. Indications are that there might be an effective vaccine ready by the time the virus mutates into a form which can affect humans more easily. With reports of the flu spotted in places like Turkey, Kazakhstan, Romania and few other parts of Europe, there is indication that the flu is spreading along with the migratory patterns of birds. As it is not possible to exterminate these infected species of birds as can be done with infected domesticated chicken, containment of the spread may not be possible. Effective quarantine measures are being initiated in these countries and around Europe and America. This vaguely reminds of the book Kalki by Gore Vidal, where a meglomaniac in the effort to start a new superior race of humans, hires a pilot to fly all around the world dropping leaflets loaded with a deadly poison which kills anyone who comes in contact with it. But one can be sure that there will be no one demented whacko behind a flu pandemic, but a whole bunch of unhygienic communities!

According to my understanding, it is the quarantine method that needs to be adopted in India. With the extremely deplorable conditions of the poultry breeding infrastructure in the country, the chances of the presence of bird flu is very likely. The best solution would be to study and quarantine the infected lots at the earliest. Also hygiene awareness should be improved and the deplorable conditions in which poultry and livestock are reared should be changed for the better. Of course being a vegetarian reduces a person’s direct contact with poultry products, it is nevertheless worthwhile to maintain strict levels of cleanliness in the fruits and vegetables we eat. As being a vegetarian does not also reduce one’s chances of being “bombed” by a bird, it may not be sensible, in the future to treat it as a lucky charm as some people do so today!


  1. Website of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
  2. Science Explained:
  3. CNN’s report “Bird Flu: Preventing a Pandemic”
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