How do you judge a policy?

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What do you think about India’s Public Distribution System? What about the ‘Minimum Support Price (MSP)’ intervention of the Government in the agricultural markets?

Public Distribution System

The Public Distribution System (PDS) in the country facilitates the supply of food grains and distribution of essential commodities to a large number of poor people through a network of Fair Price Shops at a subsidized price on a recurring basis1.’

It comes across as a noble, well intentioned and equitable policy. Its meant to provide food security to the poorest of the poor. It ensures that irrespective of whether I earn today, I can be sure to have some food on the table.

Minimum Support Prices

Similarly, the government sets MSP for a total of 23 crops including Wheat, Rice, a few pulses and coarse grains such as Jowar, Bajra, Maize, Ragi, etc to support the farmers.

The Central Government extends price support to paddy and wheat through the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and State Agencies across the country. The procurement policy is open ended. Under this policy, whatever wheat and rice are offered by farmers, within the stipulated period & conforming to the specifications prescribed by Government of India, are purchased at Minimum Support Price (MSP) by the State Government agencies including FCI for Central Pool.

However, if producer/farmer gets better price in comparison to MSP, they are free to sell their produce in open market i.e. to private trader/ anyone. The objective of foodgrains procurement by Government agencies is to ensure that farmers get remunerative prices for their produce and do not have to resort to distress sale2.’

These policies help the nation be food secure. They enable the government to be nimble and react to the crisis created due to the coronavirus pandemic. The government introduced the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) under which the eligible beneficiaries receive 5kg of foodgrains and 1 kg Grams or whole chana per month for a period of three months between April and June, 2020. This time period has now been extended to five more months. In all liklihood, given that we have so much rice and wheat lying with the FCI, the scheme may be extended even further.

As of June 2020, the FCI has 833 lakh tonnes of rice and wheat. This is the highest amount of food grains we have ever had in storage, the previous high being in June 2012. FCI is required to keep a reserve of around 411 lakh tonnes in July of a year. Currently we have double the requirements. This has come in handy. The PMGKAY scheme is expected to use up 320 lakh tonnes upto November 2020, and the government has enough cushion that the scheme can perhaps be extended to March 2021.

Love these policies, right?

Specially if you judge them from the lens of intention.

Lets talk about execution and outcome now.

It can be safely assumed that the government did not foresee the current crisis (and hence requirement of food grains for the PMGKAY scheme), so why did it have double the required reserves of wheat and rice. Why had it been procuring so much rice and wheat?

Surpluses have a huge cost of storage and wastage and end being used in making ethanol, lest they be a completely writeoff. This huge surplus has an opportunity cost, both from the demand side as well as from the supply side.

The Demand Side

The government can only distribute what it has already bought. FCI buys food grains at MSPs, bears cost of storing, transporting and distributing them to the ration card holders through the PDS. FCI sells the food grains at highly subsidized prices. So, it needs to be compensated by the government. For the year 2019-20, FCI placed a demand of Rs. 3.18 lakh crore in front of the government, which had allotted only Rs. 1.09 lakh crore against food security. The remaining Rs. 2 lakh crore expenditure which has already been incurred does not figure in the the government’s fiscal deficit because of accounting and definitions related shenanigans.

The question arises, that if FCI has already spent the money on procuring food grains and is not claiming it from the government which doesn’t have a matching IOU in its books, where did FCI get the money to spend in the first place? FCI borrows from banks, which are happy to lend to it because of the implied sovereign guarantee, and from the NSSF (the National Small Saving fund includes PPF, Post office Monthly Income Scheme, KVP, NSC, etc.). Essentially, somewhere in the financial system, this money sits as government borrowing.

This begs the question,’Could this money be better utilized?’, say on healthcare or education.

The Supply Side3

On the supply side the MSPs create a guaranteed market for wheat and rice (and other crops but wheat and rice are the ones that make up the bulk of purchases) incentivizing the farmers to choose these crops instead of others which may be better suited to their regions. Other crops (such as pulses) go through cycles of shortage (high revenue for farmers) and plenty (low revenue for farmers) whereas the MSP crops have a guaranteed market and a guaranteed price. The farmer is a rational person. His incentives are aligned towards rice/wheat, and so we see a huge supply of these crops.

However, this comes at a cost. Consider the case of Punjab which is a semi-arid state. It offers free electricity to farmers, who in turn use it to draw water from deep underground, leading to a plummeting water table, to grow water guzzling ‘rice’. The farmers should not be growing rice in an area where there is insufficient water. Under normal conditions (no MSPs and no free electricity), the farmers would not be growing a water intensive crop like rice in Punjab.

This mega cultivation of rice and subsequent burning of stubble leads to problem of pollution and smog in the winter months in Delhi. Pollution has now become a political problem which has no easy solution. Delhi government doesn’t have enough levers to negotiate with the Punjab government which drags its feet because it has limited state capacity to implement rules or the ability to risk alienating the farmers who are a huge vote bank.

MSP was started to encourage the farmers of Punjab to grow a high yield variety of wheat, which led to the green revolution. Somehow we have ended up in a situation where farmers are incentivized to grow rice leading to several unintended unpleasant consequences.

Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are the two largest producers of rice in the country. Yet only 3.6% and 7.3% of the farmers in these two states, respectively, benefit from the MSPs. These figures are at a staggering 95% and 69% for Punjab and Haryana.

Something similar is happening in the state of Maharashtra with respect to another water intensive crop – Sugarcane. Sugarcane is subject to a ‘Fair and Remunerative Price’ (FRP), which functions like the MSP, thereby incentivizing the farmers to produce this crop.

What should be done?

‘If water consumption is measured in terms of per kg of rice, West Bengal becomes the most efficient state, which consumes 2,169 litres to produce one kg of rice, followed by Assam (2,432 litres) and Karnataka (2,635 litres). The water use is high in Punjab (4,118 litres), Tamil Nadu (4,557 litres) and Uttar Pradesh (4,384 litres).’

FCI needs to ramp up operations in other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, while simultaneously limiting pocurement of wheat and rice in Punjab and Haryana. This may incentivize farmers to shift to pulses or oilseeds which are better suited to these states.

It should also ramp up procurement of pulses.

The funny thing is that the government knows this. These facts are well researched and documented in governments policy papers.

Bottomline:

You must judge a policy by its outcome and not its intention.

Credit: I heard this episode of the insightful podcast EconCentral and it inspired me to write this post.

1https://epds.nic.in/

2https://dfpd.gov.in/Procurement-Policy.htm

3https://www.livemint.com/Politics/ifyxQQDrP9tq6JNuIpcoqN/The-real-reason-behind-the-north-Indian-smog.html

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Trade Deficit

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Are imports bad? Are exports good? Is a negative balance of trade (trade deficit) the ‘true evil’? What do import duties and tariffs do?

I grew up thinking imports (M) are bad and exports (X) are good for a country. Imports make you spend valuable foreign exchange and exports bring in the Dollars. So it follows that a trade deficit is pure evil, right?

Wrong! Let’s see why.

We use the terms imports and exports in relation to international trade activities of a nation. Imports are what you buy and exports are what you sell. The difference between the exports and imports from a particular country is my balance of trade with it. A positive balance of trade (X-M) is a trade surplus and a negative balance of trade (X-M) is a trade deficit.

Let us conduct a thought experiment. I, as an individual, import (buy) a lot of things from my neighborhood grocery store. But I export (sell) nothing to it. It follows that I have a huge trade deficit with it. Is that bad? Don’t the two parties to the transaction benefit from it? I am now free to use my time and energy on more ‘productive’ pursuits, rather than growing or producing things which I bought from the grocery store. Therefore, my trade deficit with the grocer does not bother me. We each do the thing we are better at and enter into mutually beneficial transactions. The way I, as an individual, benefit from trade is similar to how a country benefits from trade.

Shouldn’t it be the same with a nation?

There are certain things which I, as a nation, can produce at a competitive rate and it makes sense for me to produce as much of those things as I can, then export those things and import things which I cannot produce competitively. That way I can get the highest amount of revenues from the exports as I can and spend them on importing products which I can produce domestically at a cost higher than another country. So I sell high and buy low.

In a way my exports pay for my imports. As David Boaz says, ‘Imports are the benefit of trade while exports are the cost of trade.’

However, if I insist on producing everything domestically, I will end with a higher cost for certain things (which I was not competitive at producing). Since, there is no free lunch, who ends up bearing this higher cost?

We do.

In a bid to discourage imports, we see governments imposing import duties or tariffs on goods imported from countries with which we have a trade deficit. This brings the cost of imported goods at par or even higher than the domestically produced good. As consumers start purchasing the now lower priced domestic good, they still end up paying higher than what they would have paid in the absence of such tariffs. The benefit of tariffs go a select few whereas those bearing the higher cost are diffused or spread out. Tariffs, in a way, are inequitable as they lead to redistribution of wealth from many to a few.

So in conclusion, imports are not always bad, trade deficit is not evil and tariffs are regressive.

How often do we question what we learn from books or from ‘sage on the stage’ teachers?

Hardly ever! And then along comes something that makes you question your conclusions, look at the same information with a different lens, connect economics with international trade and walk away with an entirely novel perspective.

Credit: I read this eyeopening post by Vivek Kaul and it inspired me to write this post.

On Internet Trolling and The Chilling Effect

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Why do trolls exist? Why are comedians/academics/journalists mobbed on the internet? Why does the State initiate criminal proceedings against citizens for jokes or facebook posts for content that is just free speech or a bad joke or just someone’s opinion?

The internet has given us the chance to become armchair analysts and express our views on anything and everything under the sun. Not withstanding the fact that no one might be interested in our views or that so many people might be putting out their thoughts that ours might just be a blip on the radar.

Moreover, all of us have an innate desire to belong to a tribe or a group which would support us and with which we can identify. The internet makes this easy. It helps us create silos where we interact with people with views similar to ours and live in echo chambers where we find evidence to reinforce our views reject alternative ideas. Once we are in the tribe, we want to rise to the top. So what do I say to catch attention, stand out from the crowd, get people to share, like or subscribe to my feed.

I put out content that is so out there or express an opinion that is so extreme that it will get a reaction from viewers/readers or the authorities if I really hit it big. The costs are negligile, however, if I hit the jackpot I might end up with a significant bump in popularity or even a electoral seat. This explains why your ‘appear to be perfectly normal’ neighbor or colleague might be an online troll.

So how do I go about it. I see what topics are trending or if someone has ‘insulted’ a leader/spiritual guru/anyone who a significant number of people hold sacred. Then I go after them with guns blazing (pun intended). To rise to the top of my tribe of vigiantes, I take the extreme position, threaten to send goons after them or worse of all, attack their gender and spew rape threats. Voila!

The target will, most likely, retreat and apologise, nevermind their emotional trauma. As for me, at worst, I may get a rap on the knuckles from the authorities and may be asked to take my video/post down. At best, I may have a hundred new followers or a thousand likes or a place in my local political party’s cadre, if things are really going for me. The incentives are aligned to encourage mindless trolling. I lose nothing but stand to gain a ton.

As for the State, it acts with an eye on the future. It doesn’t want people making fun of the political leaders or the government. Taking a cue from the ‘broken windows theory‘, it is in its favor to stomp out minor transgressions.

Comedians are at the bottom of the food chain. They make a political joke. People laugh and then the academics and intellectuals think that perhaps its okay to disagree with the powers that be, to criticize, to suggest alternatives and to ensure that the government is working for the people. However, if that comedian gets the rap for the silly joke, the other line items do not follow.

So the state goes after the soft targets, the comedians, academics, poets and activists. An FIR here, an arrest there, a custodial death and the target is achieved. The motive is not to punish for the act which has already been committed. It is to prempt and prevent others from going down the same path. It is to supress future dissent.

Other comedians, academics and activists start worrying about their families and fall in line. They stick to other genres which are perceived to be relatively devoid of controversy and so on. Their incentives are in favor of shutting up. Amit Verma and Vivek Kaul, call this the ‘chilling effect’ of the coercive actions of the state, in their podcast ‘The Economics of the Chilling Effect’ available here.

This has an impact on me too. It has happened gradually but now I am unlikely to put out an opinion that may cause offence because what if someone comes after me. I fall in the majority who shut up because they have been conditioned to believe that there is very little benefit and a very high cost of being a black sheep.

Sad, isn’t it?

Credits: I listened to the podcast ‘The Economics of the Chilling Effect’ available here and it inspired me to write this post.

Pre-Schools in Kondapur, Hyderabad

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Selecting a pre-school for a child is a task that requires mammoth effort from the side of the parents. For us it involved the following activities:

  • Collecting information about nearby schools
  • Shortlisting schools as per our criteria
  • Visiting each school and scouting around to see if school meets expectations
  • Speaking to directors of the concerned schools about the pedagogy followed
  • Talking to other parents

This can take up to a couple of months for laggards like us and at least a few weeks for you efficient folks out there.

I used to look for reviews, fee information, timings and the like on the internet before going to each school. However, I found only a few scattered parent discussion boards. There was little to no information about timings, fees, etc. So I thought of putting up this blog post, about the information we collected, so other parents can benefit from this.

Our Requirements:

  • Playgroup catering to children ~ 2 years of age
  • Clean and well ventilated environment
  • At least 1:10 Student Teacher Ratio
  • Play oriented teaching pedagogy
  • No typical classroom environment with black boards and benches
  • Provision for outdoor play
  • Activities to foster creativity and innovation
  • Affordable
  • Near our place of residence

Pre

School selected: Hello Kids, Kondapur

Schools in close contention: Sproutz, Sesame Street

Other schools we heard about after we selected the school for our kid:

  • Esperanza,
  • Globetrotters,
  • Polka Dots,
  • Appletree Preschool

Disclaimer: We visited the schools listed in the above table, personally. These views are based on our requirement, experiences and expectations. Please use this information as indicative and not absolute.

On 100% FDI in Defence Sector: India

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The World Bank defines FDI as ‘net inflows of investment to acquire a lasting management interest (ten per cent or more of voting stock) in an enterprise operating in an economy other than that of the investor’.  FDI comprises funds provided by the foreign direct investor to the FDI enterprise as equity capital, reinvested earnings and intra-company loans. Attractiveness of a nation for foreign investments in any sector is judged by its ‘FDI Confidence Index’ which depends on various factors such as stable policy, favourable investment climate, structural adjustments, economic freedom and a fair market access. India fares rather poorly on this account.

Defence industry is generally considered to be an instrument of national sovereignty and pride. Today, India has 39 Ordnance Factories and eight DPSU. Till 2001, private sector was not allowed in the defence sector. Ammunition and spare parts were in short supply during the Kargil war due to international restrictions on selling arms while hostilities are on.  In May 2001, the defence industry was thrown open to the private sector. The Government permitted 100 per cent equity by the private sector with a maximum of 26 per cent FDI component, both subject to licensing.

A 26 per cent holding allows the foreign partner only a veto over major policy decisions. Were the FDI cap raised to 49 per cent, the foreign company would still not control the company or the board, but would be able to repatriate a higher share of the profit. A significant FDI limit rise would be if foreign companies were permitted 51 per cent or above. And were 100 per cent FDI permitted, foreign entities would be able to buy out Indian companies in full.

The policy environment framed around FDI in the defence sector was such that a prospective foreign investor is expected to invest his resources in a venture where he has no significant control, faces strict capacity/product constraints, gets no purchase guarantee and has no open access to other markets (including exports). As such, unattractiveness of the policy became evident in a short span of time. By 2004, Defence Minister George Fernandes was forced to admit in the Lok Sabha that India had received no FDI proposal till then.

India’s defence spending, on the other hand has been increasing. Since there are no domestic arms manufacturing capabilities, imports increase, putting pressure on the current account deficit. See figure below:

 

In 2010, the Commerce Ministry circulated a note recommending the raising of FDI cap to 74 per cent to encourage ‘established players in the defence industry to set up manufacturing facilities and integration of systems in India’. It was vehemently opposed by the interested parties, with Ministry of Defence (MoD) insisting that the 26 per cent FDI limit should be retained. In May 2013, modifying his earlier proposal, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma suggested that the upper cap be raised to 49 per cent as a first step. It has also been shot down by the MoD. However, the MoD has suggested that higher FDI may be considered for modern and state-of-the-art technology by the Cabinet Committee on Security on a case to case basis.

There is no doubt that there is need for significant investment in the sector. FDI in defence during 2000-2014 has been a meagre $4.94 billion of the overall $322 billion inflow. Private sector participation is also unenthusiastic and the public sector is performing abysmally.

Being a sensitive issue, there are polarised opinions around the issue of 100% FDI in Defence sector. News reports show that stakeholders have taken stands that suit their interests. The ultimate question is ‘Should the government use the defence industry as another avenue for creating manufacturing jobs (and saving on arms imports) or should it continue to treat the defence industry as the overprotected and inefficient ‘national strategic objective’?

The proponents of 100% FDI in defence rubbish concerns such as security and protection of indigenous defence industry.

Security concerns:

Apprehensions are often expressed that during operational emergencies, foreign investors may shut down their factories and choke supplies to the armed forces.

Presently, India is procuring all critical weapon systems produced/integrated abroad. It is not understood as to how India’s security would get threatened if the same weapon systems are produced/integrated in India. As a matter of fact, indigenous production will insulate India from unilateral imposition of embargos on contracted supplies by whimsical foreign governments. 

As regards dependability during crisis situations, no foreign investor can risk loss of his total investment by shutting down his production facilities. Further, all major defence equipment producers follow ‘Global Factory’ concept, wherein various manufacturing functions are spread over a number of locations in different countries. When a major defence company invests in any country, it makes it an integral part of its overall production chain. In such a scenario, it is not easy for the company to shut down any facility and disrupt its worldwide production network.

Most importantly, adequate safeguards can be incorporated while issuing licenses. India can reserve the right to take over the licensed facility under certain extraordinary circumstances of national emergencies. Most nations include such an enabling provision. It is ridiculous that imports are considered more reliable than production in India.

Impact on Indigenous industries:

There are hardly any indigenous industries worth protecting in this sector. Despite getting preferential treatment from MoD, defence public sector, has failed to keep pace with technological developments. It thrives on periodic infusion of transferred technology and has developed no indigenous competence at all. Most unfortunately, the Indian military is a captive customer of the Indian public sector and is forced to buy what it produces. With assured orders in hand, the public sector carries on with its lethargic and inefficient manner, without bothering about the quality parameters or the time frame.

Indian private sector companies are not completely against the proposal. They are saying they should get reciprocal access to foreign markets and the government should make it mandatory for foreign companies to transfer technology. L&T (one of India’s biggest private defence companies, which produces critical components for missile systems) said 100 per cent FDI should not be allowed in India unless backed by transfer of technology and giving access to Indian companies in foreign markets.

In conclusion, if at all we want to encourage foreign investment in the defence sector, a controlling stake has to be given to the foreign investor. Foreign investors are not going to part with their closely guarded technology unless they have adequate control over the enterprise and are assured of sufficient autonomy as regards capacity enhancement and access to markets to ensure commercial viability through economies of scales.

Sources:

http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/fdi-in-defence-dispelling-the-myths/

http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/cii-pipavav-back-100-fdi-in-defence-114061100082_1.html

http://ajaishukla.blogspot.in/2014/05/defence-industry-mod-hunker-down-for.html

http://scroll.in/article/666232/Why-some-people-fear-that-100-percent-FDI-in-defence-sector-will-compromise-national-security

Part 2 of Sojourn to Coastal Karnataka and Coorg: Scotland of India

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Click here for Part 1 of the trip

Day 5- Mangalore to Madikeri (Coorg)- 138 kms

Road conditions: There is only one route from Mangalore to Madikeri. The road was quite good initially but towards the end a 40 kms patch was under construction and took about 3 hrs to cover. The entire journey took us about 6 hrs.

This last patch really tired us out. So we couldn’t think of going anywhere except somewhere close by that day. It was a good decision. The sunset view from Raja’s seat was amazing.

A magnificent view

A magnificent view

Day 6- Tala Cauveri and Mandalpatti

We went to Tala Cauveri as we had heard a lot about the place. It s a temple from where river Kaveri, supposedly, originates. There is a set of some 370 stairs just next to the temple which leads to the top of brahmagiri peak. We were there for the view ofcourse. The bad part about this is that you have to take off all footwear outside the temple and the since the stairs go from inside the temple, you have to climb the stairs and hobble around the summit without shoes.

Mandalpatti is a paradise for trekkers, casual hikers, lazy bums who want to climb random hillocks. These hills look quite smooth, but only until you get close and see that they are ridden with rocks, making it hard to climb them. The place was many times better than tala cauveri. We could have visited a coffee plantation instead.

Mandalpatti is about 18-20 kms from Madikeri. The road reduces to mud, pebbles, sharp inclines for the last 5 kms. It is therefore advisable to hire a 4×4 from Madikeri bus stop. The standard charges are Rs. 1200. We started at 2 30 pm from Madikeri. It took us around 45 mins to reach the place. We spent 2 hours there and returned.

You can find information about these places in the links below. I will let the pictures do the talking.

Day 7- Dubare Elephant Camp and Namdroling Monastry (Golden Temple)

In order to enjoy Dubare, make sure that you reach at 8 30 in the morning. We started at 7 30 from Madikeri and drove through coffee plantations, with sunlight filtering through the canopy to reach Dubare. The first sight that greeted us was mist lifting off from the waters of river kavery. We were the first lot of visitors who crossed the river via ferry. Elephant bathing started at 9 30. After 10, tourists just poured in. Luckily we were done quickly enough to beat the rush. Instead of the much touted still river rafting, we chose the coracle ride. Absence of a loud engine and cacophony of tourists was the best part about the coracle ride.

Here are a couple of pics of Namdroling Golden Temple

There are tonnes of other things to do in Coorg. Trekking, fishing, camping, quad biking, etc. are some popular activities.

For trekking check http://www.thrillophilia.com/trekking-in-coorg or http://www.indiahikes.in/weekend-treks/koppatty-coorg-trek/

Look at the activities these guys did: http://sunheriyaadein.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/coorg-the-scotland-of-india/

Places to see in coorg: http://kedakal.com/coorg.html

Someone’s 2 day itinerary for coorg: http://www.mygola.com/2-day-itinerary-for-coorg-namdroling-rafting-dubare-quad-biking-fishing-waterfall-etc/q22523

Day 8- Madikeri to Belgaum- 555 kms

We took the madikeri-Kushalnagar-Hassan-Chikmaglur-tarikeri-Honnali-Harihar-Belgaum

Road conditions: We encountered a 30 kms bad patch between Kushalnagar and Hassan. It took us 2-3 hours to cover it. At the next stop we asked a couple of locals who guided us and henceforth all the roads were in good condition.

Day 9- Belgaum to Pune- 336 kms

NH4 is flawless. It was a comfortable ride from Belgaum to Pune.

Sojourn to Coastal Karnataka; Karwar, Murudeshwar, Mangalore and Coorg – Part 1

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The arrival of December awakens a travelling bug in our family. We wanted to beat the end of year rush and so began our 9 day road trip to coastal Karnataka and Coorg.

The route we took

A distance of 2400 kms

A distance of 2400 kms

Day 1- Pune to Karwar-584 kms

Road Conditions: Pune to Belgaum on NH4 is a pretty smooth ride on NH4. From Belgaum we were going to take the Khanapur-Ramnagar-Ganeshgudi-Kadra-Karwar route. But at Ramnagar, people advised us to take the Alnavar-Haliyal-Kannigeri-Yellapur-Karwar route as the former route was less traversed, maintained and went through dense forests. So we ended up taking a slightly longer route. Until we hit SH 93, we were travelling on unmaintained roads. There were dense forest on each side and we saw innumerable ant hills and monkeys on the roadside.

However, if we were to repeat the journey, we would go until Hubli on NH 4 and then take SH 93 to reach Karwar. That’s a less circuitous and better route.

Welcome sunset at Karwar

Karwar is a sleepy and quiet town. It has got long stretches of beaches, coconut trees and colorful houses.

Devbagh Beach resort, water sports (canoe, kayak, snorkelling), Kurumagad island, sadashiv fort, Gokarn are some popular places to visit in Karwar. Click on this link for other popular destinations in Karwar.

We chilled out in Karwar for two days. Here are some snaps of our revelry.

Day 4- Karwar to Mangalore via Jog falls and Murudeshwar- 393 kms

Road conditions: Visit to Jog falls meant we had to take a 120 kms detour (60 kms to and fro from Honavar) from NH17. We drove through dense green forests on NH 206, at places the national highway was just a single lane road. The road was well maintained.

Once we got back on NH 17, the journey was unhampered until a little before Udupi. The highway was under repair, so the entire last leg of the journey was slow and tiring. We passed through a number of estuaries along this route. We were driving along the coast and the views were exhilarating. Endless clusters of coconut groves, lots of water and the sea in the distance.

They always say that the journey is better than the destination. Going to Jog falls just confirmed this. Although there was very little water in the falls, we enjoyed the meandering road, the greenery and the occasional glance of the river in the valley.

Once in Mangalore we went to Panambur beach near New Mangalore port.

Sunset and coal depot and more at Mangalore 

Click here for Part 2 of the trip

Uttarakhand; 15th – 20th June ’13: Caught in the Eye of the Storm

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This June, we planned an epic trip. A combination of trekking, camping and travelling in the little known stations of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand. For weeks on end we planned, googled, read travelogues and collaborated with travelers on travel forums to came up with a foolproof itinerary. I left no room for error. Our accommodations were booked, we gained familiarity with the places we wanted to go to. We even kept enough flexibility in our plan to accommodate delays that are common in hilly areas. But little did we know that nature had other plans.

Here is the itinerary (originally planned):

Duration: 14th-23rd June

14th: Reach Delhi in the evening at 6 30- 7 pm. Catch New Delhi-Dehradun AC express and reach Haridwar around 5:00 am the next morning.

15th: Start from Haridwar by private taxi and reach Joshimath by evening. Stay overnight at Joshimath.

16th: Start from Joshimath around 6-7 am, reach Govindghat and trek up to Ghangharia on the same day. Stay overnight at Ghangharia.

17th: Valley of Flowers and back to Ghangharia. Stay overnight at Ghangharia. We knew there wont be many flowers there, but this was the only time available to us.

18th: Hemkund Sahib and back to Ghangharia. Stay overnight at Ghangharia.

19th: Start trekking back from Ghangharia to Govindghat. Reach by 11 am and take a shared taxi to Badrinath/Mana. We’ll visit the temple but main interest in mana and vasundhara falls. May or may not go to vasundhara fall on same day depending on level of tiredness. Overnight stay in badrinath/mana area.

20th: Spend day at Mana village, go to Vasundhara falls and a few kilometers beyond. Overnight stay in badrinath/mana area.

21st: Start for Chopta via Gopeshwar/chamoli around 7:00 am and reach chopta by 1:00 or so. Trek up to Tungnath on same day and stay there overnight at a prearranged accomodation.

22nd: Trek up to chandrashila to watch the sunrise. And spend the day exploring the area. Come down to chopta

23rd: Start for haridwar early in the morning and reach by evening. Catch an overnight bus/train to Delhi.

24th: Flight for Pune at 8:30 am.

What really happened…

On 15th morning, we started from Haridwar at around 7:30-8 and reached Joshimath at around 6 pm in the evening (prepaid taxi charged Rs. 4800). We saw a lot of rafting camps around Rishikesh, made a stop for Lichis and aloo paranthas, saw the river following us and reached Joshimath around 6:00 pm. It had started drizzling around 4:00 pm but the roads were fine. We were not worried. Light rains are the norm in June. However in a few hours, the drizzle had turned into a downpour. It was raining really hard and we were only a little concerned. We thought, the rain will stop by morning. But it got worse…

Time for a break from the morbid tone of this post. We saw some beautiful sights on our way to Joshimath. Here is a glimpse:

It was raining, our shoes were wet and a bit muddy so we took them off outside the one room cottage we had hired. When we came out for dinner at 8 30 pm, one shoe of mine was missing. We looked around the cottage but their was no sign of the shoe. We were upset. Losing a shoe meant unnecessary delay. We wouldn’t be able to leave early the next morning. We would have to wait for the market to open, buy a new pair of shoes and then proceed to Govindghat.

The next morning, we got up to discover that the rain had not let up. We waited till 9 30 am and then proceeded to the market which was some 3 kms away. I was wearing bathroom slippers, it was still raining hard, water was gushing down the slopes and it was bitterly cold. Within 10 minutes we were drenched. However, by 10 30 am we managed to buy a pair of shoes, some extra towels and raincoat pant-suits. Then we hired a taxi to take us back to the cottage.

We thought we were all set to proceed to Govindghat. However, our family had advised us that it would be better to start for Govindghat the next day as the rain and visibility become worse in the hills as the day proceeds. We were in a dilemma. The taxi driver asked us about our plans and soon became ready to ferry us to Govindghat, at 5: 30 am the next morning. Just as our ride was coming to an end, he added cryptically, ‘but you wont be able to reach Ghangharia because a critical bridge got washed away last night.’ He said it would take atleast 3-4 days for that bridge to be repaired.

By evening, we were still hopeful and were making plans to go to Badrinath or Chopta directly. And soon news started poring in. There were reports of land slides and road blockages between Joshimath and Badrinath. A 50 m segment of road between Joshimath and Chamoli had just slid off. The multi-story parking lot with a helipad on top was washed away in the rain along with many vehicles, a helicopter and people who had taken shelter in the lot. The nalla which runs along the trekking path from Govindghat to Ghangharia had turned into a roaring river fed by the rain and silt, flowing over the trekking path at a number of places . People were stuck without food, water or accomodations. Opportunists were selling packaged water and biscuits at 100x, 200x times the mrp. There were reports of lootings, people stranded at dam construction sights for days and entire villages swept away. A glacial lake above Kedarnath burst, sweeping away an entire market and hundreds of people toiling towards the temple.

There was no road to get away. We were stuck at Joshimath. There was no way out. We were stuck in the room, but we were warm, fed and had electricity most of the time. Needless to say we were mostly glued to the news channels.  It rained continuously till 18th afternoon. Then we went to the taxi stands and bus stops to enquire about the road conditions and find a way out of the hills.

The army was assisting in rescue operations. Hundreds upon hundreds of people were brought to Joshimath from nearby areas. However, there was no arrangement from the government’s side to ferry people out of Joshimath. People were protesting on the roads, holding dharnas and shouting slogans to be let out. The available taxis and buses filled in so fast that majority of the families with children and old people would be left standing.

We searched for hours and returned again the next day to look for a vehicle. We found a private taxi which charged us Rs. 12000 to take us to the plains. While returning we could not help but notice how different the landscape looked. Where we had seen houses, hotels and schools extending into the valley on our way up, there was nothing but a deep void filled with rubble and mud left by the gushing water. We took a different route from Pauri onwards, towards Kotdwar from where we went to Delhi.

P.S. We think that a dog was responsible for the missing shoe. But we never found the shoe, even after it stopped raining. If the shoe wasn’t lost we would have proceeded to Govindghat that very morning when the rain swept away the parking lot and bridges. Maybe it was divine providence…

Why Explore Space? A 1970 Letter to a Nun in Africa

Why do we have an expensive space program when the money could be used in ‘nobler’ causes? – Answered

Roger Launius's Blog

Ernst Stuhlinger wrote this letter on May 6, 1970, to Sister Mary Jucunda, a nun who worked among the starving children of Kabwe, Zambia, in Africa, who questioned the value of space exploration. At the time Dr. Stuhlinger was Associate Director for Science at the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama. Touched by Sister Mary’s concern and sincerity, his beliefs about the value of space exploration were expressed in his reply to Sister Mary. It remains, more than four decades later, an eloquent statement of the value of the space exploration endeavor. Born in Germany in 1913, Dr. Stuhlinger received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Tuebingen in 1936. He was a member of the German rocket development team at Peenemünde, and came to the United States in 1946 to work for the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss, Texas. He moved to Huntsville in 1950 and continued…

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International Finance for MBA Students

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In this post I am covering International Finance for MBA students.

This presentation deals with general introductory topics such as globalization and its impact, WTO and its impact, Role of World Bank, IMF, Special Drawing Rights, Nature, scope and significance of international finance and Use of IT in international finance.

In this presentation we discuss definition of foreign currency and foreign transactions- trade and non trade, and Role of participants in Forex markets.

This presentation deals with exchange rate quotations, common currency symbols, direct and indirect quotes, American terms, European terms, cross rates, Bid and Ask rates, Mid rate, Spread and its determinants, Spot markets, Forward Markets, Premium and Discounts, various practices of writing quotations, calculating broken period forward rates, Speculation and arbitrage, Forex futures and Currency Options.

This document has various practice numericals on forex markets.

This presentation begins with reference to various exchange rate determination theories and explains purchasing power parity theory in detail.

This presentation discusses the impact of Euro currency, Chinese Yuan, Japanese Yen, US Dollar and emerging importance of Indian rupee

This presentation discusses regulatory framework of international finance from the Indian perspective-FEMA and FERA, foreign trade policy, role of RBI, rupee convertibility, EOU/STPI, SEZ, EPZ.

This presentation covers regulatory framework of international finance from an International Perspective – Federal Bank, European Central Bank and guidelines for international investments given by International Chambers of Commerce (ICC).

This presentation covers Trade Settlement Methods, Export Finance, Buyers credit and supplier’s credit, International receivables and cash management, and International Sources of Finance such as ECB, FCCB, ADR, GDR, FDI, Loan Syndication.

This presentation covers foreign exchange risk definition, types, management and measurement. Hedging tools and techniques; both internal and external are also discussed.

This presentations discusses International Accounting Standard on Foreign Transactions (IAS 21). Important definitions, functional currency, initial recognition, subsequent measurement & recognition of exchange difference at initial stage and use of temporal and net investment method at the time of consolidation of financial statements are covered.