Bhuwan's Ramblings

Monday, December 14, 2009

My First Traffic Ticket in Delhi

I knew that this would happen at some point, but so soon, that was a surprise. In fact, I found it amusing that I was pulled over for speeding (73 kmph on a 50 kmph zone) when for about 90% of my trip time I was negotiating traffic jams at close to 20 kmph. The Delhi traffic police decided to use their speed radars on the only 1 km stretch along my 15 km route where the accelerator could actually be pressed while in fourth gear. Smart guys huh! They surely know where to make up their numbers for the day!

Even though I had to sacrifice a couple of meals at my favorite Nirulas to pay for the ticket, the experience was not all negative. I was pleasantly surprised to hear polite words from the traffic policeman who pulled us over. On my reluctance to believe that I was indeed at 73 kmph, he offered to show me the radar reading without any hesitation, irritation or arrogance. And the best of all, I didn't offer a bribe and he didn't indicate towards one either.

I just hope that Delhi Government puts my money to good use!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Internet in the Skies

About a couple of years back I had reflected on the changing face of airports in the world and how the availability of Internet connectivity has transformed the definition of an airport. The same transformation is now happening in the skies as the airlines have taken Internet connectivity to 36,000 feet over the last few years.

Although some airlines (mainly Scandinavian) have been offering this service (albeit at a premium) for a while, today was the auspicious day when I lost my mile-high-internet virginity. Even though the speed is slower than on the ground, it opens up a window of opportunity for travelers on long flights, such as the transcontinental flight that I am on now or long international flights. One of the biggest advantages of this is that travel can now be undertaken even if you need to be in touch with your colleagues for important communications. Earlier, long flights could not be taken in such a scenario. The added advantage is that the clock ticks a little faster on the airplane...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A New Girl in the City

On a recent Thursday, I went to see a movie produced by a big banner from Bombay... err Mumbai. As the movie progressed and presented the journey of a young woman to the city of Mumbai to realize her dream of becoming independent, I felt a certain connection with her. Her dedication, confidence, a blend of modern and traditional values and the sense of self were familiar beyond doubt. By the time she overcame the challenges and set herself on her desired path, I realized that I was in love. An emotion that had manifested from admiration to trust.

I was amazed that I was in this situation and wondered when did this process begin? At the very next instant, I had the answer… years ago. That’s when I had met with the 'new girl in the city', who now sat next to me sipping coke as the scenes on the screen transformed into three dimensions in her mind.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Electoral reforms needed in India...

The ongoing general elections in India have exposed the urgent need for electoral reforms. Agreed, that managing this democratic exercise for more than 700 million voters is a mammoth undertaking, but, the situation can be vastly improved if new ideas and policies are implemented. Here are my thoughts on some such reforms.

First, India should start early voting, where individuals can cast their vote at certain pre-determined locations a few days before the actual polling day. Since, these places would be few in number, security arrangements could be better managed and the people would have more options on when they can cast their vote. This would ease the pressure and the hype for the final voting day. This way, both the election officials and the security forces can better optimize their resources.

Second, we should allow absentee voting for everybody, and not just military personnel. This would allow a large number of voters who are currently away from their constituencies to vote. This would also include people outside the country and can also be used by people who are not willing to go to the polling station because of health, time, or safety reasons. The process of collecting and recording absentee ballots can be automated by using scanning technologies available today. Voting using the internet can also be researched in this regard.

Third, the feasibility of using mobile polling stations should be studied, especially for rural areas with low population. This can provide a safer and manageable way to allow people to cast their votes in less populous regions of the country without having to travel long distances in unfriendly weather conditions. Modern technology can allow tracking of such vehicles with GPS systems and a direct connection to satellites for uninterrupted communication.

In addition to these, I envision more radical reforms in the coming years like, a “none of the above” choice on the ballot and a central database of country’s electorate to allow for “anywhere” voting.

If every eligible voter is finger printed and his/her data including a picture is linked to the finger print in a central database, then with modified EVMs (EVMs with a capability to read fingerprints) a voter would be able to vote from anywhere in the country. Although this may be initially expensive, it would make the voting process easier, faster and most importantly transparent. In fact, implementation of other reforms like early, absentee or online voting would be easier once such a system is in place.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ghajini ... not to be missed

Saw it on Wednesday ... outstanding movie ... superb performances ... and if you think that its a copy of momento ... then you are in for a grand surprise ... I like this one way better.

Will write in detail soon...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Indian Flag at Narita Airport

Great to see the tricolor around the world ...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Barack Obama and India

I was indeed impressed by Barack Obama’s oratory skills when he gave the keynote address during my commencement ceremony a few years ago. He has surely used it to his advantage towards the road to the presidency of the United States. The important question for us is determine the repercussions of his presidency for India.

Before that, however, we need to understand why the US matters to India.

The first and foremost reason is international trade. The importance of international trade for a country’s economy needs no explanation and the US is one of the few countries with which India has a positive trade balance. For the 2006-2007 financial year, India’s overall trade balance was a negative 2687 billion rupees, while the trade balance with the US was a positive 322 billion rupees. The trade balance did reduce quite a bit for the 2007-2008 financial year, but that was mainly due to increase in aircraft purchases by the airlines in India. Also, the US accounts for about 10% of India’s total foreign trade when measured in rupees.

Another important reason is Foreign Direct Investment in India. The US currently has the third highest FDI in India. FDIs provide the much needed foreign exchange that not only provides reserves for unexpected situations, but also keeps the imports unaffected by the change in the value of the rupee.

And, of course, we have the IT and BPO sector in India that does not reflect in either the GDP or FDI statistics. These exports for the financial year 2007-2008 have been $40.4 billion out of which the US has a 61% share. This sector is estimated to provide employment to about 1.5 million people.

One of the most important reasons why a change in the US presidency matters to India is the political situation in the Indian subcontinent and the US interests in Afghanistan. Every year India pays heavily (not just money) because of terrorism and unrest that is instigated by outside forces. The big issue here is not the defense spending (which is around 2% of our GDP – the US is about 4.9% of its GDP for comparison), but the impact terrorism has on the life of the people and the economy. (Remember how terrorism in Kashmir collapsed the booming tourism industry in the late 1980s).

Now, that we understand that the policies of the US government do matter to India, let’s look at some of Barack Obama’s expected policies.

One of the big differences between Barack Obama and John McCain was the fact that Obama propagated a bottoms-up approach to steer the US economy, while McCain supported the top-down approach. India generally benefits from a top-down approach in the US, where businesses are given incentives, which increases foreign trade. In addition, the fact that the general population is not directly provided money (or say tax breaks), they look for cheaper products, which supports imports from China and India and abets outsourcing. The top-down approach directly benefits the businesses and then trickles down to the population while a bottoms-up approach directly benefits the people and then reaches the businesses.

Apart from that, I don’t foresee a big change in US policies towards international trade with India including the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Regarding the war on terror, Obama seems to be geared towards ending the war in Iraq while continuing the hunt for terrorists in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. In such a scenario, the US is more likely to need support of the Pakistani government, which may result in both financial and military incentives to Pakistan. Secondly, the US may try to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir for a resolution so that Pakistan could focus on the western border. India prefers a bilateral improvement in its relationship with Pakistan. A continued US interest in the region may also make the extremists more determined to spread their philosophy making them more active in the region. This may increase activities like serial blasts and formation of new terror groups in India.