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Archive for December, 2011

AMRI: Boycott Emami and Shrachi

December 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I am reposting the relevant paragraphs from my previous post:

Boycott the Emami group and its brands: Emami Baby Massage Oil, Boroplus Antiseptic Cream, Boroplus Prickly Heat Powder, Fair and Handsome, Hairlife, Himani Fast Relief, Malai Kesar Cold Cream, Mentho Plus, Navratna Cool Talc, Navratna Extra Thanda, Navratna Lite, Navratna Oil, Sonachandi Amritprash, Sonachandi Chyawanprash and also all Zandu products, as well as Starmark bookshops and the Emami/Landmark market in Lord Sinha Road.Say No to Emami products

The Shrachi group is mostly into real estate development and agricultural machinery, but it has a few restaurants which can be boycotted: Blue Hugli/News at the Hometown mall in Rajarhat New Town, Sarson in the South City mall, and Buzz Court at the Junction mall in Durgapur.

If you are willing to go a bit further, boycott the South City mall, which is a joint venture between these two groups (and some others) and the Junction mall, Durgapur, which is purely Shrachi.

It may not be possible to strictly boycott all of these for all time, but you may want to consider boycotting all of these for a month. And please copy the list of brands from above and paste to your blog and to facebook and ask your friends and family to boycott these brands. Thank you.

AMRI: Boycott the guilty

December 10, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday’s fire at the AMRI Dhakuria killed at least 90, of them 87 were patients. Many of them were probably under sedation, or so ill that they might not have been able to save themselves even if they knew what was happening. All the more reason for a hospital to make fire exits and have enough external openings for firemen to get in and out.

Many stories are heard about how the fire started, and how the hospital had violated regulations by turning a basement parking lot into a storage area where inflammable stuff was kept (diesel and motor oil for generators, rumors say). But that part is not the most important: would it have made a difference if the fire spread through legitimate, non-regulation-violating, objects in the hospital?

The real issue, and where the hospital authorities are guilty, is what happened after the fire started. The fire alarms did not work. Local slum-dwellers alerted the security guards to the fire, but the guards did not call the fire service. (Apparently some years ago, a guard had called the fire department during a smaller fire that was put under control by the guards themselves. That guard was nearly fired himself,  and was allowed to continue working after a stern warning. Probably because the hospital owners did not want the fire dept to know that fire safety regulations were being grossly violated!) When the fire engines arrived, they could not come close to the hospital because it was in a narrow lane, with only one entrance. The entire building was glass, essentially sealed,  so most people actually died of suffocation.

The hospital owners are guilty of ignoring many regulations to maximize their profit (and the doctors who work there also did not care about such things, even though many of them have trained abroad, where there are strict fire regulations). They have been arrested, and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who also holds the health portfolio, wants to see them punished.

But our courts are slow, and these people will stay in jail while their bail petitions are heard, and their bail petitions will go all the way up to the Supreme Court if necessary, and quite likely they will ultimately make bail and it will be several years before the courts will decide on their culpability. In the meanwhile, there is something we can do — we can boycott the owners.This will serve the additional purpose of providing them with less money for hiring the top lawyers.

Boycott the Emami group and its brands: Emami Baby Massage Oil, Boroplus Antiseptic Cream, Boroplus Prickly Heat Powder, Fair and Handsome, Hairlife, Himani Fast Relief, Malai Kesar Cold Cream, Mentho Plus, Navratna Cool Talc, Navratna Extra Thanda, Navratna Lite, Navratna Oil, Sonachandi Amritprash, Sonachandi Chyawanprash and these day, all Zandu products, as well as Starmark bookshops and the Emami/Landmark market in Lord Sinha Road.

The Shrachi group is mostly into real estate development and agricultural machinery, but it has a few restaurants which can be boycotted: Blue Hugli/News at the Hometown mall in Rajarhat New Town, Sarson in the South City mall, and Buzz Court at the Junction mall in Durgapur.

If you are willing to go a bit further, boycott the South City mall, which is a joint venture between these two groups (and some others) and the Junction mall, Durgapur, which is purely Shrachi.

It may not be possible to strictly boycott all of these for all time, but you may want to consider boycotting all of these for a month. And please copy the list of brands from above and paste to your blog and to facebook and ask your friends and family to boycott these brands. Thank you.

Update on the UGC Faculty recharge programme

December 3, 2011 1 comment

Update on my previous post:

On their homepage, the UGC FRP makes an announcement :

We are currently processing applications, batch wise, with 30th June, 2011 and 30th September, 2011 as application cut-off dates. And, we hope to be able to complete the process by the close of the year.

It is bad manners to pick on typos, but I wish the UGC, being the highest body overseeing our Universities, could be more careful about typing albeit or remember that wise (adverb) is combined with the preceding noun to make one word.

But of course, the bigger problem here is that they haven’t finished making a short list for the applications made before 30th June, 2011. And it’s already December, they have another set of applications made before 30th September, and will have a third set by 31st December. At this rate, how are they going to call people for interviews, how will they make the selection, and when will they appoint/place the selected candidates?

And will they manage to send the salaries in time? They are known to be quite notorious about sending the money for research fellowships — the JRFs and SRFs have to wait several months before their money starts coming in. Will the universities pay the faculty in advance, in anticipation of the money to be remitted by UGC?

From an academic point of view the programme is poorly thought out, as I mentioned elsewhere. If the administration is worse, as it seems to be, this  will turn into a grand joke like so many other grand plans of the higher education department (who cannot even correctly spell the name of their ministry).

FDI in retail: some thoughts

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

The Parliament is at a standstill over allowing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the retail business in India. The government, particularly Man Mohan Singh, his close associate Montek Singh Ahluwahlia and to some extent Pranab Mukherjee have been adamant in their support of the decision to allow FDI in retail. Kaushik Basu, the chief economic advisor to the government has been speaking out in support as well.

I don’t have major objections to their arguments that the entry of big retailers will probably bring down prices for the consumer, and push up prices for farmers, although it is not clear if such things will continue to happen if in the end there are only a few major players, constituting a cartel. There is also some merit in the claim that the bigger retail chains will be able to pay their workers better than the small shops can.

But I think the arguments against allowing FDI in retail are much stronger. I agree with with the opposition argument that the small trader will be wiped out if big retail becomes bigger. This is what  happened in the US during the latter part of the twentieth century, and to a great extent in the UK. These countries no longer have small corner shops serving the neighbourhood. Many small shops have been replaced by `superstores’ — the big giants of retail which carry just about everything under one roof, and even small ice cream shops or diners have been taken over or replaced by national chains. The death of small shops, and the related loss of jobs, which cannot be compensated by the jobs in big retail, may be more important to the health of the economy in the longer term than `reforms’. Small business also sources local production; small bookstores and music stores are more likely to carry stuff from local publication houses.  The big bookstore chains currently in Calcutta — Starmark and Crossword — carry almost exclusively titles in English, one small section of Bengali books is not remotely representative of what is actually available.

The other objection, not mentioned by the political parties in this debate, concerns revenue. Businesses based in India, both big and small, pay their taxes to India and spend their profits in India. Foreign businesses will send a large portion of their profits abroad, and because of `tax treaties’ will not pay any tax in India (and negligible amounts in Mauritius or other island nations through which they will operate). So India will get little or nothing from their profits. Of course, both are true for all foreign companies operating in India, and the peculiar reading of these tax treaties has been causing a major loss of revenue for the country. There can be an argument that the loss on both of these counts can be compensated by the investment made by these companies, and in fact the investment in infrastructure justifies the treaties and the legislation which allow the loss. But in the case of retail, there is no infrastructure that benefits from the FDI — procurement is not a manufacturing process, the infrastructure of big retail is not different in character from that of small retail, and in fact does not scale with turnover — warehousing does, outlets do not. So as far as revenue is concerned, FDI is likely to cause only loss, and if we remember  that infrastructure is usually the biggest beneficiary of revenue,  we see that FDI in retail will not contribute to improvements on that front, either directly or indirectly.

Political parties do not wish to bring this line of argument into the discussions, probably because they all benefit from backdoor contributions from businesses based abroad (but not necessarily owned by non-Indians) which take advantage of the tax treaties to move their money to Mauritius and other places.

All in all, FDI in retail  is a bad idea — it may mean short term gains for some people, notably the administration and ruling parties which will grant licenses, the big businessmen who will make things smooth from  the superstores to move in, and the media, which will gain a lot more in advertisements — they receive almost nothing from the small businesses. But in the long run, multinational superstores will destroy the Indian middle class, which is mostly supported by small businesses.

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