Two ‘E’s of a country’s status

In new India the ten most important indians are the education ministers of ten largest states. The next ten most important ones are secretaries to these ministers.

In today’s global economy a country’s status is determined by the share of brands that it commands and the share of brains that it uses. Our plight as a nation in failing on both these fronts has a dichotomy. In two E’s. Economy and Education. 

Economic reforms that we tried to bring upon had an effective yet a limited role. For example, when government liberated internet from the monopoly of VSNL, it liberated millions of young minds and thus harnessed million of young brains. Soon India saw a gigantic rise of Infosys and many other Indian enterprises followed the suite. Today in IT sector India has a long standing. With recent telecom revolution in terms of internet data and it’s increasing utility, in governance in general and in welfare schemes in particular; we are on verge of something really incredible. It all had started with freeing internet from govt control.
Similarly, if we would open the trade in agriculture, it would harness million of farmhands. But the problem is that many vested interests misguide mass on such reforms of vital nature. Reforms like any other change bring initially pain. Vested interests often use this pain to blur the vision of people to see the fruits which lie ahead. They could do so because of our unforgiving failure in building a just and equitable education system in last 70 years. Only an un-informed one can be misguided. And the most powerful way to make people well informed about things is through education.
Recently in his ‘man ki baat’ PM has said that in new india no one is VIP but everyone is EPI (Every Person is Important).

With full understanding of the nobler values with PM has said this, I beg to differ. In new india everyone is not important equally. The ten most important indians are the education ministers of ten largest states. The next ten most important ones are secretaries to these ministers. Unfortunately they do not realise their historic mission. Mr PM, our drive for ending VIP culture in our political and bureaucratic circle is all well intentioned, but for God sake more important is to wake them to the fact that they have a massive mission on their shoulders and they must have to accomplish it. for this they off course can feel themselves a little important ones (though now without red beacons ;-))


– Abhinav Shankar

Reform the way you bring reforms: A Take

“The greatest disservice to the reform as an economic attitude has not been done by its opponents or distractors, but by those reformers who failed to comprehend it in a language that a voter can understand”

The GST is a burning example how each reform in our country is prolonged in its implementation till it loses its very relevance. The subject, however, is not the GST here. This writing intends to talk about bigger challenges before us regarding reforming the economic attitude of this nation. Like any process, reforms too, are time-bound concepts. If they are not implemented within its right time, there remains very little to gain from them.The GST is not the only example, almost every reform in our country has got more or less same destiny. Even in early 90’s- which is considered as a golden era in terms of reforms, we could not go for a “full-fledged” one. It was only for two & half years that we could go through our course of reforms. Even today many infamous facets of old license system haunt us. Many important reforms could never take place, like labour reforms. So was the “Company Rules”. It is still impossible to shut down a company in India. Our taxation system too, is in no better shape- considered one of the worst in the world. Some even go to call it “Tax-terrorism”. 


Some attempts were done to reform our taxation system from time to time, though they were lacking in compositeness in their approach and nowhere in a match with rest of the world; and so expectedly could not take us much ahead. Leave whole world, even Asian countries like Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, China, who once were equal (or in fact below) to us in economic and social parameters, proved to be quick and wise enough to identify true significance of the reform and wholeheartedly accepted it and established a type of “synchro” with respect to rest of world. In India we did not only identify the importance of the reform lately, we moved on the road of reforms at much slow pace with great reluctance. Most importantly we failed to reform two sectors of great opportunity: Education & Health.

But it is not the greatest failure of our reformers. Their biggest failure lies in the fact that they could not sell reforms to the public. The greatest disservice to the reform as an economic attitude has not been done by its opponents or distractors, but by those reformers who failed to comprehend it in a language that a voter can understand. Reforms mostly bring their fruit in long term, while in short term, like any transition, they bring the pain. And pain if not explained as a price for a future fruit- is most likely to be resisted by the pain-bearer, common man in this case. And here our reformers missed the bus. Some vested interests catalysed their anger, influenced their understanding and almost blocked the road to reforms. What if a pregnant lady bearing dire pain-who otherwise would bring a new dawn of life to this earth; gets convinced by some old malevolent lady that pain is not worth for ?? This is what happened with reforms in India. Before it could deliver results, in mid of the way it got aborted. Some vested interests with powerful lobby delivered this task quite successfully. In order to understand challenges before us to revive reforms, it is very important to identify these vested interests and their modus operandi. 

Before the introduction of our new economic policy in 1990, we had an economic model where commanding heights of the economy were controlled by the state. This system was such that it favoured non-performers more than performers. Reforms were meant to introduce a new system favourable to performers and fatal to non-performers. It alarmed non-performers in form of govt. employees, trade unions, public sector employees and bureaucrats. The new economic system was to facilitate a model which was uncomfortable to all above of these. But they could not oppose reforms citing these reasons straight. So they dressed up their vested interests with a “human-face” i.e. possibilities of exploit of poor. Some politicians also joined the gang as the new economic model was also meant to reduce their stature from the previous glorious status of controllers to just facilitators!! Apart from ego issues, this new system was also meant to limit their control on the economy- less control means less opportunity to misuse it, less chance of corruption!! So together they decided to block this initiative. 

In their drive to prevent reforms to take place, they attacked it from two sides. Firstly they attacked psychic of innocent mass, who was the prime receiver of the pain of change, these reforms had bought. As cited earlier reformers could not comprehend reforms in a language mass could understand and could get motivated enough to bear that pain, the pain blurred their vision to see the fruits of these reforms waiting ahead. 

This was augmented by misinformation propagated by the nexus of Politicians, Babus and trade unions. Apart from this, they tried to block reforms by sending wrong feedback to top brass about the reaction to their initiative of the reform. They misled their masters and policy-makers at the top. The public was indeed uncomfortable but certainly would tolerate it if would not had been misinformed. An exaggerated version of this discomfort was reported at the top. This cautioned especially political class. A largely fictional narrative of wide public anger against reforms had been perfectly set in New Delhi. This made pro-reform policymakers defensive in their attitude and soon they started to find their initiative for more reforms lesser space in policy draft. The Nexus had succeeded in its plan. Reformers soon got marginalised in policymaking.

Experiences from GST and Gujarat Election suggests that situation has not altered much since then. Vested reforms are still powerful and able to mislead mass by their time-tested strategy of “Double-attack” explained above. It is important to note that collective conscious of mass in India, has always been welcoming the reform, all they need is a little psychic support, clarity about objectives & benefits from it for them, insulation from misinformation and motivation to bear some pain for it !! 

Let us not be in the euphoria that once fruits of reform will get passed to the public they will not come under influence of such propaganda. Reforms are long-term concepts and it takes time to gain from them. Vested interests disturb the “momentum” in between and spoil them mid-way. So every time a reform is introduced, the public must be communicated in clear terms that what betterment it would bring to an “Aam Admi” and what pain it would cost. Let us be sure that once educated about the price and the gain, a common man is wise enough to co-operate with policymakers. Demonetisation has ably demonstrated it.

Abhinav Shankar

Powering Economy through power: A true achievement of Modi Govt

Amid the celebrations of 3 years of Modi Govt., one common convention that has emerged about this govt is that it is a ‘powerful’ govt. It is indeed so. Though i am talking here in a completely different perspective. It is seen that with such an influential n workaholic PM at helm as Modi, ministers usually find it hard to have a distinguished mark of their own in policy making and it’s execution. We must credit three to four ministers of this govt for overcoming  this notion. Shushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari, Gen.(Rtd) V K Singh and Piyush Goel are some fine ministers this govt has got. This govt may have scored remarkable acievements in many areas but to me the most phenomenal and undeniable transformation it has brought, is in power sector. It is so- partly because, being a power engg I could get a ‘firsthand experience’ of this change, and partly becoz i clearly understand direct impact of power sector on overall growth of economy. If roads are gateways of devlopment, electricity is conducting channel of growth.  

The most talked achievement (and perhaps genuinely so) by power ministry is incomparable rapid electrification of villages. Total 18000 villages were tasked to get electrified, out of it 2/3rd of it is already done in less than half of the estimated time. With the transparency and accountability this mega exercise was done and still being done is another story of excellence. You can lively track progress of work in your village through an online portal and can register your complain upon finding a discrepancy of any sort- which are efficiently adressed in time bound manner. 

However the transformations this government has induced in power sector are much deeper in nature, bigger in design and cascading in it’s impact. Unfortunately these aspects of reforms has been lesser talked, acknowledged and recognised as compared to their true significance. 

How dim the situation was ???

Before going ahead let’s have a look how our power sector was performing till some years ago. Power industry in our country had got trapped in a negative cycle. Low average demand causing low power generation resulting in an up in cost of electricity prompting to a further lower demand for electricity. There were many factors behind this situation. Structural issues like low average demand and high maximum demand, supply-chain side problems like erratic supply of coal to power stations, distribution side bottlenecks like lack of infra etc. Huge loss incurring distribution companies (DISCOMs) owing to reasons like unsustainable revenue model, immense power theft and irregular & so unreliable payment pattern by end customer, were on the blink of bankruptcy- to add to the misery. These all had made the situation so grave that according to some experts power industry was all set to be second biggest defaulter to banks after steel sector. If it would happen then clearly our banking system would not have survived with two of major core industries defaulting loans altogether.  

The intervention:

A close look to the problems being faced by the industry will reveal thatt most of our suffering is due to distribution side bottlenecks. However the newly installed govt. decided to break the negative cycle power industry had got traped within, from generation side. They had two reasons to do so. First, generation side issues were comparably lesser severe and second, they completely fall to the authority and ambit of central govt unlike distribution side challenges where different states were also stakeholders and infact they had a larger role to play. Here (Generation side) they could quickly take decisions and efficiently execute them due to single hand authority. It seems that govt was clear about the solutions right from the start. As Ministry of Coal and Ministry of Power was wisely clubbed together. This was an important devlopment as more than 60% of our total installed power capacity comes from coal based thermal power plants. Further an able administrator like Piyush Goel was placed to the chair of the minister for the clubbed ministry. It greatly enhanced the co-ordination between coal and power companies which were mostly state owned.

The effect:

With such organised efforts soon coal silos of power plants began to be filled to full capacity. Boilers were full with steam and turbines were in full of action leading to efficient harnessing of total installed power generation capacity of country. Load factor (ratio of current power generation to total installed power generation capacity) of power plants has improvised from 40-45% to 65-75% resulting to a remarkable reduction in cost of electricity per unit. This reduced cost has stimulated overall demand. This reduced cost has also helped many other industries in being competitive by lowering their electricity bill. India’s total power generation has gone upto 145 GW (a straight 15% jump) while total demand has also been on rise side at around 139 GW (almost an increase of 22%). Clearly we have moved from being a ‘power-deffecit state’ to a ‘power-surplus state’. And today with our surplus electricity we are selling electricity to Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmaar, Bangladesh and even Pakistan after fulfilling our domestic demand. 

An unprecedent rapid addition of renewable energy to national grid is another chapter of this story. To sum the glory of this part- targets supposed to achieve till 2020, has already been accomplished. In a country where deadlines are missed every another day, this accomplishment itself speaks of the level of commitment and efficiency of execution behind. 

Efforts are not only made in regard to efficiently harnessing the generation capacity, but also on level of efficient use of electricity at consumer end. For this industrial customers have been compelled to use energy efficient machines at their premises, while on another hand use of LED based bulbs are being popularized at mass level which consumes as less as 1/5th of electricity for same level of brightness than a normal bulb. Another breakthrough achievement in this regard is that this govt could get succeeded in busting the cartel of LED making companies and thus lowering it’s price at reasonable level and within reach of everyone. Today one may find a LED bulb hanging over ceiling even in remotest part of country. This drive to replace normal bulb with LED bulbs have so far saved 9000 million unit, an equivalent of Rs 5600 cr saving annually. In terms of environment protection it has resulted a cut of 80 million ton of CO2 emmision annually. Number itself speaks of the deep and multidimensional impact of the drive. 
Challenges yet to be finished:
Inspite of phenomenal positive changes power industry is going through, for a common man it’s impact on his life is yet to be realised. Though being a power-surplus country, many parts of land are still bearing hours of power cuts. A large no. of people are still continuing in dark for hours despite of glooming power generation because of distribution side hurdles. The problem in distribution side is multi-faced. We will have a quick overview of them.

 1. Infrastructure: Distribution infrastructure in our country is not only insufficient but old and outdated too. Insufficient infra leads to congestion in power flow resulting in frequent disruptions or load shedding specially in peak hours. Even an hour of rainstrom registers a power disturbance in days due to shabby infra. Similarly outdated protection schemes in power circuit specially at lower voltage levels results in isolation of bigger section of power cicuit during a fault forcing thousands of people living in dark. Clearly we need a revised distribution infrastructure capable of catering mammoth load of today and future too. According to an estimate India needs atleast 2 lakh crore of investment in this regard. 

2. DISCOMs (Popular name for Power Distribution Companies):    Discoms themselves are biggest problem responsible for plight of distribution sector. Primarily it is their exorbitant bad economic performance responsible for all further problems. Inefficiency and corruption are some other players. Even infrastructure issues discussed above have their origin here only. Discoms have been consistently so economically stressed that they could hardly find a margin enough to take care of infrastructure. A couple of things are responsible for making these companies a “model of fail”. They are mostly goverment run at state level. Politics of power often overwrites economics of electricity. They are often compelled to keep their rate of electricity lower than cost due to short term political gains. No matter how much monopolistic market you are playing in, if you are charging below than your cost you are bound to fail. Same holds true for Discoms. Inspite of operating in monopolistic busines their economic model is not sustainable. Another poor aspect of their revenue model is that these companies are not only selling below their cost but they have also failed in recovering that much money from their customers. This is accentuating the crisis. Today most of our discoms are on blink of bankruptcy, running through goverment grants and loans. As Generation and transmission companies also ultimately rely on these discoms for recovery of their cost, these discoms are dragging even those corporations too towards insolvency. 
3. Low average demand and High peak demand:   It is a structural issue power industry have been facing in our country from starting. Insufficient electrification & low level of industrialisation are two key reasons behind it. Such situation not only increases cost of electricity but also negatively affects it’s availability at the time of most urgency- making the whole exercise of power generation, transmission and distribution meaningless. Because utility of power lies not only in just being available but in being reliably available. 
4. Power theft:   Total T&D losses (Transmission & Distribution losses) in India is among the highest in world. It’s not like that our machines are of poor grade. They are mostly at par with the rest of world. Technically T&D losses can not be more than 7-8%. If it is incurring more than it is a simple case of power theft. In India T&D losses are around 22%. It means around 1/7th (~15%) of generated electricity is being stolen. It also translates that an genuine customer is paying a 15% surcharge on his electricity bill. Similarly it means electricity companies have an immediate scope of increasing theur margin by 15%. A huge resource addition to their stressed balance sheets. 

Solutions:
The best thing about all above listed problems is that they are well recognised ones. Problems are severe and complex but not impossible to attend. The new govt. has enthusiastically taken up the issues with utmost sincerity. However the pace of progress has not been that much great. State governments are in a greater role here. Lack of political willingness is a big hurdle. Political grudging makes things even worse. But Government is commited to do as much as possible. Lack of infra is strongly linked with poor economic health of discoms. So govt has decided to take up economic stature of these discoms. Most of our discoms are badly debt ridden. Central government has come with an unique, inclusive and unprecedent debt restructuring program- The UDAY (Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana) bond scheme. It is aimed at bringing ailing power distribution companies (discoms) to a state of operational efficiency, with state governments taking over up to 75% of their respective discoms’ debt and issuing sovereign bonds to pay back the lenders. UDAY envisages a permanent resolution of past as well as potential future issues of the sector The scheme seeks to achieve this through several simultaneous steps including reducing the interest burden on the discoms by allowing the states to take over the bulk of their debt, reducing the cost of power, and increasing the operational efficiencies of the discoms by providing capital and infrastructure like coal linkages. Starting from four states now total 22 states has come with this scheme. Fortunately this scheme seems to serve it’s purpose. Balance sheet of these companies are coming back to shape and many financial institutions are now willing to give them long term loan- an indiaction of increased faith in these companies by market. Similarly issue of low average demand is being tackled by rapid rural electrification. GoI has publicly commited to bring T&D losses this year to atleast 15% from current 22%. 

Final Words:
Slowly but steadily we are marching towards our goal. Hopefully soon these immense efforts will hit life of a common man and will fill his life literally with light and power. India’s aspiration to be a future power can not be realised without paving ways to empower it’s power sector. With the current pace it is certainly not too far. Ewamastu !!! 

Islamic State: Not exactly a new phenomenon 

A million dollar question first

Before starting this article let me start with a question. Has anybody wondered why Islamic State has got such an overwhelming support among Muslims around globe which seemed to be missing in case of Al Qaieda ?? More I study Islam more I become clear of the reasons behind this huge success of Islamic State as compared to Al Qaieda. One fundamental fact about Islam is that it is lesser a religious philosophy & more a political ideology. Interconnections between religious and political authority is something that we can find in almost all religions more or less. However in case of Islam, it is in it’s most explicitly institutionalized form with no parallel in world. This is what makes Islam more a “state” than a “religious community”. And here lies the great misery of a common follower of Islam !! A common follower of Islam could never realize that he has become a passion-full soldier of a virtual state in disguise of a faithful follower of a religion. And this thing governs his psychic so deeply & so naturally that most of the time he remains unaware of it. However he does strongly feel a greater share of loyalty towards this “state” than the formal nation-state he lives in or the society he belongs to in general context of region, language or culture- as a symptom.

Return to the question

With this much of the discussion let us return to our question- Why IS is so successful than Al Qaieda ?? Because masterminds of IS had/have more clear insights of Islamic theological psychic than those of Al Qaieda. Baghdadi has successfully exploited this “statehood status” of Islam which Osama seemed to miss entirely. Even at level of modus operandi we can easily spot basic differences between these two. Jihad or war declared by AQ (Al Qaieda) was more like between regional players- Taliban governed Afghanistan located in South Asia & United States of South America Continent. Angle of Islam was off course there but other factors were equally dominated. Also though AQ did try to establish some “franchisee” in some countries it was nowhere close to present international IS modules. Reason is because they could never click to basic instinct of Islam- State mentality of Islam. And this was why their jihad could have limited appeal to Muslims in world. They earned some sympathy among Muslims but could never earn the type of “active support” and “ready-to-join” soldiers from all parts of world IS enjoys.

On the other hand Masters of IS were particularly mindful of this basic instinct of Islam. Right from their first moves to establish their universal mandate in Muslim world, they systematically exploited this inherent characteristic of Islam viz. the name it self- The Islamic State, announcement of Caliphate– supreme leadership for Muslims etc. Masters of IS were fully aware of the fact that a common Muslim is emotionally a dual citizen; firstly, of a “virtual state” of Islam and secondly, of the physical state he lives in- with more developed loyalty to first than latter owing to basic design of his practicing religion. And they made most of it. As a result world soon saw an ever increasing no. of warriors joining IS, ready to lay their lives for so called cause of Islam. Mighty US and powerful west once fairly proved to have successfully tackled AQ, are increasingly proving to be helpless spectators of a strong “virtual-nation” operating across borders- presenting a severe threat to not only sovereignty of modern nations but their very existence at the cost of millions of human lives. I doubt by even now they have spotted the real problem of this havoc (The state mentality of Islam) or not.

Remedies: Is there any left

Any religion when becomes strong, it tends to be a state in itself. Problem with Islam is that it is a state in it’s very fundamental design irrespective of it’s strength. Another aspect of the problem adding to it’s graveness is that this state (of Islam) is easily convertible to a military-state upon strategic provocations- as clear from case study of IS. So even if world today unitedly finishes organizations like IS, the state mentality of Islam will not cease to exist- making it open to similar exploitation in future, arresting whole world again in it’s grip. Thus long term solution lies in attacking the problem at it’s very root i.e. state mentality of Islam. Dismantle of this state mentality may involve two approaches- one, Theological and second, sociological.

Theological Approach

All of the major religions of today’s world has undergone their theological revisions except Islam. Christianity for example has undergone through fundamental reforms in era of renaissance. Hinduism also went under such redefinitions from time to time. Same is true for Buddhism, Hebraism etc. However Islam could manage to refrain itself from going any such updating. Such rigidity has reinforced it’s state mentality more than anything else. Thus a theological revision of Islam is a must for a safe today and peaceful tomorrow. So that enriched ethics of humanity, scientific temperament and liberal values of modern civilisations can be updated in outlook of Islam. It is basically- differentiating Islam with respect to time. And for this we need to encourage and support liberal sections of Islam who are ready to change. We also need to make/recognise updated version of Islam of these sections as part and parcel of main stream Islam. World Sufi Forum in New Delhi was a benchmark step towards it. Further in next heading we would discuss second approach to tackle this menace which is sociological. Essentially it is differentiating Islam with respect to space.

Sociological Approach

Before discussing this approach let me put a question again. Why has IS raised a war against Kurds, Yejidis etc. which are after all followers of Islam only?? In fact all prime advocates of radical Islam including Salafis, Wahabis and most currently IS have declared these groups situated in geographical pockets and practicing localised versions of Islam, a bigger enemy than Kafirs(Followers of other religions). This is because localised versions of Islam dilutes it’s state mentality to a greater extent. So what we have to do is helping to generate local versions of Islam suitable to local context -accommodating local culture and traditions in it. In other words we have to help to generate such local versions of Islam which supports & complements it’s local “social ecology” and does not overrule it.

Final words

We have seen that differentiating Islam with respect to time and space are two keys to tackle exponentially expanding Islamic terrorism. And in spite of challenges and risks we will have to take call in this regard without delay if we wish to save our human civilization which is result of efforts and sacrifices of countless generations.

– Abhinav Shankar

Paris or Perish: This envoirnment day has come with a clear warning

This environment day is special as never before. It has a message as loud and as clear than never before. On this environment day, the official theme for this year is- CONNECTING PEOPLE TO NATURE. But with recent development regarding world’s resolve towards a green and sustainable planet, it is changed (though not officially). And it is in all bold and capital.

It is- PARIS OR PERISH.

It is not though the first time this message has appeared. It has been appearing in it’s all suggestive forms repeatedly. For example, in 2013 Typhoon Hyann the strongest hurricane to landfall ever in history, was all mumbling it while making its way to storm all Philippines. Similarly in 2004, tsunami waves in Indian ocean, all set to kill more than 300000 humans all along the coasts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand and even in Port Elizabeth in South Africa 8800 miles away, containing the subversive effect of a 9.5 Richter scale earthquake, were more a bell buoy echoing the same message all their way. Alike the Afghani blizzard of 2008 was more a prophet gnashingly murmuring same. And so East African Drought of 2011 & European heat wave of 2003 & continuously shrinking glaciers of Greenland in their own ways. It was not like the message fell completely deaf to the human ear. It was heard. Though it still didn’t generate that much alarm and alert as it was meant for. To credit to some sane voices still surviving, human-conscious finally agreed to heed for it and world leaders, though half-heartedly and uncomely, came to formulate a way to combat climate change. And the plan was famously called Paris Agreement. With more than 196 countries keeping aside their differences, agreeing to work together within a time frame for the cause of saving this planet, this agreement is a magnum opus of human wisdom. But it seems that petty yet fatal human weaknesses have once again tried to overpower its great wisdom. we all have a duty to not let our weaknesses win over our wisdom. This is a test we all need to pass without fail.

It is not just a mere coincidence that World Environment day has fallen just four days after the dramatic exit of US from Paris accord under Trump leadership. As planet earth could not bear to awake late to the alarm raised by this unfortunate event. As she was in a hurry to remind her inhabitants once again of the importance she contains in changed context. This environment day has come with a warning- if we continue to fail to think beyond borders of economic interests, mutual entanglement, and narrow outlooks and if we continue to fail to envisage ourselves as global citizen of this planet leaving all other boundaries blurred and if we continue to allow our weaknesses to overcome our wisdom- we will soon belong to the past. This is not the first time mania of a man is going to cost mankind. But this time the threat is most real which not only is harmful but is able to wipe out the whole humankind from the face of this planet. In fact, it may cost the planet itself. The Paris accord is not just a need of the hour but a guarantee for future. Let’s be unmistakenly clear that any threat to it is a direct threat to humankind. Indeed, ‘Do or Die’- the famous English phrase has got a new version in the context of climate change: ‘Paris or Perish’.

– Abhinav Shankar