At least the apex court felt the need to slam the administration over clubbing housewives and women engaged in domestic work along with the categories containing prostitutes, beggars and prisoners within the Census; the court stated that such categorisation of women is totally irrational and insensitive. I kept wondering that in an era where even the slightest of gender discrimination is a highly inflammable and potent fuel for the media, activists and the civil society alike, how was it that such a slap on the face of the housewife (the Census categorization) had gone unnoticed – or should I say deliberately overlooked? Is it that in our progressive society today, the housewife has lost her identity or is it that her definition has been reduced to the manner in which she gets portrayed in TRP hungry daily soaps? Is it that she is being taken too much for granted?

According to the Census, the logic behind clubbing housewives along with beggars and prostitutes stems from the fact that none of them directly contributes to the economy. In simple terms, it means that all three categories of people are unproductive. I do not wish to comment much on begging and prostitution, but should mention that both professions are an outcome of the productive people around! Clearly, this kind of categorization of housewives is not just discriminatory but is outrageously illogical. In fact, if one goes about calculating the contributions that are being made by a housewife then it would put a lot of the so called productive people to shame. To start with, a report by the ‘Evangelical Social Action Forum and Health Brigade’ estimates that the economic value added by Indian housewives would be nothing less than $600 billion annually – that is equal to a staggering Rs 28,20,000 crore. In simple terms, it means that on an average an Indian housewife adds Rs 78,000 per year to the economy – which again I feel is an understatement given the fact that the millions of housewives support their respective families in innumerable ways. To an extent that without their support, most of the so called productive lot would become unproductive.

A survey, which was featured almost four years back, and which quite strangely was ignored by most of the leading media houses, proves that if we were to add the contributions made by housewives to their respective households – to the National Income – then Indian GDP would go up by a staggering four folds! Notwithstanding all that, if one were to still state that the contributions of a housewife are intangible and cannot be added to the GDP, it should not mean that their contributions are reduced to a naught! How can one rule out the facts that even today, as per an NSSO survey, more than 50 per cent of rural women and 20 per cent of urban women are engaged in activities like collection of fuel wood, fetching of water after walking for kilometers, and providing a silent latent hand in small household businesses – acts that go completely unpaid. Beside these, a large number of women across the country look after livestock, poultry, domestic hygiene, cooking, of course children too, and so on and so forth. Going by the assumption that these housewives work for around 10 hours per day (which again is a conservative estimate, as most of them are found working for more than 12 hours a day), if these women were paid for their daily work, even simply at par with wages set by the government under the Minimum Wages Act, a single women ends up adding a minimum of Rs 2,500-3,500 per month per family. And unlike prisoners, beggars and prostitutes, almost all of the work done by housewives is economic in nature as in most of the developed countries, the work that housewives do are generally carried out through paid contracts.     Read More....

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When over 3,200 tourists were left stranded in Leh after a major cloudburst, a few private airline companies were planning to capitalise on the opportunity! Taking advantage of the situation, these airlines not only jacked up their fares for almost all flights flying out of Leh, but also viewed this crisis as an opportunity to squeeze the maximum from the already troubled tourists. What can be more shameful for a country that boasts about its service sector and weaves dreams around it? Airline companies knew it very well that there was no way out for these stranded people other than to accept their offer if they wanted to escape the deadly fury of nature. The flash floods had already killed around 150 people and over 500 had gone missing. Leave aside providing medical aid and discounted tickets (for those who couldn’t afford them), these airlines adopted a reverse method and demanded a higher fare holding the tourists at ransom!

Going by media reports, two specific airlines jacked up their fares exorbitantly and charged stranded passengers anything between Rs. 30,000-35,000 for a one-way flight out of Leh, which is a staggering ten times higher than what the fares are in normal conditions. And mind you, this was despite the warnings issued by the Directorate General Civil Aviation. And again, this was just not an aberration. Airline companies are habituated to such shameless moves whenever they find an opportunity. Be it strikes, natural calamities or some crisis, they blatantly jack up their ticket fares in order to make quick bucks.

A few months back, in May 2010, a similar practice was adopted by airline companies when a section of Air India union went on a strike. Many private airlines flew their planes with an undeclared fare hike of 10-20 per cent. The fares, which were previously (even on the websites of these airlines) around Rs 4,500-6000 went up by 20 to 30%. It was found that airlines were charging as high as Rs 15,000 per ticket for a one-way travel to Varanasi from Mumbai. Two years back, a similar thing had happened when the Gujjar agitation blocked the Jaipur-Delhi highway! Airline companies, taking advantage of the situation, abnormally hiked their fares as there was no other option left for people enter or exit Jaipur. During the same time, a budget airline took its passengers for a ride by charging obscene prices for economy class tickets on the Mumbai-Jaipur route. Even last year, when Jet airways cancelled over 200 flights on the pretext of a strike by its employees (flight attendants, air hostesses and pilots), several rival players doubled their fares on almost all possible routes! There is a plethora of such examples. Take another case – It’s not a hidden fact that tens of thousands of Muslims go for the Haj pilgrimage every year from India. Last year, it was widely reported in the media that in spite of the subsidy given by the government, airline companies jacked up the airfare on the pretext of having had to reschedule and cancel regular flights in order for the flights to be deployed on this special Haj route!     Read More....

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Recently, in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), China toppled Japan to secure the second position globally, after US. In fact, China was very close to achieving this feat the last year itself, but fell short at the last moment. As per reports, if China keeps growing at its current pace, then by 2025, it should topple the US to become the largest economy of the world. Who could have imagined that an economy, which was languishing till about three decades back, has put itself in such formidable position? What is even more amazing is the fact that at a point in time when the world economy is still recovering from the global recession, China kept on growing. The growth has been such that in 2005, it first overtook Britain and France; then in 2007, it surpassed Germany to secure the position of the third largest economy of the world. It is not that the growth did not bring in iniquitous distribution of wealth; but then, at the same time, China has managed to pull out a staggering 600 million people out of poverty – a record which no other country has achieved so far.

Going by media reports, it doesn’t seem that many experts are appreciative of the Chinese growth. In fact even now, most in the developed world still cannot fathom the fact that China can be a serious contender in the new economic order. Much of this is owing to the fact that irrespective of its number 2 position, China still remains a developing country, as its current per capita is still 10 times lesser of that of Japan. But then, what most miss out on is the fact that China is in no hurry to prove itself. China has moved step by step in terms of consolidating its position. They have never bothered about the criticisms that they faced on humanitarian issues, or the kind of global cynicism that they faced by keeping their currency purposefully undervalued. Their objective has been very clear – which gets reflected in the manner in which they have planned every step. From the very beginning, China has been extremely scientific and systematic in its approach. And more than that, the growth has come out of great sacrifice collectively made by the Chinese citizens. China has systematically moved people into manufacturing and today China manufactures almost half of the global produce. Thus today, a Walmart retains the topmost position in the Fortune list by selling goods that are being made in China. And all this has not come in a day. It has been an outcome of years of planning. China today boasts of an investment which is a mind numbing 40% of GDP! Even at its peak, the US managed around 18%. Even countries like ours are managing 18%. Additionally, the Chinese investment mobilization has been far more prudent than any other country’s efforts. They have systematically invested in infrastructure, which not only created jobs, but also helped in creating a world class environment for trade. But then, their biggest credit has been in terms of the investments that they made in education. As per reports in 1998, around 3 million students were undertaking Chinese higher education; this increased to around 8 million in a matter of just 4 years. And investments have just not been in higher education – starting from English training, to vocational training to the investments that they made in science and technology. Such has been the outcome that their investments in education alone add up to almost 6% to their growth; and this would be sustained over a period of time. Today, China produces patents, the number of which is only second to the US! Not just this, they received severe criticism from all quarters when they pro-actively went ahead with their engagement with Iran. They did so not just with Iran to but with Sudan as well, for they knew that energy security is key to their dominance in global trade.     Read More....

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Planman Consulting
Arindam Chaudhuri's Portfolio - he is at his candid best by Society Magazine

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Though a couple of months back I did write on this topic of Right to Food Act (refer April 18th, 2010 issue of TSI), I thought that one column could not have done justice to such a vast topic! Similar to what I wrote in my earlier column, there’s no doubt that the National Food Security Bill would come as a blessing for millions of families who sleep on empty stomachs; but the real question is, how will our authorities manage to mobilize this huge quantity of grains. Distribution in itself is a huge bottleneck, which I covered in detail in my previous column. But more than that, the other impediments are procurement and storage! Going by Food Security Bill recommendations, if the government has to distribute 420 kilograms of food grains to each of the 830 lakh BPL families every year, the government would require 350 lakh tonnes of grain every year! My skepticism behind the ‘success’ of this bill revolves around the current state of our Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns!

The obscene destruction of food grains in FCI godowns, which in reality are a real feast zone for rodents, is nothing new. But what’s most ironical is that despite food prices soaring up like never before, the government seems so very reluctant towards distributing their food grains, even those grain stocks that are on the verge of getting damaged, if not already damaged. According to reports obtained through the Right to Information Act, improper storage facilities and improper maintenance has destroyed a mind boggling 10,688 lakh tonnes of food grains over the years. What’s more shocking is that in spite of making allocation after allocation, and that too to the tunes of thousands of crores of rupees towards food safety and food subsidy, food-grain stocks worth Rs 50,000 crores had to be disposed off as waste over the past few years due to improper storage facilities. The incorrigibility of our authorities is so predominant that despite having knowledge about these damages, they still have not taken any adequate measures to improve the storage facilities. Otherwise, what else could be the logic behind the reliance on tarpaulin storage facilities for food grains. So much so that currently more than 170 lakh tonnes of grains are stored in tarpaulin facilities. The food grains stored under tarpaulin facilities not only have a low shelf life but also are exposed to frequent attacks by rodents. In the past, it was found that FCI’s godowns in a locality in Jaipur were found storing liquor for Rajasthan State Breweries Corporation, while wheat grains were left in the open.

If one goes by Planning Commission’s estimates that a family should be provided with 35 kg of food grains per month, then the food wasted over the years (since 1997 till 2010) could have fed 25,000 lakh families in one year, or 2500 lakh families over the last 10 years! This would have also been enough to feed 830 lakh BPL families (with 35 kg grains per month) over the next thirty years!!! In other words, adequate storage and systematic distribution infrastructure could have fulfilled the objective of national food security bill, all by itself! If mistakes of the past are to be overlooked (which shouldn’t be), the present stock of 590 lakh tonnes of grains stored in various FCI godowns could easily feed 1404 lakh BPL families for a year – and we would be still left with huge buffer stock that could be used in emergency for the future.     Read More....

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Since the past two weeks, insurance companies proffering health insurance (18 major ones, including four public sector entities) have announced their decision to discontinue the cashless facility. Their argument – the bills from the bigger hospitals are inflated, which in turn is hitting their bottom lines! Reports indicate that the annual premium collected by the health insurers is around Rs. 8,000 crores whereas the outflow in terms of settlements is around Rs. 12,000 crores. Their biggest contention is that certain hospitals do not subscribe to the package rates provided by the insuring companies. And so, as a result, insurance companies have de-listed almost 150 hospitals in Delhi and NCR alone from their list and have also stopped giving cashless facilities to the insured, as of now.

In fact, there are four key stakeholders to this current imbroglio. The first is the group of insurance companies; the second are the large hospitals; the third are the state governments (as health is a state subject!); and the last – and the most significant – are the insured individuals, that is, the common man! Let’s analyse each of these stakeholders and evaluate them in the context of the current crisis.

Let us first start with the insurance companies. Considering that filing of inflated medical bills – by increasing the stay of patients, requesting unnecessary medical tests, multiple visits by consultants, differential pricing, expensive disposal items et al – has been an issue with the large and renowned hospitals since a long time, why wasn’t the same addressed by the insuring companies much before and that too within the actuarial, while drafting the health based premiums? Today, when bottom lines are put to test on account of the faulty modeling of premiums by insurance firms themselves, why should one be allowed to spoil the boat of the common man – especially when the common man initially signed up for health insurance on being promised advantages like cashless facilities?

Coming to the second stake holder – that’s the group of hospitals, who are accused of errant and inflated pricing! Now, if hospitals were/are charging that kind of price, it is just because of the existing asymmetries in the health market. Looking at health completely dispassionately, these hospitals would not even have existed had the state government (the third stakeholder) been responsible enough to create adequate health infrastructure. In the absence of the same; and in the absence of quality health facilities, all leading hospitals enjoy that position of being able to charge premium pricing. As far as quota for treating the poor free of cost is concerned, we all know how unsuccessful both the government and these hospitals are in their own respective ways.
Read More....

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IIPM B-School Detail
IIPM makes business education truly global
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Arindam Chaudhuri (IIPM Dean) – ‘Every human being is a diamond’
Arindam Chaudhuri – Everything is not in our hands
Planman Technologies – IT Solutions at your finger tips
Planman Consulting
Arindam Chaudhuri's Portfolio - he is at his candid best by Society Magazine

IIPM ranked No 1 B-School in India
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IIPM: Management Education India
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