Saturday, July 22, 2017

Inequality in Developing Countries, India

An older article on Inequality by the author has been popular in this blog. It talked of rising wealth and income inequality over the last forty years, primarily in the richest country of the world, US. Suggestions were given as to the problem may be overcome.

This year, 2017, OXFAM carried out a study of inequality in 152 countries of the world including both rich and poor countries. According to a report in times of India  based on the study, India has been ranked 132 out of 152 countries on the basis of inequality. Sweden ranked the highest while Nigeria was at the bottom. The US had the highest level of inequality among developed countries, though it is the wealthiest country in the world. However, most of its budget goes on military spending and maintaining wars and military bases around the world.

In India, the new Narendra Modi government has been seized of the problem and his approval rating is one of the highest in any country in the world. One may question why it so if inequality is so high. The reason is simple. India had been declining on many fronts until 2014. Ever since he came to power PM Narendra Modi has arrested the decline and thing have begun to change for the better. Nevertheless this Oxfam study indicates that mere platitudes, posturing and tinkering would not be sustainable and more aggressive measures are required to tackle this very fundamental problem of inequality that concerns well being of majority.

The solutions suggested in the earlier note by this author were relevant for all countries but have greater significance for the developed world. As regards the developing world, other additional measures are required. The best way to discover these are from examples of other developing countries that have been successful in dealing with this issue. Namibia is the shining example for other developing countries to emulate.

According to a report in the Guardian  Inequality is not inevitable. It is a policy choice. For proof, look at Namibia , Here is a country that inherited the highest levels of inequality in Africa when it gained independence from apartheid-era South Africa in 1990. Yet the Namibian government has since managed to systematically reduce the gap between rich and poor, more than halving the poverty rate from 53% to 23%. A key factor has been its investment in education: Namibia has the world’s second-highest percentage of overall budget spent on education, enabling it to provide free secondary school to all students. It also spends a greater proportion of its budget on health than Finland.

As a comparison, the following list reveals spending ranks of some countries on health, education and social protection

1 Ireland
2 Germany
3 Finland
4 Belgium
5 France
148 Bangladesh
149 India
150 Laos
151 Myanmar
152 Nigeria

As can be a seen there is a close correspondence if not a precise one between inequality and education and social spending. Thus if lagging countries like India and Nigeria wish to improve conditions of misery in their countries, aside from measures of the earlier note, a hugely increased proportion of the budget would have to be spent on health and education rather than progressive increases of salaries of government employees much is excess of what most in the country earn and temporary gifts that may bring votes in an election. It is true that health and education do not bring the same hefty commissions to the bureaucracy as for example infrastructure spending to the corrupt among the bureaucracy. For this very reason the pressure to increase budgets in these necessary area for well being of people is less. A wise leadership must necessarily overcome such pressures for progress of a nation.

As an example a lot of social spending in India has gone on providing homes to the poor. These are of poor quality and where provided they turn into hell holes soon after. A wiser approach would be to to work on alleviating poverty and provide the poor plots to build homes on in well demarcated areas with roads, water supply and drainage to build their own homes. At the most a toilet may be built. The poor will then gradually build their own homes in it even starting with a mud hut and end up with much finer homes eventually. However, in this latter approach there are no series of commissions between the officials and contractors.

Unless corruption is eliminated all other measures howsoever well meant shall fail.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pollution of Ma Ganga

Ma Ganga brings peace and prosperity to the lands it flows through when it flows pure .When pollution is added to Ma Ganga, crime and poverty spreads across the lands it flows through in direct proportion to the pollution
It is very sad that the river Ganga that flows through Northern India has become highly polluted since seventy years ever since India became independent. Over these seventy years the pollution has increased every year the government has spent enormous amounts of money to clean it perhaps in direct proportion to the money spent.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is concerned about it as are citizens. This author too has applied his mind to the topic and written notes containing suggestions on how to help clean it. A note can be found at the following link

A New Revised Approach to Cleaning the Ganges

Jai Bhole Nath
Jai Shri Hanuman

Thursday, July 06, 2017

How to Solve the Smart Phone Problem in Offices

A couple of decades ago, personal computers became common equipment of offices. While it made many tasks easier, it created problems too. Office workers began to use it for a lot of other things besides work. Soon offices started placing restrictions on its use, some that were on office networks put in firewalls to block some sites.

A new age has now arrived, it is the age of the smart phones and one can play around on it almost as much as on a personal computer. This has become a problem in many offices around the world. Recently when in a district of Uttar Pradesh the District Magistrate organized a meeting of all officials to solve problems of public, all arrived with their smart phones. When the DM made a surprise check he found many busy playing games or messaging on social media etc. The DM blew his top and shouted at the staff but it is more or less guaranteed that when he left the smart phones came out again. The problem is more pervasive in government offices than private companies because jobs are more secure. At the most one would be transferred out to an isolated district but that is not an important issue anymore. One will get even more time to play on smart phones over there.

The use of a smart phone has become addictive. On a visit to a restaurant yesterday this blogger noted that on all the surrounding tables people were busy on theirs. On the adjacent table was a young couple in love. They were pouring together on a single phone.

Whenever an issue arises, it is necessary to remain cool and apply one’s mind for a solution. The solution to this issue is a simple one. Ban the use of smart phones in offices but require that employees get another feature phone and bring it to office. That is required for staff to contact each other for work. Some department may even provide a small allowance of one thousand rupees each for the phone. A simple feature phone is available for less but an employee can purchase a more expensive one with his own money if he wishes. After this a fine of five thousand rupees or so may be fixed for employees that bring smart phones to work to be taken off from their salary.

However, an employee may say that he needs a smart phone before and after work, for example to get an Uber taxi. In this case the employee may bring the phone but deposit it at the front desk on arrival and collect before leaving.

This author feels saddened to throw a spanner in the fun of many but then for our world to go on and function efficiently work is necessary too.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sustainable Solution to Hunger in Parts of Africa
Several African countries are suffering huge problems of hunger, some arising from internal conflicts and prolonged droughts. Local food is not available for humans leave alone domestic and wild animals and thus life is being extinguished. As large numbers of humans leave home and village for more hospitable areas as refugees, they expand problems of neighboring areas and countries too.

International organizations such as the UN and OXFAM repeatedly appeal for food aid and are able to provide some relief from time to time. While such aid is necessary, it is only a short term measure and the question that needs to be addressed is:-

Aside from temporary relief, is there a sustainable solution to rescue these communities from suffering?

As a matter of fact there is a solution. It is easy to implement and it will not just help such drought prone communities on a sustainable basis but the planet as a whole by improving climate.

The solution lies in growing new forests in which food and fodder producing trees are a major proportion. Much forest land has been lost over the last 150 years or so in presently drought prone countries and their replacement is essential to improve the situation. It is forests that had sustained human and animal life in Africa for thousands of years earlier. Not only will such forests provide food and fodder for humans,  domestic and wild animals, they shall also ease conditions of drought. Clouds from oceans are attracted most towards green lands bringing much needed rain. Not just that, a recent study by NASA shows how forests make their own rains due to evaporation from leaves

Trees like Moringa produce nutritious food and fodder within a year of planting while many other varieties such as mulberry and Jack fruit do likewise over a few years. The precise trees to be planted would depend on the local climate. Aside from food producing trees, new forests must also include some highly drought resistant trees that sustain a forest in dry years, nitrogen fixing ones to improve health of forest and also some that can be pruned for firewood. Trees such as the common yellow flowered cassia is drought resistant, fast growing and produces fuel wood of high calorific value. Its pruned branches are replaced rapidly by new growth. On the other hand Moringa tree has a porous wood quite useless as firewood but its leaves, flowers and beans are all highly nutritious food as are the leaves of the white mulberry tree. See the following note for more on these trees:

The first step to develop such forests is to start tree sapling nurseries in selected areas. The saplings may then be planted in designated areas near human habitations in rainy season. Leveled mud tracks suitable for tractors would be required through forest land to carry water to newly planted trees in the first two or three years after plantation. Later these tracks shall fill up through natural propagation of forest trees.

Low lying areas where rain water collects need to be identified in such new forests to expand into lakes and ponds through excavation. Such lakes increase moisture content and ground water table in the forest. They also help to sustain forest life and may also provide fish.

The development of such forests needs international aid and involvement. It shall help all concerned. More trees on the planet help to bring down global temperature as well as mitigate adverse climate extremes. See the following note for more on this

Monday, March 27, 2017

Improving Indian Railways

While India is well known for its hospitality, relaxed and gentle people on the positive side; on the negative side it is also known for chaos, disorder and crowding. It is therefore not surprising that similar values have entered one of the largest railway networks of the world, the Indian Railways. While the new Dynamic Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi and the dynamic Rail Minister Shri Suresh Prabhu have done a lot to improve the situation, a lot still remains to be done. Here are four brief suggestions that are easy to implement and would improve the service quality manifold, increase earnings and save costs for the railways

1 Forum for Suggestions

A new web portal is needed linked through the IRCTC web site on - Forum for Your Suggestions. The best of services in our world have improved through suggestions of users and there is no reason why the Railways should not do so similarly. It can be Facebook style, where a registered user can post a comment and even a picture with option for replies by others to promote a discussion. Some dedicated railway officers can then look through and forward any useful ideas to relevant department, even the Minister himself if felt necessary, while other railway personnel can also look through to see what the public thinks.

2 The IRCTC Website

Recently this author used the IRCTC web site. The site worked extremely well which is a remarkable feat given the huge amount of data it has to tackle. Hundreds of thousands of travelers benefit from it daily and are grateful to it. That includes this author. Therefore it is with a sad heart that this author feels obliged to mention a  shortcoming. The idea is that it may be rectified soon and this excellent website win glory, not just across India but across the planet.

The shortcoming was the interface. One was aghast to see the customer interface design. It was an overcrowded and confused web page typical of the traditional Indian Bazaar. The site was fully functional and worked efficiently but the interface design was horrible. While many an Indian user used to similar things may not notice, it must surely cast India in very poor light to an International audience. Some of them leave the site soon as they see the mess instead of proceeding. Following is a screen shot of a part of the opening page.

The page that opens after logging in is even more crowded. However some of the linked pages such as for FTR services is well designed but it is the first two pages that one uses most. It is suggested that IRCTC immediately seek help of International experts to remove this shortcoming. If reluctant to do so, this author will do it for them free in a spirit of public service, just send over the web master with a lap top to him for a few days for guidance (this blogger will contact if a name and contact number is left as comment to this post).

The workings of many a leading English language website is the work of Indian professionals but the man-machine interface of it is the work of western ones. This is because in general (there are exceptions) the former have the brains for the job but at the present time the latter are more likely to have  the sense of beauty, order and simplicity required to design the interface. The precise reason for these cultural differences perhaps arise from the history of their recent generations, things such as weakness in governance, poverty etc. It shall change when these things change as they have begun to now. More on this is not the subject of this blog but another one by the author

In the meantime the following tips would help

  1. Look up International websites of similar services as a guide to designs
  2. Use less information per page, moving it to addition pages if necessary and include blank spaces on the page for pity on mind of visitors.
  3. Use larger and clearer fonts and lighter colors
  4. Give large space to the services such as login area and plan my trip, not small tiny pieces of the page
  5. The captcha in clear letters as used by the website is of no use to stall robots; it is easily decipherable by machines. See google blogger for examples on how to design these
  6. Move all but a few of most used links from top to a side bar, look up facebook or twitter left side bar as an example of design. The twitter web page is an excellent example of a good web page design

Following is an example of an International website. Compare the two designs to realize what is being said in this note. These screen shots show only parts of the page because the full pages were too big to capture in one picture.

3 The Waiting List

It seems laws dating back to the past century have hung around in Indian law books and similar seems the practice of waiting lists for booking. There is no need for one in the new system that has Tatkal and computer bookings. It only creates additional work for the railways, stress for the hapless traveler and confusion for all. Here is how it can be done away with

  1. After reserving a percentage of seats for Tatkal and any special quota, release all seats for confirmed bookings. When seats are filled message that no more seats are available but a passenger may try tatkal one day before journey
  2. Transfer any bookings that are cancelled prior to a day before the journey to Tatkal quota. It may be considered if refunds should be allowed only if claimed 24 hours before scheduled journey.

No doubt some die hard traditionalists will point out the advantages of the waiting list system and try to retain it but they forget a far bigger advantage – The Joy and ease of simplicity and certainty.

4 Not Permitting Humans to sink to Animal levels

Many trains have an unreserved general portion and it seems that the Railways issues unlimited tickets for these to the extent that some have suffocated in unreserved bogies, or climbed on train roof tops. All of India’s millions should not be allowed to buy a ticket for a single train and suffocate each other in the process. Rather, common sense demands that there must be a limited number of tickets that are sold for general unreserved class, to the extent that the journey remains a humane one. This will require a somewhat complex algorithm to take care of sales at intermediate stations but it is something almost any computer science IIT graduate can do with ease.

Note: This author has been and IIT Professor and an International Professor as well. He has also been a paid consultant in past to Indian Railways Safety organization for an extensive study on bearing failure after a mishap near Mathura.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Removing a Blog post

Every once in a while it happens that after one has written a post one feels later that it may not have the best impact and then it is best to remove it. I had to do that yesterday in this blog.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Design of Indian Notes and Coins – Selection of Denominations

The denominations in which the notes and coins of any country exist have an impact on daily financial transactions of that country. Selecting the best possible denominations is by no means a random or casual process. It requires deep study and research. Not all countries have that expertise.

Fortunately there is an easy way out, learn from the experience of other successful economies and adapt their selection with any necessary modification. The largest and most dynamic economy in the world over the last century or so has been the American one and lessons may be learned from their selection. The Canadians have not only copied their model but also the design of their coins closely varying the print and logo for their own country. The present note is now confined to India. The denomination of notes and coins as prevail are:

Coins: ½, 1, 2, 5, 10 Rupees
Notes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and higher values in Rupees

Compare this to the American and Canadian Selection;

Coins: 1, 5, 10, 25 Cents
Notes: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 Dollars and higher values

The Indian selection may have been an appropriate one a few decades ago when the value of a dollar was close to that of the Rupee. However since then, inflation has brought a dollar closer to hundred rupees rather than 1 and the present selection no longer remains appropriate. A correction can be made with the following changes:

  1. Stop production of 5, 10, and 20 Rupee notes and let them be extinguished naturally over time. Instead launch a production of a 200 Rupee note. Any duplication between notes and coins is not only wasteful, it is also stupid.
  2. In coins stop production of 2 Rupee coins. Instead launch a 25 Rupee coin
Under the present scheme, even the 50 Rupee note is superfluous but it may be retained until enough 25 rupee coins come in circulation. The 1/2 Rupee coin may however be retained until some time in future until inflation erodes its usefulness.

The Indian Rupee, Japanese Yen and The American Cent all have a value that is of the same order of magnitude and fluctuates with market variations.  One could also look at the Japanese example to select denominations of notes and coins. Bills come in 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen (very rare), and 5,000 yen and 10,000 yen denominations. Coins come in 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen and 500 yen denominations. Counterfeit money is not an issue in Japan.

The equivalent pattern translated to India would lead to

Coins: 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 Rupees
Notes:  1000, 2000, Rupees and higher values

This shows a heavy dependence on coins rather than notes, therefore the American pattern is closer to existing Indian practice. But it may be noted that here too, there is no 2 rupee coin equivalent and it is best discarded as soon as possible to make transactions quicker and simpler.. However unlike the American quarter, 25 they have a 50 yen coin. It seems either would be just as effective. There is also no duplication between notes and coins.

Design: Aside from denominations, a proper selection of design of notes and coins is also needed. Here again the example of USA and Canada  is a good one to follow since they have not felt the need to change their designs for a century while those in India change every few years. Not changing the design would bring to an end the lucrative and corrupt industry that makes commissions from design changes likely but instead will ease machine handling of notes and promote coin operated slot machines.

For a History of Indian Coins and Currency see this excellent article:

Note: The reader may read more on the topic by the author in an earlier note of this blog on the same issue here:

At the Present time, a remonetization drive launched by PM Narendra Modi is on in India in order to clean up the financial system, The adoption of suggestions 1 and 2 above will help ease the cash shortage rapidly.

Note: The author has used the word – stupid and mention of corruption in this note intentionally, not from arrogance but in utmost humility because the use of diplomatic language in such matters often causes the point to be missed or glossed over.

Inequality in Developing Countries, India An older article on Inequality by the author has been popular in this blog. ...