Jul 19, 2008

Columnists - T.C.A.Srinivasa - Raghavan

... aur anta mere baap ka'.

The Prime Minister has finessed everybody, including Sonia Gandhi. Wow!

There is a vanity that Marxists like to flaunt, called "forces of history". This holds that in the shaping of history, individuals don't matter and that there are huge forces at work which determine both the processes and the outcomes. The truth, of course, is that this is the Marxist version of the theory that God is responsible for everything.
Clearly, Russian history would have been vastly different had Trotsky listened to Lenin and become General Secretary of the Communist Party instead of allowing Stalin to grab the post, which allowed him control of what in India is so drearily called "postings and transfers". In Stalin's case of course, the transfer was to Siberia and the posting to heaven.
Much of the melodrama that Indian politicians have now served up before a tired and irritated Indian public can be explained by making this simple substitution: replace all the humbug about history being made with Manmohan Singh, Prakash Karat and Sonia Gandhi — the fog lifts and everything becomes crystal clear.
Those who have observed Manmohan Singh over the years will tell you that if he wants it badly enough, he gets it. There has never been an instance in his public life when this has not happened. Never, period.
They will also tell you that be it not so low a posture or post, if he thinks it will advance his cause, he will take it. In 1971, when he joined government, many people thought that from a professorship at the Delhi School of Economics to a lowly economic advisor in the commerce ministry was an absurd exchange.
A mere six years later, he was Secretary to the Government of India, a post that others get after 32 years. Five years later he had become RBI Governor. Nine years later he was finance minister; and just a brief eight years after laying down that post in 1996, he was prime minister of India! Match that.
Manmohan Singh is a very, very clever man. You have to be very, very stupid to mess with a man like that. That is what Prakash Karat did and which is why he now faces a force of history that no one ever wants to face in any walk of life: the contempt and ridicule of the peer group. Politicians across parties and especially in the CPI(M) — and very especially the Bengalis in it — regard him as an unmitigated disaster. He commands no respect at all.
Mr Karat made the classic error: he opened two fronts at the same time, one with Manmohan Singh and another with the CPI(M) Bengalis, who, since 1977, have regarded the party in exactly the same way as the Gandhi family regards the Congress party — as private property. It was no coincidence that Malayalis like EMS Namboodiripad and Krishna Iyer began talking of ideological purity in the 1980s. Karat and Yechuri were the result. It is no coincidence that neither of them is a Bengali. It was Bengali hubris that allowed Karat to become General Secretary. The old Bong vs Mallu fight has come out in the open.
But why are people laughing at Karat? Because his bluff has been called; because he is being used by other political parties; because he will get his party to vote with the BJP; because he has dragged the Speaker into it all; because he thinks India is safer with a nuclear Iran than it is being friends with the US; because he has allowed his party to be projected as China's servant; because he has never won an election; because, very simply, he is so deliciously incompetent that even Sonia Gandhi shines in comparison.
Mrs Gandhi now has to face a question that everyone is asking: why was she silent about the nuclear deal until now? Many theories are floating about and, as is often the case in politics, all are probably true in some minute way that can never be verified.
Equally importantly, consider her dilemma vis a vis Manmohan Singh now. If the Congress comes back to power, in the sense that the next prime minister is from it, she can't discard him. And if it doesn't come back, it doesn't matter anyway. Like others who took him for granted, she too has been left standing. However, unlike in the CPI(M), it is unlikely that anyone in the Congress is laughing at her or has even realised what an enormous victory Manmohan Singh has won.
In Hindi it is known as "chit bhi mera, pat bhi mera, aur anta mere baap ka" (heads I win, tails you lose, and the coin is my father's).
And the BJP? That distant rumble you hear is the sound of the Great Indian Public roaring with laughter.

Business - BPCL to foray into Water/DTH Businesses

Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL), the country's second largest oil marketing company, plans to diversify into bottled water and direct to home (DTH) services in an attempt to boost its profits.
The company reported a 91 per cent decline in its fourth quarter net profit as it was forced to sell fuel below the prevailing market price.
The company is seeking the approval of shareholders, through a postal ballot, for the new line of business. The result of the postal ballot would be known by August 22. BPCL's profit fell to Rs 58 crore in the three months ended March 31 this year from Rs 670 crore a year ago.
"The bottled water market is growing and presents a lucrative opportunity. Our existing infrastructure in bottling and distribution gives us an edge to enter into this business. However, we need to acquire technology and lay infrastructure such as purifying and distilling plants," said a company source who did not wish to be identified.
The bottled industry is witnessing increased competition, with global cola giants, Pepsico and Coca-Cola Company slugging it out with local players including industralist Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher. The size of the bottled market in India has, however, not been estimated.
The company plans to foray into the information technology and communication services space by providing DTH and software solutions.
According to PriceWaterhouse Coopers, the DTH homes are estimated to increase from 4 million in 2007 to 25 million by 2012. The DTH penetration is set to increase from 3 per cent of the television homes in 2007 to 19 per cent in 2012.
The oil marketer will manufacture storage devices for petroleum and allied products to transport its goods economically.

India - Helping rag-pickers to become entrepreneurs

After bringing rag-pickers under the banking network a year ago, the Dharwad-headquartered Karnataka Vikas Grameen Bank (a regional rural bank sponsored by Syndicate Bank) has now taken a step forward to identify entrepreneurship skills among them.
The bank has issued ‘laghu udyami’ credit cards to 25 women members of the rag-picking community.
The bank initiated the process of bringing rag-pickers under the banking network by forming five self-help groups (SHGs) of rag-pickers in Dharwad in June 2007. In September that year, the bank went ahead with credit-linking the five SHGs .
Mr M. Dhananjaya, Chairman, told Business Line that the SHGs, which were given loans, have started repaying the loans and now some of the members of the group have started depositing the amount in the bank. Credit cards
After observing the banking habits of rag-pickers for a year, the bank decided to develop entrepreneurship skills among the womenfolk and came up with the idea of extending ‘laghu udyami’ credit cards to them.
Mr Ullas Gunaga, who was actively involved in the formation of the SHGs, said that five groups were sanctioned loans to the tune of around Rs 5.25 lakh. The loans were closed before term, denoting their sincerity and promptness in credit dealings.
Added to this, five members of these SHGs have deposited Rs 10,000 each in the savings bank account of the bank. Members of these SHGs are illiterate and migrants from northern India.
Asked about the reasons for extending ‘laghu udyami’ credit cards to them, he said this will help them bypass middlemen in their work. Added to this, some women members have started persuading their husbands to start work using the items they collect while picking rags. Maintaining account
During the coming days, the bank plans to expose them to issues such as health, hygiene, and education, Mr Dhananjaya said. To a query on how these members maintain their accounts, he said that a social worker from the area, Ms Geeta Patil, is maintaining accounts for them

Business - Home videos at Retail

Bollywood is coporatised. The new buzzword is FMCG-isation. And here we are talking about the fastest growing sector in moviedom. Home videos. Pricing and supply and a growing hardware penetration have all fuelled this growth, so now to meet the demand, every retailer from grocer to bookstore, large format to multi format, wants to stock movies. But when was the last time you found the movie title you were looking for, without rummaging countless other titles? This is where retail is still to catch up with the rest of the buzzword industry of FMCG. And if it takes more time than necessary to run through the titles, the consumer may just lose interest. This loss of sale has one reason. Improper shelf management, and as thousands of titles get added daily it will become imperative for players, both retailers as well as content providers, to ensure adequate shelf/category management is taking place. LERNING CURVE
Gautam Sikhnis, MD, Palador, does not mince his words. “In the last two years, movie content has made a quantum jump. Earlier, it didn’t exceed 50-60 titles, today, it runs into thousands,” says Shiknis, adding that despite the flux, there’s no thought going on shelf management citing that video retailing has only to look at book retailing and learn how it has evolved over time. “There’s no science. It’s more stocking and stacking,” he adds.
Movies needs a skill beyond simple stocking, says Muslim Kapasi, CEO, Excel Home Videos. “Organized retail has plenty of gaps in merchandising skills and product knowledge. The systems aren’t robust enough to cross-talk with suppliers and swiftly procure and collectively display the right kind of products yet,” says Kapasi, adding that are a handful of stores who are definitely breaking out of this clutter and are seeing the benefit in higher consumer retention by doing so. Already on a high growth, retailers’ interest in making a special effort in movie retailing will come as a critical differentiator. “The need to create pull is not there now in large format stores as everything is selling. But once the market saturates and competition is strong, categories like movie retailing will be one of the magnet to woo footfalls,” says Kamal Gianchandani, COO, BIGFlix. One option, says Govind Shrikhande, CEO, Shoppers Stop is putting more thought on creating excitement. “The challenge is to market it with the lifestyle tag. Can every movie on the shelf add something different for customers to own it? Can the entire shopping for movies be made more enjoyable?” asks Shrikhande. RETAIL WOES
In their defence, retailers like Crosswords say they do what it takes to manage the movie shelves yet, “It can’t touch the level seen in the FMCG segment. The scale and falling prices don’t merit that kind of investment,” says Chandrashekhar Navalkar, CEO, Crosswords. A reason could be that, “Movie retailing has a lot of churn, making it difficult to create permanent shelf space,” explains Hiren Gada, director, Shemaroo.
Yet, not all are complaining. Harish Dayani, CEO, Moser Baer, says given the large number of units he can provide, large format retailers do provide exclusive space for Moser Baer to display its range. “The separate section allows us to display the range in terms of genres and even language,” says Dayani, adding that this exclusivity has seen a 20-25 % increase than the normal off take. TAKING STOCK :
Shelf management is not just about putting products on the shelf in order. It’s also about management of the shelf and conducting activities in and around to entice the customers.

With the number of units in movies increasing, the movie retailing business can definitely pick up some important lessons from the FMCG segment. One of is working in synergy on aspects like merchandising and sharing of learnings between retail and the content providers. “Experience brings people to shop and results in impulse buying,” states Subhanker Sarker, COO, Seventymm. “Innovative merchandising in key areas as well as the check out counters help create that experience,” he adds. Gada of Shemaroo says that it is working closely with retailers to create distinct categorisation of the titles it retails that works. “Depending on the titles, we provide huge cut-outs for premium stores and smaller standee displays for small formats,” he says. Even the space between two shelves is been utilised by Shemaroo through ‘shelf talkers’, giving movie information or running some promos.

“The challenge is not so much on latest movies, which move off the shelf quickly, but older or special titles, which requires the push,” Gada explains. Citing an example, Shemaroo came up with a Amitabh Bachchan pack which was displayed through special counter top displays near the cash counter. “That’s where collaboration with retailers comes to play.” Shemaroo, says Gada, who has studied the FMCG model in key outlets and has attempted to incorporate some of the learnings. For instance, it has ground staff who visits the retailers regularly to ensure that POPs merchandise and shelves are proper and take measures to immediately rectify any inconsistencies. PACK IT UP Similarly, Palador’s Shiknis says that packaging consistency on the shelves helps in catching the customers’ attention. “For example, packing 20 titles together with say vertical red bands is sure to catch your eye,” says Shiknis who has just done the same for his Trauffaut and Kurosawa collection. He however believes collaboration doesn’t end at just shelves or POP merchandise. “Movie sampling using video kiosks can be done depending on which movies needs a push. This can happen if customer data is used to proactively target the audience,” he adds. Last but least, shelf management also means manning shelves by people who know the category and are able to guide traffic accordingly. “What the stores miss out is largely the recommendation engine. Our retail staff and their product knowledge leaves a lot to be desired,” observes Sarker. There are some like Gianchandani who have entirely quit the retail scene and moved into an entirely rental space. No shelves in cyber space. That is a different story for another day. For now, it’s the end. To Market to Market
Harish Dayani, CEO of Moser Baer, may have opened up the home video market with his pricing strategy forcing competition to follow suit. Dayani’s game plan is one of pure volumes which requires width in terms of distribution. “Our business model is designed for a billion people. So we have to have a large distribution system to reach them,” explains Dayani. As a first step, Moser Baer started retailing at grocery outlets six months ago and now covers 50,000 grocers across India.

Fun - Fish n Chips

In India, yesterday's newspapers move fast beyond the raddi man. They are vital for 'atom bombs' and other Sivakasi fireworks. In Kashmir, papier mache objects are dependent on them. Bhelpuri on beaches is commonly served in them, as are hot pakoras and jalebis. They are the south's lifeline for parcelling idli-vada. Abroad, when not relegated to humiliating existence as linings for birdcages and collecting doggie poop, fish-like stunned mullet are covered in old newspapers. But perhaps it is in Britain that old newspapers are most revered. For ages they have been used to wrap batter-fried fillet of cod with fried potatoes. In distant Hong Kong, that tradition continues with restaurants serving the fare even if it means importing old English newspapers. So, expats get the genuine article when they lob up Wanchai's Joe Bananas or Mad Dog and Englishmen. Post take-over, UK's biggest culinary discovery is now served faithfully in the old 'South China Morning Post' . No, sir, fish 'n' chips will not quite be the same if not served in yesterday's newspaper. Besides tradition, it has long been suspected that the wrappings play a role in promoting interest in the printed medium. English workers, for instance, while putting back the fishy fare are often found poring over 'The Guardian' or 'The Daily Telegraph '. And for good reason. There, in the crumpled depths of the oily sheets, is 'all the news that's fit to print': Angelina Jolie and her five-pound bundles of joy. Bush threatens to bomb Iran (again). Gas prices soar. Tendulkar clobbers some hapless bowler all over the park. And when burly yellow helmeted 'lads' gather over fish 'n' chips, jokes flow fast and furious as they poke each other's beer-bellies and point to 'The Sun's seemingly inexhaustible supply of pin-ups of top-heavy babes. So, where does all this leave the desi abroad pining for taaza khabar and home food? Here's an idea that's likely to be widely and heartily endorsed by one and all: wrap takeout tandoori chicken in yesterday's mass-circulated vernacular daily. Influence the publication to load the daily with generous dollops of mirch-masala, say, Rakhi Sawant in revealing ghagra-choli! As the Wah! Wah! fills the air of Birmingham and beyond, the ecstatic Indian diaspora may well go ballistically Balle! Balle!

World - Biting Back

Malaria, an ancient and devastating disease afflicting humanity, infects about 600 million people killing more than a million each year, mainly in the wet tropical regions of the world. In India, the malady has staged a dramatic comeback after its near-eradication in the early and mid-1960s. That's because prophylactic measures are still not economically viable, vaccines haven't been developed as yet and all currently available drugs that attempt to disrupt the metabolism of the parasite are beginning to slowly fail due to the bug's continuously evolving resistance. It's obvious a completely different strategy is needed now. The good news is that Australian scientists have identified a potential treatment to combat malaria by pinpointing the process that helps the disease gain control of the body. In its usual course, infected mosquitoes inject the malaria parasite into humans which then infects healthy red blood cells, transforming them into sticky sacks containing up to 32 new daughter parasites. The hijacked red blood cells are then able to adhere to vessel walls, thereby avoiding being flushed through the spleen and being destroyed there by the body's immune system. The Melbourne-based researchers have found eight new proteins that transport the parasite's major adhesion factor to the surface of infected red cells where it promotes the formation of sticky knobs. More importantly, they've shown that removal of just one of these proteins has the ability to disrupt the parasite bag to stick to blood vessel walls, thereby blocking the virulence or the capacity of the parasite to cause disease. It also has the potential of developing genetically attenuated, or weakened, parasites, which could be used as a live vaccine as has been done with many other debilitating ailments such as hepatitis B. Malaria, which is preventable and curable but can be fatal if not treated promptly, is commonly associated with poverty. But it is also a cause of poverty and a major hindrance to economic development. Any fresh breakthrough in new anti-malarial drugs should not only be supported by governments worldwide but privately funded agencies too. Perhaps this is where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is proactively committed to eradicating malaria, could step in. All this, however, doesn't mean we let stagnant water collect in the meantime.

World - Think Big,Think Green

Nobel laureate and former US vice-president Al Gore made an impassioned plea recently in Washington to all US citizens - particularly political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators and engineers - to commit to producing electricity only from renewable energy sources. To those who say a complete switch-over to a carbon-free energy grid sounds unachievable in the timeframe he sets, that is 10 years, Gore says it is a challenge that is achievable and affordable, and it has the potential to completely transform our lives. Whether or not such an ambitious target is achievable in full, Gore's timing is perfect: he has thrown down the green gauntlet when people are tuned in to the need for greater energy efficiency, to reduce pollution and maximise cost-benefit in the backdrop of rising fuel costs and falling supplies. Gore's challenge comes when the US is experiencing a fall in demand for fuel, probably one of the reasons for the drop in crude oil prices. It doesn't take much persuasion to convince the converted; yet when a popular green champion like Gore asks people to give the issue priority, he can be sure that his voice will not go unheeded. Curiously, there is no let-up in demand for fuel in India where, traditionally, people tend to err on the side of caution. Facing the climate change and fuel shortfall challenge is something that needs global effort. Economic growth and poverty alleviation are important goals, but the thrust towards using available energy efficiently has so far been inadequate. A lot could be achieved by merely widening roads, for instance, to enable good traffic management that could cut fuel consumption by minimising idling on roads due to jams. Another easily adoptable strategy is to encourage switching over to compact fluorescent lamps that are longer lasting and consume less energy. Gore points out that as the demand for renewable energy grows, cost will continue to fall as it did with silicon - used to make solar cells and computer chips. With economies of scale, energy generated from the sun, wind and water would become more affordable and, eventually, all electricity generated could be from non-fossil fuel sources. All it needs to step up the green revolution in energy is a part-persuasion, part-legislation strategy with strong political leadership and individual faith and determination. Like Gore, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and opposition leader L K Advani should speak out and present a united front to overcome the difficulties posed by the challenge. By thinking big and green, the 10-year challenge might be met, at least in part.

India - No Form-16 needed

NEW DELHI: While filing tax return this year, you need not attach Form-16 with the form. In a statement on Friday, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said that annexures and certificates like Form-16, relating to tax deducted at source are not required for income tax returns filing. "No annexures, TDS/TCS certificates are required to be annexed to the returns of income." an official statement said. A senior CBDT official said that all informations regarding TDS are recorded in the PAN (permanent account number) data of a tax payer. He said the department collects data on TDS from various sources and keep it in the PAN data banks of tax payers. Therefore, he said, the tax payers should just provide the TDS informations in the specified column in the return form. If the figure provided in the return is not matched with the data collected in PAN, then the department would ask the tax payer to furnish the Form-16. The credit for TDS and tax collected at source (TCS) will be allowed on the basis of details furnished in the relevant schedules of the return forms. Assessing officer will not disallow claim in this regard (return against excess tax paid) only on the ground that the TDS/TCS certificates have not been filed along with the return of income, the statement said. Also, to enable tax-payers to file returns in the electronic mode, the new return forms have been made annexure-less, except ITR-7, which is the returns for trusts. The electronic return filed with electronic signature will be treated at par with a physical sign. In case of tax return filed without electronic signature, the department said, the tax payers will get an acknowledgement, which will have return receipt number. A tax official said the tax payer should send the acknowledgement to the department. He said only after receiving the acknowledgement form the tax payer, the assessing officer can assess return filed in the electronic form. The department also said a tax payer can make electronic payment of taxes from the account of any other person.

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi

Why do Indian women idolize betty?

Do people still read Archie comics? They were certainly very popular when I was young and entire generations of middle-class Indians grew up believing that the US was stuck in a late 1950s time warp where cheery local restaurateurs ran hamburger and milkshake joints, where college kids wore jerseys with initials on them, and nobody had sex at university.
Most Americans I have spoken to are familiar with Archie and the other residents of Riverdale but I get the feeling that Archie was never as important a part of their growing up as it was for us in India. Cousins of mine who moved to Michigan in the 1970s were devastated to discover that all Americans did not read comics and I suspect that Archie, Jughead and the gang are only dimly remembered in today’s America and that too, as remnants of a more innocent age.

Certainly, other media have been reluctant to adapt the Archie stories. While the comics have influenced Indian movies (the ethos of the Aamir Khan starrer Joh Jeeta Wohi Sikandar was straight out of Archie and all school and university scenes in the Karan Johar-Aditya Chopra school of Hindi cinema owe something to Riverdale), they have had less impact in the West.
Many Americans know Archie only from the early 1970s’ animated TV show but even that has been largely forgotten except as the source for the hit bubblegum pop song Sugar Sugar. (If you care about these things, here’s the story: The Archie show was a cynical attempt to recreate the magic of those manufactured pop stars of the 1960s, The Monkees. It was made by many of the same people and used the same songwriters and session musicians. Archie and his animated pals formed a pop group and sang such songs as Sugar Sugar—which actually hit No. 1. Nobody was told who did the playback for the animated characters.)
I saw a made-for-TV movie about a decade ago which tried to update the Archie story by organizing a reunion for older versions of the characters at Riverdale. Some of it just jarred. Jughead was obviously Jewish and was bringing up a son on his own. Veronica arrived by Concorde. Betty was a fool. And so on. It never really worked for me and the film has been deservedly forgotten.
But it was while watching the TV movie that I began to wonder about the characters and how we saw ourselves reflected in them. From what I remember, Jughead was the likeable happy-go-lucky one, Reggie was the rich jerk, Moose was an over-muscled but well-meaning moron, and Archie was bland enough. Few men I knew identified too much with any of the male characters (though I have to say that I always wanted to be Jughead), and if you pushed really hard then most guys would say that they liked bland old Archie the most.
With the women however, things were entirely different. The running theme in the comic books was that two women were in love with Archie. Veronica was dark-haired, rich, sophisticated and a bit of a bitch. Betty was as pretty but more wholesome, was decidedly middle class and was a nicer person. The interesting thing about the comic was that Veronica was not the vamp. For all her rich bitch airs, she was a largely sympathetic character. Betty was the nice girl but while she should have been Archie’s favoured choice, she always seemed on par with Veronica: We were never sure which one Archie preferred and perhaps he wasn’t sure himself.
It was the TV movie that drove home the distinction to me. I don’t remember it too well but my recollection is that while Veronica had grown up to be the sort of woman we see in Sex and the City, Betty had been shown up as a hick loser. She wrote sweet stories about Easter egg hunts but as the movie made clear, had never really got anywhere.
Perhaps the film was too unkind to Betty: She seemed to have come off better in the comic as I recall. But even so, the point was valid. Veronica was the smart big city girl. Betty was the well-meaning loser.
So, why was it, I wondered, that whenever you asked Indian girls who they wanted to be, they always said Betty?
In fact, I think that’s still true. I have yet to meet any woman who sees herself as Veronica. In their minds, all girls are sweet, lovable Bettys.
And remember: Veronica is beautiful, she’s rich, she’s sophisticated and she has equal claim on Archie’s affections. Yet, no girl I know wants to be her. They all want to be Betty though she doesn’t even necessarily get Archie despite being such a seedha-sadha (simple) person.
Turn this around. Do you know of many men (except for the odd joker like me) who would prefer to be Jughead? Men rarely identify with losers no matter how appealingly quirky they are. They all want to be heroes—no matter how bland.
So why do all girls want to be Betty?
I’m on dangerous territory but here are some possible explanations. One: Girls don’t see Betty as a loser. In the comic book, nobody has to achieve anything so the sense of winners and losers is less distinct. Two: It’s gender conditioning. Men are brought up to want to be successful and attractive to women. Women are brought up to value being nice and decent. Three: Girls don’t identify with rich bitches. Even the rich ones believe that people like them for their personality.
Of course, these are very broad generalizations. I’m sure there are girls out there who idolize Veronica even if I haven’t met them. For that matter, some of them may even want to be Big Ethel. And you could argue that I’m reading too much into childhood comic-book favourites. When we’re young, we all want to be nice. It’s only as we get older that we care so much about being rich and glamorous.
But think about it. Isn’t it odd that even women who want to be Carrie Bradshaw still imagine that deep, deep down they are Betty?
And that one day, they’ll find their own Archie

Lifestyle - Get Connected with Green mobiles

Global consumer electronics and mobile phone vendors are going green in India. Heavyweight brands like Nokia, LG, Samsung and Haier, among others, are planning to roll out products that will be positioned on an environment-friendly platform.It is the first time that environment as a brand strategy has evolved in the Indian consumer electronics industry. Till now, electronic brands had either used lifestyle, technology or health positioning in India. “At a time when product features are becoming similar and efforts to drive emotional USP with brand ambassadors is getting cluttered, an environment platform helps attract the top end of the market. India is seen as a more attractive environment-friendly market than the US or Europe,” noted brand consultant Harish Bijoor. For starters, Nokia has just unveiled Nokia 3110 Evolve, a mobile phone with bio-covers made from over 50% renewable material, 60% recycled content in packaging and comes with energy-efficient chargers. Nokia has also made all its products completely PVC-free. “We have made changes in the process and material of our products. As a result, today Nokia chargers save 90% more energy, 65-80% of the phone components are recyclable and have reduced packaging by more than 50%. There are business benefits as well in being environmentally responsible. It improves risk management, makes good economic and business sense operationally and reinforces our brand with consumers,” Nokia India director (marketing) Devinder Kishore told ET. Nokia intends to invest further to drive environmental benefits with phones and applications. Globally, it has developed a new concept phone made almost entirely of recycled material, named Remade. The Remade handset is made of aluminium cans, plastic bottles and old car tyres. “Even inside the Remade we have used environment-sensitive technologies that reduces waste and emissions during production. There is another upcoming product based on the eco-sensor concept—a mobile phone and sensing device that will collect environmental data that can be shared with others to increase environmental awareness,” Mr Kishore added. LG has decided all its newer products henceforth will be environment-compliant. “This includes forthcoming launches like refrigerators, washing machines and AC. Currently, all our products use around 90% eco-friendly materials, which will become 100% by the end of 2008,” said LG Electronics India MD Moon Bum Shin. Samsung too is planning to roll out environment-friendly mobile phones in India. One such model will be produced with bio-plastic made from natural material extracted from corns. It will initially launch two models which do not use heavy metals, PVC and are energy-efficient. The company also plans to set up a phone recycling system. Haier India director Pranay Dhabhai said the company will roll out solar panel water heaters later this year in India. Even US handset vendor Motorola is exploring possibilities for an environment-friendly positioning. “It’s also an effort towards good corporate citizenship,” Motorola Inc corporate V-P (mobile devices—marketing) Jeremy Dale said.

Columnists - Barkha Dutt

Pawns to the Game

Today, it’s baptising an airport; tomorrow it could be giving birth to an entire new state. How far is the UPA willing to travel to remain standing in exactly the same place?
In these volatile months that saw the nuclear deal devouring the political mindshare, many of us in the media publicly urged Manmohan Singh to stand firm. And when a man who describes himself as “an accidental politician” played a remarkably smart hand of cards — asserting his authority over recalcitrant ministers and compelling his party to put its full weight behind him — we silently applauded the fact that a technocrat Prime Minister had not just survived a swim in the political pool of sharks, but he had also emerged much stronger.
But watching the brazen bartering of MPs in the flea market that is Indian politics, I can’t help but wonder how the PM, a man of unimpeachable personal integrity, justifies the naked commerce that is driving the survival of his government. Yes, sure, middle-class hand-wringing over ‘how dirty politics is’ is not just boringly banal; it is also an infuriatingly textbook definition of public morality and an unreal understanding of what makes India go round.
So when the PM personally escorts Amar Singh to the High Table at a UPA anniversary dinner, we see it as an entirely legitimate political peace move. When former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is chosen to be a Muslim mascot for the nuclear deal, we may feel cynical, but we get the logic of using a missile scientist to mitigate ‘mullah disquiet’. And when the Samajwadi Party and the Congress stitch up a seat-sharing alliance for Uttar Pradesh, we aren’t hung up on their tortured history; we understand that it is smart politics. We are also willing to forgive a last-minute rechristening of the Lucknow airport as an innocuous price to pay, to keep a would-be ally happy.
But even our willing suspension of value judgement has to operate within some basic boundaries. And when you ask us to accept your courtship of a man previously dropped from the Union Cabinet on charges of murder, you are testing our tolerance. It’s even more ironic when you remember that it was Manmohan Singh who had fiercely resisted taking Shibu Soren back as Coal Minister, even as party strategists pressured him to do so.
Nothing exemplifies the political hypocrisy of this past week more than the strange case of Shibu Soren and his band of MPs. There is serious speculation that — by the time this makes it to print — Soren would have been sworn in as minister for the third time in this very Cabinet. And if it doesn’t happen before the trust vote, it’s only a matter of time before the man famous for being on-the-run in a murder case becomes either Chief Minister or Cabinet minister.
But if the UPA needs to be mortified (to put it mildly), the self-righteousness of the Right and the Left is just so much humbug as well. The BJP’s Prime Minister-in-waiting is a man of history and, like Manmohan Singh, has impeccable personal credentials. But if L.K. Advani were to rummage through his own Parliament archives, he may stumble upon inconsistencies that make his party’s present line of attack somewhat untenable.
In November 2006, Parliament was crippled by anger and protests by the Oppo-sition. Soren had just been found guilty of murder and the BJP was demanding to know why the PM had brought him back into the Cabinet to begin with. As Leader of the Opposition, Advani targeted Manmohan Singh directly, saying, “We had heard of criminalisation of politics, but we are now seeing the criminalisation of the Council of Ministers.” His argument was entirely valid. Except that today, his party is in not-so-covert talks with the same criminal troopers. And there is grand and excited chatter about a ‘regime change’ in Jharkhand in exchange for Soren’s crossing over to the NDA.
And what about the Left parties? Where was the Left when the controversy first imploded? These days, the Left is drawing (entirely legitimate) parallels between P.V. Narasimha Rao bribing JMM MPs to survive in 1993 and the UPA soliciting their help in 2008. But back in 2006, in the name of ‘secularism’, the Left did not permit the BJP to make an issue of Soren’s criminal record. During the same Parliament debate, the CPI’s Gurudas Dasupta had hit back at Advani’s speech on Soren with a sweeping, rhetorical reply. “The devil,” he had said, “should not quote the scripture.” Today, his party and the so-called ‘devils’ have found common political cause.
Personally, I think the furore over the Left and the BJP voting on the same side is actually an entirely contrived controversy. What sort of parliamentary democracy are we if parties have to be straitjacketed by textbook positions into ideological corners they can never escape from? One of the healthier by-products of the current political crisis is, in fact, the end of ‘secularism’ as the ultimate totem of the moral high ground. Not because I don’t believe fervently in the need for a secular society; but because it had got reduced to a default point of division within Parliament allowing for no genuine or honest debate. But when the future of Parliament is all set to be determined by which party manages to bribe five MPs from Jharkhand, high-sounding words like ‘propriety’, ‘deceit’ and ‘morality’ are hollow and meaningless, no matter which side is spouting them.
And while the shift from Lal Salaam to Dalal Salaam makes for a great SMS joke and an even better political slogan, it applies equally to all our Parliamentarians. In this season of ugly power-brokering, show me a party that doesn’t have a middleman, and I will show you my vote.
Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV

India - Looking for a silver lining beyong Valley

A car pulls up, rather noisily. Pulwama villagers stop and gape: it’s Iqbal Yaqoob at the wheels. And he is driving a Honda City, a sign of success in these parts.
Yaqoob had disappeared on a cold tense morning in January 1994, shortly after an encounter between security forces and militants and the following cordon-and-search operations in his village. Youngsters like him had been rounded up by the security forces and taken away. They returned after a bit with telltale signs of torture — cuts, bruises and welts. The family decided this was no place for a young man and he should leave, except there was no safer place in Kashmir then.
The young man, who had studied till Class 12, headed for Srinagar, which was in a worse situation than Pulwama. Yaqoob kept going. And has not stopped yet — even after setting up a pharma business spanning several states including Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. He is a rich man today.
Ghulam Ahmad Ghani, similarly, would never have left his village, also in Pulwama.
Life was good. He made a living rearing cattle. And then suddenly militancy started and everything changed, very fast. He left for Srinagar, and started work as a dyer in a small carpet factory. Now, he is a successful businessman making and selling carpets.
Kashmiris are an inward looking people. They are happiest at home, which could be anywhere from the remote villages of Kashmir to the bustling Jammu and Srinagar. But militancy changed that quite drastically -- it were as if someone came home and turned it upside down, but left it looking rather good.
"The exposure to outside world affected a psychological change among them, and they began to think and act in new terms," says Khursheedul Islam, a sociologist. He says that many Kashmiris sent their children to the cities for quality education.
There are no official figures but estimates show that over three lakh people -- other than Kashmir pandits -- moved out of the valley in the years of trouble, of whom many set up businesses in places like Delhi, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa and Kerala.
Imran Tak, an MCA student from south Kashmir, landed jobs at Indian airlines and IT company HP in Bangalore simultaneously. He chose HP and returned recently after three years in Saudi Arabia and London. "It was a great experience. I had never thought that I would get such a position and exposure," he says.
It's been the same for thousands of Kashmiris, not all of whom left the state but they did leave the numbing comfort of a simple village life for the state's urban areas -- like the capital Srinagar.
Around 50 new colonies came up in and around Srinagar during the insurgency years, which mainly house migrants from rural Kashmir. And this coming out has not been just geographical.
"The exposure to outside world affected a psychological change among them, and they began to think and act in new terms," says Khursheedul Islam, a sociologist. There was a gradual acknowledgement of the importance of education, for one. An official of Kashmir University says that students with rural background account for 80 per cent of in the post-graduate classes.
And there is more. Irfan Ahmad, executive director of Jamkash, a big car dealer, says that out of 300 cars they sell every month over 200 are bought by Kashmiris from the villages. "Money was never a problem in rural Kashmir. But they hadn't the exposure to such things," Ahmad says, adding, "their (village residents) outlook has broadened by way of their interaction with the outside world, and now a car appears to them as a need."
But for some Kashmiris, the outside world was not good enough. It could offer just nothing to offset the longing for home. Mufti Wajid, from Shopian, worked for a while at Patni Computers as a software engineer. And then gave it up all up, returned home and joined the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, at a much lower salary.
"Kashmir is a landlocked valley with moderate climate. People are not used to hot and humid climatic conditions. They prefer to stay back than moving outside," said Shoukat Hussain, who teaches geography at a local college.
And for some, it was the pull of the old family home, teeming with relatives -- the big joint family. "We have a deep family system in place. Many people still prefer joint families," says Mufeed Ahmad, a research scholar in sociology. "Even those with nuclear families love to live in neighbourhood of their relatives," he adds.
Even those who came back, did not completely erase whatever they learnt or saw outside. Wajid is not the same person as he was when he left to become a software professional. He has changed, he has grown up, and is a lot less insular than he was.

World - Towards an alternative to IMF,World Bank

BRIC alliance will attempt to set up a new international financial institution.
The western finance crisis has spurred BRIC-building, with the fast-growing economies of Russia, Brazil, India and China (BRIC) stepping up efforts to formalise their four-way club.
The Finance Ministers of the BRIC nations would meet later this year for the first time to discuss the setting up of a new international financial institution, it was announced in Moscow this week.
The agreement was reached by the leaders of the BRIC countries at their meeting on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Japan last month, Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister Dmitry Pankin told the press in Moscow.
The new body is conceived as an alternative to the outdated financial institutions, he said.
“The post-World War II financial structures, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are not working efficiently,” Mr. Pankin said. “It is necessary to look for alternative instruments or modify the existing ones so that they reflect the new multipolar world.”
Moscow voiced disappointment over G8’s failure to initiate reform of the international financial institutions.
“Prior to the Hokkaido summit the expectation was that G8 would come up with a new vision for the future global financial system and international institutions regulating global finances. However, this did not happen,” the Russian minister said.
He added that the coming meeting of the BRIC Finance Ministers would give a start to an “interesting dialogue.”
The meeting will mark another step towards institutionalisation of the BRIC forum set up in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in May, when the Foreign Ministers of the four nations held their first stand-alone meeting. The foreign ministers called for closer interaction of the financial institutions of their countries to cope with the current crisis.
The BRIC counties are already in consultation over the global financial crisis, according to Bank of Russia Chairman Sergei Ignatiyev.
“We are closely interacting. The central bank chiefs of BRIC country hold regular consultations in Swiss Basel every two months, besides bilateral visits,” Mr. Ignatiyev said last month.
The current financial crisis allows the four BRIC countries to increase their share of the world economy even faster than originally forecast.
In 2007 the International Monetary Fund estimated that the combined gross domestic product of the BRIC accounted for 12 per cent of global growth, up from 8 per cent in 2000. Today the BRIC economics are collectively 16 per cent of global GDP, founder of the BRIC concept, Jim O’Neill of the Goldman Sachs said at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum last month.
Moscow has taken the lead in building the BRIC alliance, as President Dmitry Medvedev and his predecessor-turned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin both want Russia to play a central role in modernising the international financial infrastructure.
After taking office on May 7 Mr. Medvedev said Russia was “a global player” with the capabilities and resources to “take part in setting new rules of the game in the global economy.”
Mr. Medvedev also promised to turn Moscow into a major international financial centre, and to make the rouble into a regional hard currency in the near future as part of efforts to overhaul of the international financial architecture, doing away with the domination of the United States and EU and increasing the role of big developing economies.
In a speech at the St. Petersburg Forum the Russian leader put the blame for the global financial crisis squarely on the United States. He said “aggressive financial policies” of the world’s biggest economy, whose role in the international economic system no longer matched its actual capabilities, was one of the principal underlying causes of the worst global crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Mr. Medvedev’s plan calls for streamlining the international financial institutions so that their work in different financial markets is better coordinated and reflects the interests of more countries; better regulation of financial markets, and creation of a basket of reserve currencies, including the rouble.
At the Yekaterinburg meeting the BRIC nations stated their resolve to push for reforms at the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and United Nations. As the West shows little interest in meeting their demands the BRIC members are taking steps to create alternative multilateral organisations to challenge the dominance of the existing world policy forums.

India - NREGA:Ship without rudder?

Recent events in Jharkhand highlight various issues that need to be urgently addressed if the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is to survive and thrive. These events include the murders of two NREGA activists (Lalit Mehta and Kameshwar Yadav), a survey of NREGA initiated by the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute in Palamau and Koderma districts, and public hearings held there on May 26 and June 18 respectively. The latest incident is the tragic death of Tapas Soren, who immolated himself in Hazaribagh on July 2 to protest against official harassment in the context of NREGA work.
By way of background, a glimpse of the survey findings may be useful. Even in Jharkhand, one of the worst performing States as far as NREGA is concerned, there is some good news. For instance, the transition to a rights-based framework has led to a major decline in labour exploitation on rural public works. Wages are higher than they used to be, delays in wage payments are shorter, productivity norms more reasonable, and complaints of worksite harassment rare. NREGA is a valuable and valued opportunity for the rural poor, and particularly for women, to earn a living wage in a dignified manner.
Most of the respondents in a random sample of about 200 NREGA workers in Palamau and Koderma districts were highly appreciative of the programme. For instance, they felt that NREGA helped them to avoid hunger and distress migration. Also, a large majority of the respondents felt that the assets being created under NREGA were “useful” or “very useful.” This was also the assessment of field investigators. Far from being a case of “playing with mud,” as one grumpy commentator recently put it, NREGA is a productive scheme — and it could be even more productive with a small dose of technical and scientific support.Massive corruption
In Jharkhand, unfortunately, the tremendous potential of NREGA is in danger of being wasted due to massive corruption. Judging from the survey findings in Koderma and Palamau, transparency safeguards are routinely violated and funds are being siphoned off with abandon. A similar picture emerges from surveys in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, though there are also heartening examples of transparent implementation of NREGA, notably in Rajasthan (where we found very little evidence of embezzlement of wage funds) and Andhra Pradesh (where post office payments and institutionalised social audits appear to have a similar impact).
Coming back to recent events in Jharkhand, there is much scope for introspection. To start with, these events have exposed the repressive if not criminal character of the Indian state in large parts of the country. It is bad enough that brazen embezzlement of NREGA funds in Jharkhand, with the complicity of many government officials, has deprived millions of people of employment and wages, and thereby, of their constitutional right to life. For good measure, State authorities often scuttle any attempt to expose this nexus of corruption and crime. Our own survey team had a taste of this bitter medicine in Palamau: instead of acting on the complaints we brought to its attention, the District Administration turned against the team and sent a malicious and defamatory “report” to the Ministry of Rural Development, even insinuating that some of us might have had a hand in Lalit Mehta’s murder. Defenceless grassroots workers are not so lucky as to get away with insults: they literally risk their lives every time they stand up against state-sponsored corruption and exploitation.
Second, the counterpart of this repressive apparatus is the utter helplessness of working people. This helplessness begins with a thick cloud of ignorance: we were amazed to discover how little people knew about NREGA in the survey areas, more than two years after the Act came into force. To illustrate, among 200 persons currently working on NREGA worksites in Palamau and Koderma, less than 30 per cent knew that they were entitled to 100 days of employment per year under the Act. The concept of “work on demand”, for its part, had not sunk in at all. The vulnerability of the programme to corruption and abuse begins with this lack of awareness of their rights among NREGA workers.
Third, this powerlessness is also due to the absence of any effective grievance redressal system for NREGA. Gross violations of the Act can be perpetrated with virtual impunity, and most people do not know what to do and where to go when they have complaints. Even when there is conclusive evidence of fraud, and with the full backing of the Central Employment Guarantee Council, we have found it extremely hard to secure any remedial or punitive action. This state of affairs opens the door to further deterioration of the standards of implementation of NREGA, as the message is rapidly spreading that “anything goes” and that those responsible for fraud and embezzlement are “safe.”
Fourth, while this situation is not unique to Jharkhand, it has been amplified there by the absence of Gram Panchayats in rural areas. Jharkhand is the only state where Gram Panchayat elections have not been held since the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution (known as “Panchayati Raj amendments”). This is not only a flagrant violation of the law, but also an infringement of people’s fundamental rights, since it is impossible to provide effective public services in rural areas without functional institutions of local governance. NREGA itself is a casualty of this state of affairs. In the absence of Gram Panchayats (the chief “implementing agency” under the Act), the implementation of NREGA in Jharkhand is effectively under the control of private contractors, or quasi-contractors such as the so-called “labhuk samitis” (beneficiary committees). But private contractors work for profit, and the only way to make profit from NREGA is to cheat. In Jharkhand, therefore, corruption is built into the system.
Fifth, this impending anarchy also reflects the casual attitude of the Central government towards its own money. Given that about 90 per cent of the NREGA funds come from the Centre, the Central government has a right and a duty to enforce high standards of transparency and accountability in the programme. The Act gives it wide powers to do so, whether it is through framing rules, conducting investigations, designing an effective Monitoring and Information System (MIS), or taking action where there is evidence of fraud. Instead of seizing these opportunities, the Ministry of Rural Development largely expects the State governments to comply with its Operational Guidelines. These guidelines are indeed very good, but their legal status is unclear, and many State governments are treating them lightly — applying what suits them and ignoring the rest. Thus, NREGA is being implemented in a dangerous vacuum, with few mandatory norms except for the general provisions of the Act. Even basic safeguards, such as the maintenance of job cards and the transparency of muster rolls, are effectively left to the discretion of the State governments. This state of affairs makes NREGA quite vulnerable to corruption and other irregularities. As political parties are about to launch their respective election campaigns, there is a frightening possibility that many of them will try to “dip” into NREGA funds to fill their coffers. A wake-up call is badly needed.
Finally, the powerlessness of NREGA workers is also a reflection of the timidity of grassroots organisational work on this issue. Somehow, political organisations and social movements are yet to seize the vast potential for collective action around NREGA, whether it is through joint work applications, struggles for minimum wages, participatory planning, or building workers’ unions. One rarely sees crowds of people blocking the road to demand NREGA work, or staging a dharna against delayed wage payments. The fact that a large majority of the rural population is still in the dark about the basic features of the Act, almost three years after it was passed, is another symptom of this organisational gap. The way forward
On a more constructive note, these observations point to the way forward. As far as government policy is concerned, urgent priorities include framing strong rules for NREGA, putting in place grievance redressal procedures, enforcing the transparency safeguards, and taking swift action whenever there is evidence of fraud. As far as public action is concerned, the need of the hour is to make better use of NREGA as a tool of organisational work and enable NREGA workers to defend their rights. Counting on the kindness of the state would be futile.
(The author is Visiting Professor at Allahabad University and member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council.)

World - Trauma training drill with pigs

U.S. Army to shoot them live for soldiers heading to Iraq
HONOLULU: The U.S. Army is moving forward with plans to shoot live pigs and treat their gunshot wounds in a medical trauma exercise Friday for soldiers headed to Iraq.
The Army says it is critical to saving the lives of wounded soldiers. Animal-rights activists call the training cruel and outdated.
Major Derrick Cheng, spokesman for the 25th Infantry Division, said the training is being conducted under a U.S. Department of Agriculture licence and the careful supervision of veterinarians and a military Animal Care and Use Committee. “It’s to teach Army personnel how to manage critically injured patients within the first few hours of their injury.” The soldiers are learning emergency lifesaving skills needed on the battlefield when there are no medics, doctors or facility nearby, he said. PETA’s views
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, however, said there are more advanced and humane options available, including high-tech human simulators. In a letter, PETA urged the Army to end all use of animals, “as the overwhelming majority of North American medical schools have already done.”
“Shooting and maiming pigs is outdated as Civil War rifles,” said Kathy Guillermo, director of PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department.
The group demanded the exercise be halted after it was notified by a “distraught” soldier from the unit, who disclosed a plan to shoot the animals with M4 carbines and M16 rifles. “There’s absolutely no reason why they have to shoot live pigs,” PETA spokeswoman Holly Beal said. Difficult
The bloody exercise, she said, is difficult for soldiers because they sometimes associate the animals with their own pet dogs.
Major Cheng said the exercise is conducted in a controlled environment with the pigs anesthetised the entire time.
He had “no doubt whatsoever” in the effectiveness of the instruction, which he called the best option available at the base.
“Those alternative methods just can’t replicate what the troops are going to face when we use live-tissue training,” he said. “What we’re doing is unique to what the soldiers are going to actually experience.”
Major Cheng did not have details about the number of pigs, how they were acquired or the weapons involved in the training.
The soldiers being trained are with the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, which is deploying to Iraq this year.
“We understand [PETA’s] concerns and point of view. At the same, the Army is committed to providing the soldiers with the best training possible,” Major Cheng said.
Disappointed at the Army’s decision, PETA on Thursday instructed its two million members to inundate the Army with calls and e-mails.
“We’re hoping at the 11th hour here that we can have this stopped. We have to hang on to hope,” Ms. Beal said.
PETA believes the U.S. military has conducted similar training at other bases using pigs and goats. — AP

Jul 18, 2008

Business - Amazon plans an online store for movies

In a significant step toward vanquishing the local video store and keeping couch potatoes planted firmly in front of their televisions and computers, Amazon.com will introduce a new online store of TV shows and movies, called Amazon Video on Demand.Customers of Amazon’s new store will be able to start watching any of 40,000 movies and television programmes immediately after ordering them because they stream, just like programmes on a cable video-on-demand service. That is different from most Internet video stores, like Apple iTunes and the original incarnation of Amazon’s video store, which require users to endure lengthy waits as video files are downloaded to their hard drives. “For the first time, this is drop dead simple,” said Bill Carr, Amazon’s vice president for digital media. “Our goal is to create an immersive experience where people can’t help but get caught up in how exciting it is to simply watch a movie right from Amazon.com with a click of the button.” Amazon, which is based in Seattle, is also pursuing the technology and media world’s Holy Grail - an Internet pipeline to the TV. It has struck a deal with Sony Electronics to place its Internet video store on the Sony Bravia line of high-definition TVs. The video store will be accessible through the Sony Bravia Internet Video link, a $300 tower-shaped device that funnels Web video directly to Sony’s high-definition televisions. That is an awkward extra expense, for now. But future Bravias are expected to have this capability embedded in the television, making it even easier to gain access to the full catalogue of past and present TV shows and movies, over the Internet, using a television remote control. Carr said Amazon would pursue similar deals with other makers of TVs and Internet devices. “We can support both streaming and downloading,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to establish partnerships with all companies who have a connected device.” Amazon Video on Demand will be accessible to a limited number of invited Amazon.com customers on Thursday before it opens more broadly to other users later this summer. Films and TV shows from almost all the major studios and television networks are available for sale or rental to Amazon’s customers in the United States, at varying prices depending on the program and whether people buy or rent it. The lone holdouts are Walt Disney and ABC, which Disney owns. Both have close relations with Amazon’s digital rival, Apple. Although Amazon does not release revenue numbers for its digital initiatives, its 10-month-old digital music store, Amazon MP3, is viewed favourably as a solid runner-up to iTunes from Apple. But it is far behind iTunes, which recently surpassed Wal-Mart Stores as the leading supplier of music in the United States. Amazon Unbox, the company’s original download-only video store, was largely seen as a disappointment because it required customers to download special software to watch the programmes they bought. The service also worked only on Windows PCs and TiVo set-top boxes. To make the new service more enticing, the first two minutes of all movies and TV shows will begin playing for users on Amazon.com immediately when they visit a title’s product page on the digital video store. It will also let users buy a TV show or movie without actually downloading the video file to the PCs hard drive. Amazon will store each customer’s selection in what it calls “Your Video Library.” Customers can then watch that show or movie whenever they return to Amazon, even if it is from a different computer or device, a solution that neatly gets around studio concerns about piracy. “I can be at my office, purchase a movie, and then it will be available on my television at home,” said Robert Jacobs, a senior manager at Sony Electronics. “Creating this on-demand available-everywhere access to premium content is going to be very attractive to consumers.” Amazon will have some formidable rivals if it hopes to dominate the emerging world of digital video. Apple, Microsoft, Google and Netflix are all looking to capture the coveted real estate in the living room as well. Apple has had the most success with video on its iTunes video store and its Apple TV set-top box. It recently added content from several movie studios and introduced video rentals to the service. Amazon Video on Demand is not expected to generate significant profits for Amazon, which must pay large royalties to Hollywood studios and develop the costly technical infrastructure required to make the service operate reliably. But Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, may have another goal in mind. Establishing a foothold on televisions could be a way to let couch potatoes and television advertisers link up to the rest of Amazon’s online store with a click of the remote control. “That is certainly a possibility for the future,” Carr said.—NYT

India - Business of death runs into rough weather

The tombstone maker is carving marble name plaques for new homes. The elderly gravedigger who has buried hundreds of bullet-ridden bodies is idle. And the post-mortem man in his spotless white coat now only deals with jilted lovers and jobless youth.
Times are changing: the business of death has run into bad days in Kashmir.
From the 4,510 deaths in 2001, the highest number for a year in the insurgency, militancy-related fatalities dropped to about 890 in 2007, officials say. This year, 84 people have been reported dead until mid-June.
So 20 years after the deaths began, three different men in different parts of Srinagar, with similar glazed emotionless eyes — Mohammed Maqbool Tramboo the tombmaker, Abdul Kabir Sheikh the gravedigger and Mohammed Maqbool the post-mortem man — have little to do.
“Until a few years ago, there were times when I used to be working day and night, continuously. There is no doubt, the number of militancy deaths is much less and the levels of violence have gone down drastically,” said Mohammed Maqbool Tramboo, 37, a tombmaker who left his home in Anantnag town 15 years ago to make a living in Srinagar.
Militancy-related violence is fading out in Kashmir, where at least 40,000 people according to official estimates — mostly civilians — have died in the insurgency in shootouts by security forces, grenade attacks and remote controlled bombings by militants, crossfire and custody deaths. Anti-government groups say the casualties are twice that number.
That is a sign that things are on the mend in Kashmir, but not a signpost that things are “normal” — simplistic mathematics often attempted by authorities.
Barricades, bunkers and body searches still crowd the day-to-day existence of ordinary Kashmiris. Hundreds of thousands of army and paramilitary soldiers are still on duty.
“I have lifted a lot of bodies. I have buried up to 20 bodies together. The graveyards are overflowing,” said Abdul Kabir Sheikh, father of one of the earliest and famous militant commanders Abdul Hamid Sheikh. Kabir Sheikh works as a “malkhosh”, digging graves and arranging burials for hundreds of people.
One day in 1987, Sheikh's son left home to trek cross the border into Pakistan and by summer next year, the young unemployed Hamid Sheikh had transformed into one of the famous militant commanders of the time, one of the men who founded the insurgency.
The father walked the reporter to the graveyard.
“Yes, my son was a militant. When he didn’t get a job, he picked up the gun. After two-three years, he became a martyr,” Sheikh said.
One day in 1990 across the city, at the police hospital, another young man came face to face with the bullet-gored body of a militant. As he began the post-mortem, Mohammed Maqbool had also started a seemingly unending journey.
“I even did post-mortems in trucks — up to eight bodies at a time,” Maqbool said, his eyes bloodshot. Bodies arrived with no limbs, no faces, or in pieces.
He could not sleep at night, acquired a bad temper, became a chain smoker and used to go into a strange frenzy before a post-mortem, screaming at his colleagues. He was often pulled away from dinner with his wife and children — two sons and a daughter — by a phone call from work.
Now he often gets cases related to Kashmir’s new realities — suicides by security men, or by civilians who drown, poison or hang themselves amid rising numbers of suicides in Kashmir.
As the militancy raged, deaths became everyday. Sheikh the gravedigger helped set up the first graveyard that came up for militancy-related deaths in Srinagar. There were so many bodies that a new layer of soil had to be laid, with a new set of graves on top of the old.
That was around the time when Tramboo the tombmaker moved to Srinagar. His father had died when he was a teenager, and his mother sold vegetables to support the family of seven — four sons and three daughters. Tramboo began to work etching on marble.
There were many deaths to document on stone.
“Most of the dead were young people. Many days were very painful,” Tramboo said, and gave a religious interpretation to the two-decade insurgency. “What happened in these past 20 years was because we dropped the veils from our conscience. We stopped obeying Allah's teachings.”

India - Guru of Blood Donors

AHMEDABAD: While Gujaratis top the blood donation charts in the world, this celibate monk in aapnu Amdavad is leading by example. He is perhaps the only guru to have donated blood for more than 100 times. His mantra in life is: 'I get my bread from society and so every drop of my blood is to be given back.' Swami Adhyatmanand of Sivanand Ashram has donated blood 117 times, mostly for armed forces. This has motivated thousands of his disciples to donate blood. "What better could I do with my blood than donate it to armed forces. Today, be it marriage party, death anniversary or religious discourse, I ask my disciples to organise blood donation camps on all the occasions," says the 64-year-old swami whose disciples in every corner of the world have hosted scores of blood camps whenever he comes visiting. Even during his 60th birthday celebrations, when his followers wanted to donate silver equal to his weight, he asked them to donate an equivalent amount in blood instead. His disciples have stopped doing 'kathas' during death anniversary ceremonies and instead organize blood donation camps. In one single year, he anchored 230 blood camps collecting 69,542 units of blood. As a monk, he has nothing else to donate, he argues. Now that his age doesn't permit him to donate blood himself, he motivates others to do so. The monk has been donating blood since the age of 29 and now organises big blood donation camps on his birthday. "I am called for various functions and the only dakshina I take from my followers is blood." Even the Red Cross Society feels that a few more monks like him to inspire donors and there will never be shortage of blood. "Gujarat must feel proud to have a saint like him. Many donors have been inspired by him to achieve a century of donations," says Ahmedabad Red Cross Society president Mukesh Patel, who has himself donated blood 121 times.

Lifestyle - Burgers & Global Warming

WASHINGTON: A report by the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has stated that 18 per cent of greenhouse gases are coming from animal agriculture - meat and dairy, used in making burgers. According to Environmental News Network , the 408-page report states that what many people are eating is contributing more to global warming than the entire transportation sector of the United States. The report said that the Earth, and all who reside here, are in grave peril like never before. It added that everybody has a moral, ethical responsibility and imperative to face up to the truth, even if it means changing their daily habits. There has never been a time in man's existence when it is so critical to move away from the Standard American Diet (SAD) and embrace an Earth-friendly and sustainable plant-based diet - a vegan diet, the report said. By switching to a plant based diet, mankind will instantly eradicate nearly 20 per cent of the global warming problem. If that isn't amazing enough, this simple yet profound change would greatly curtail further deforestation, top soil erosion and even the ever-worsening tainting of the world's waters. Also, high cholesterol and heart disease, hypertension, obesity, adult-onset diabetes, kidney disease and many cancers would virtually disappear. But, the great news is that people don't have to give up on eating burgers, they just have to make them from plant-based ingredients. Veggie burgers have the taste, smell and texture of the traditional burger, but without the harmful ramifications.

Mktg - Obstinacy can be tenacity

A G Krishnamurthy

What I've Liked The virtues of obstinacy Well, this is one quality that most parents must be familiar with — a trait that is inexplicably more visible among the kids of today, than it was maybe a generation ago. Here comes one TVC by Dainik Bhaskar that offers hope to parents who despair every time their child digs his or her feet in, refusing to be the sweet loving angel whom they were familiar with, perhaps just a couple of years ago! Someone once said that you need to have the unreasonable obstinacy of a child in order to succeed in almost any sphere of life. So even though an unyielding nature can be quite frustrating to a parent, the good news is that it would probably be that one trait that helps the child succeed as a grown-up. And of course, this trait when channelised for a positive, social cause… can move mountains and as the Father of our Nation has demonstrated, has the capability to even free a nation from decades of oppression — the Power of One as it is quite often described as. An unusual yet commendable stand for a newspaper to take and beautifully articulated as well, striking a chord especially in this day and age, where values and morals seem to have the pliability of plastic. But yet, there are a few amongst us, who as the ad clearly showcases do stand firm for the causes they believe in — and manage to change their circumstances. So the next time your child is stubborn, gently remind him as the ad advises, to hold on till later when he can unleash it to change his world What I've Learned Is silence always golden… or is it sometimes just ‘yellow'? We've all been indoctrinated into believing that holding your tongue, especially when provoked, is the wisest move of all. To rub the point in even further, there is also a saying that ‘Even a fool when silent, appears wise'. In most parts of our country we seem to take this piece of ancestral caution to extreme lengths and refuse to speak out even when someone steps on our toes. I remember lamenting about this in one of my previous columns and here I am about to do it again — simply because I witness this tendency for most people to silently accept injustice without a murmur time and time again! Educated, well-spoken, articulate, financially well-off people continue to stand on the sidelines and be taken advantage of. Now this is where my mind refuses to wrap itself around the incongruity of the situation. The big question here is "Why?"! I was in a security check line last week when, as is always the habit, an airline staff member rushed in with an extremely delayed passenger and whisked him ahead of all of us who had arrived well in time for our flights! It was as if we were being punished for arriving on time while the late comer received VIP treatment. When I complained to the authorities, a murmur of support rippled through the queue — which is when it struck me: why on earth were they accepting this unfairness without any complaint? Were they lazy, scared or indifferent — the answer eludes me. If enough number of people protested every time an "official" queue-cutting attempt was made, the practice will stop. In countries abroad, if you arrive late, you still stand in the queue like everyone else – it would be disastrous to even dream of cutting past the others — I can't imagine anyone standing around like sheep. The explanation is very simple — people will continue stepping on your toes as long as you don't protest. So let's leave the silence-is-golden approach for worthier causes and not be so yellow when it comes to standing up for ourselves.

Health - Kidney Removal with nary a scar

Surgeons can now do it through a bellybutton incision
CLEVELAND: Brad Kaster donated a kidney to his father this week, and he barely has a scar to show for it. The kidney was removed through a single incision in his bellybutton, a surgical procedure Cleveland Clinic doctors say will reduce recovery time and leave almost no scarring.
“The actual incision point on me is so tiny I’m not getting any pain from it,” Mr. Kaster, 29, said on Wednesday. “I can’t even see it.”
He was the 10th donor to undergo the procedure at the Cleveland Clinic. Inderbir S. Gill and colleagues at the research hospital on Thursday were set to perform the 11th such procedure, which Dr. Gill said could make kidney donations more palatable by reducing recovery time.
The first 10 recipients and donors whose transplants used the single-incision navel procedure have done well, according to the researchers. They report on the first four patients in the August issue of the Journal of Urology.
Preliminary data from the first nine donors who had the bellybutton procedure showed they recovered in just under a month, while donors who underwent the standard laparoscopic procedure with four to six “key hole” incisions took just longer than three months to recover.
The clinic says the return-to-work time for single-point donors is about 17 days, versus 51 for traditional multi-incision laparoscopic procedure. “For me, that’s huge so I can get back to work,” said Mr. Kaster, a self-employed optometrist.
Patients going for the new procedure were on pain pills less than four days on average, compared with 26 days for laparoscopic patients. “This represents an advance, for the field of surgery in general,” said Dr. Gill, who predicted the bellybutton entry would be used increasingly for major abdominal surgery in a “nearly scar-free” way. “Will this decrease the disincentive to [kidney] donation? I think the answer is yes.”
Paul Curcillo and Stephanie King of Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia developed a single-incision technique and Dr. Curcillo was the first to use the method to remove a woman’s gallbladder through her bellybutton in May 2007. They have since used it for a different kinds of surgery.
Dr. Curcillo said the bellybutton procedure “will definitely make things better” for the donor. “A donor is one of the most altruistic people you’ll ever meet. He’s giving his kidney up. So anything you can do to make it better for that patient, they deserve it,” he said.
Laparoscopic surgery revolutionised the operating room more than 15 years ago, replacing long incisions with small cuts and vastly reducing pain and recovery time. Researchers are now exploring ways to eliminate scars by putting instruments through the body’s natural openings like the mouth, nose and vagina to perform surgery.
The method used by the Cleveland Clinic takes advantage of the bellybutton to avoid a visible scar. Dr. Gill said the procedure was approved by the clinic’s internal review board as an extension of its laparoscopic surgical work. He has begun training other surgeons on the procedure. It is not used to transplant the kidney into the receiving patient.
The new procedure involves making a three-quarter inch incision in the interior of the bellybutton and inserting a tube-like port with several round entry points for inserting a camera and other tools into the belly.
The belly is inflated with carbon dioxide to provide manoeuvring room. The kidney is then freed from connecting tissue, wrapped in a plastic bag and removed through the navel when the blood supply is cut, shrinking the organ’s fist-like size.
The incision is expanded to about 3.2 cm to extract the kidney after the port is removed. — AP

Fun - Bollywood Burner

Earlier this week, London-based chef Vivek Singh caught the attention of food connoisseurs the world over when he announced that his creation, Bollywood Burner, is the hottest curry in the world. He also announced plans to apply for an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.
The lamb dish, inspired by Andhra cuisine, makes use of two of the world’s hottest chillies — the Dorset Naga and the Scotch Bonnet. A clearer picture about the ‘bite’ of these chillies can be gauged by the following comparison — the Dorset Naga is over 100 times hotter than Jalapeno peppers! In fact, the dish is so hot that The Cinnamon Club, the restaurant serving it, requires clients to sign a health disclaimer before ordering it. But the Bollywood Burner now has a rival claimant to the title of the world’s hottest curry. Bangladeshi restaurateur Rukon Latif, owner of the Rupali Restaurant in Newcastle, says he has cooked a curry that is hotter than the Bollywood Burner. He calls it Curry Hell, a dish that he says was created by his father Abdul Latif when he opened Rupali in 1977. “How dare they claim the Bollywood Burner is hotter than Curry Hell?” asked Latif. “Dad would be turning in his grave. We’ve been serving the Curry Hell for years now and it’s one of our most popular dishes. “But we’ve been thinking of ways to make it stronger — we are experimenting with using Mexican chillies rather than the crushed Indian bird’s eye chillies we use traditionally. Also, the heat does not come from the chillies alone — there’s a secret ingredient, too, which gives it its kick.” Meanwhile, celebrities have been sampling the Bollywood Burner and sweating with delight. Popular chat show host Jonathan Ross, of Friday Night with Jonathan Ross fame, wolfed down the dish on television after signing the ‘by-my-own-will’ disclaimer. Hollywood actor Steve Carell, who has acted in films such as Evan Almighty and Get Smart, politely turned down Ross’s offer to sample a spoonful. Lianne la Borde of the Daily Star newspaper says, “It is the hottest I have ever tasted. At first, it tasted delicious. Then my mouth caught fire. It even made me feel dizzy. Definitely, one for the connoisseur.” According to Metro taster James Ellis, “...while scorchingly spicy, the Bollywood Burner is daal-icious. The lamb-based curry is innocuous enough at the first bite, especially if you only try the filling. But a mouthful... saw my taste buds melt in fury at the inferno in my mouth.” A burning issue indeed!

Business - Google Gphone by ADG?

Reports in Western media suggest as much, though there is no confirmation yet
MUMBAI: The euphoria over Apple’s 3G iPhone has barely subsided, but the next big news has broken already — that a San Francisco, USA firm, the Ammunition Design Group (ADG), is designing the gPhone, the mobile handset from Google.
Google executives were not immediately available to throw light on reports in Western media that the company, which has designed mobile phones, computers and other devices for Sprint, HP, Dell and others earlier, has got the mandate from Google to create the Google-branded, Android operating system-based, gPhone.
The fact that ADG is led by Robert Brunner, previously a director for industrial design at iPhone-maker Apple Computers, would make one believe Google will bring innovativeness with the phone, whenever it comes, to match or even surpass the popularity of the iPhone.
Earlier, in 2007, there was a similar speculation involving another US-based handset maker, HTC.
Google had scotched the rumors by announcing the setting up of a 34-member Open Handset Alliance (OHA) to develop the Linux-based Android operating system.Android is regarded as a notch above Apple’s Mac OS X, the operating system powering the iPhone, since it provides for third-party development of applications.
According to a November 2007 release from OHA, ‘Through Android, developers, wireless operators and handset manufacturers will be better positioned to bring to market innovative new products faster and at a much lower cost. The end-result will be an unprecedented mobile platform that will enable wireless operators and manufacturers to give their customers better, more personal and more flexible mobile experiences.”The first phones based on Android would be available “in the second half of 2008,” OHA had then stated.
“Today’s announcement is more ambitious than any single ‘Google Phone’ that the press has been speculating about over the past few weeks. Our vision is that the powerful platform we’re unveiling will power thousands of different phone models,” the release had quoted Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt as saying.
An expert said, “It is quite logical to think that Google itself can be one of these hundreds of vendors as it would like to take advantage of its suite of applications.” Google’s repertoire of applications include Gmail, Gcal, Gtalk, Search, Gchat, Documents, Spreadsheets, Google Notebook, Google Groups, Google Maps, Google Earth, YouTube, Blogger, Picasa, etc.

Jul 17, 2008

Mktg - Discount Warrior

It was in 1997 that discount food and grocery retail chain Subhiksha set up its first store as an experiment in Tiruvanmiyur, a suburb of Chennai. To a Subhiksha shopper in upcountry markets it would be in a format quite unrecognisable from the one it is today. No touch-and-feel experience of products for consumers here. Instead, they would write out their orders on a form after seeing a catalogue of goods stocked at the store and would be given a token number. Behind a counter, away from sight, would be the goods which staff would pile up on the counter based on the order form. Shoppers could sit on chairs and watch a TV screen and would be alerted to their order by a buzzer and the token number flashed, akin to a bank. And, on the bill, right at the bottom would be the powerful statement: today’s savings for you!
At the invitation of Subhiksha’s founder and irrepressible 42-year-old Managing Director, R. Subramanian, this writer got to see Subhiksha’s early store operations and its stocking hub. A no-frills, low-cost operation, RS, as he is popularly known, was very clear even then that neighbourhood discount stores selling grocery and consumer goods would be the model he would follow — buying cheap and selling cheap. No fancy air-conditioned stores but workaday stores that would fill at least 75 per cent of the shopping basket of a typical middle-class household. While he scaled up the stores rapidly in the Chennai and Tamil Nadu markets using this model, along the way many of the stores became a bit grungy and complaints of stock-outs of brands became common. It was too early, seeing the initial operations then and seeing Subhiksha’s size today, to say the rest was history.
But 10 years down the line, even as several large corporates with deep pockets in retail still grapple with scale and the roll-out of their stores across the country, Subhiksha has emerged a pan-India retailer with 1,480 stores (and growing with a recent entry into West Bengal) right across the country in 110 cities, among the largest retailers of fast moving consumer goods in most markets and the largest national mobile phones retailer which sold two million phones since it entered this space two years ago.
As Subramanian told Brand Line just after a decision last month to make a public listing of the company, “For the last financial year, Subhiksha doubled stores, tripled turnover and quadrupled profits.” The chain had a turnover of Rs 2,300 crore and a profit-after-tax of Rs 41 crore in the last fiscal and expects to finish this year with sales of Rs 4,500 crore. Around 500 of the stores are exclusive mobile stores while at least 600 supermarkets have a pharmacy attached.
Along the way the ‘rapid-talking, quick-thinking’ RS, an electronics engineer from IIT Madras and an MBA-gold medalist from IIM-A, who drew early inspiration for his model from Sam Walton of Wal-Mart, has had many battles – with FMCG companies, pharma distributors and even with Aavin, a TN government cooperative which retails milk and milk products, for selling much below the maximum retail price, a battle which Subhiksha won in court. Switching gears
A couple of years ago, Subhiksha switched gears. From being perceived as a one-man-driven company it increased managerial bandwidth, observers say at the behest of ICICI Venture, which since 2000 has invested close to Rs 100 crore for a 23 per cent stake in the company, a major chunk of the investment over the past three years. With talent drawn from the top FMCG companies, it took its hub-and-spoke model to other States where each region head operates as if running a separate business division.
From the early format it experimented with, Subhiksha is now a self-service format. With more emphasis on store interiors and lighting, the number of brands stocked too has gone up. Purchase of goods is centralised through 14 hubs around the country which, in turn, consolidate and parcel out the goods to each of the stores. With disaggregation being the buzzword, deals are struck directly with companies, cutting out the distributors and middlemen. At last count, the chain had 125 stores in Mumbai and 175 stores in New Delhi, which is now its single largest market.

As Subramanian points out, the Subhiksha brand too has undergone a change. A few years ago it was perceived as a niche Chennai or South-based retailer, but is today a national brand. Also, as Mohit Khattar, President, Marketing, says, the chain could expand in upcountry markets without the baggage and image problems that it had earlier in the South. Stores in the new markets are all self-service and better stocked and serviced than earlier.
Now that it has achieved scale and size, Subhiksha intends to take the chain up to a new level by making the company publicly traded. While RS was repeatedly asked by the media about an impending initial public offer, the company has instead taken a majority stake in a little-known listed Chennai-based firm, Blue Green Constructions and Investments Ltd. Once merged, the entity will be known as Subhiksha Ltd and is expected to list its shares on the National Stock Exchange, Bombay Stock Exchange apart from the Madras Stock Exchange, where the shares of Blue Green are currently listed.
Subhiksha would also come out with an open offer to the public to acquire another 20 per cent shares as mandated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India under its takeover guidelines. The promoters led by Subramanian hold a 60 per cent stake in Subhiksha, ICICI Venture 23 per cent and other institutions 15 per cent while two per cent is held by the employees.
RS says that since the ultimate object is to get the shares traded, the route taken does not really matter and that anyway the company does not need large capital at one go which is what a IPO would do. The listing could also create an ‘exit window’ for investors in Subhiksha.
However, asked about an impending exit, Bala Deshpande, Senior Director, Investments, ICICI Venture, and a board member of Subhiksha, does not indicate a time frame. Says she: “We look at what works best for the company and shareholders; the company’s interests are first. We will look for an opportune time.” The venture capitalist typically stays invested in a company for about five years. ICICI has invested in several retail plays and Deshpande describes the Subhiksha model as a scaleable and fundable model which caters to a large, price sensitive segment of the consuming public. “RS has managed the extremely rapid rollout quite well. Businesses such as these need that early entrepreneurial drive to move forward,” she adds. Consumer durables in focus
Subhiksha has now trained its guns on the consumer electronics business. Says RS: “We are no longer a food brand but perceived as a value-for-money brand which proposition we extended seamlessly to mobile phones and will now use as an umbrella brand to enter the consumer durables business. Consumers will know they can get the best deal there.” Concurs Deshpande, “If you were to separate out the core of Subhiksha, it is its value-for-money offering. With that you can add on categories.”
As RS explains, the chain will not get into any category unless it can scale up and be among the top two in the business and with the success in mobile phones Subhiksha is confident it can transform that category too. By the first quarter of the next financial year, it expects to have 100 stores of approximately 15,000 sq ft up and running. “We will have the lowest prices,” he declares. It has roped in K.V. Ramachandra, former CEO of confectionery company Lotte India, who has had years of experience earlier at Jumbo Electronics in Dubai, as one of the category heads for the business.
Meanwhile, the chain has an aggressive private label initiative in place which offers the whole range of grocery as in-house brands, including atta and even FMCGs ranging from detergents to shaving creams. Subhiksha’s Khattar says today 25 per cent of company sales come from private labels. With store expansion, he says, the range of brands too was increased from around 400 stock keeping units to almost 1,400 SKUs. “The only constant is the large savings for consumers; it is seen as an ‘honest’ brand which doesn’t make tall claims,” he adds.
Being such a large buyer from most of the FMCG companies, Subhiksha has emerged as a key account for them, ensuring that the retail chain gets higher margins. Comments Ranju Mohan, Vice-President, Sales, Henkel India, “RS has evolved as a retailer in understanding the Indian consumer’s needs and psyche. He runs a tight ship as well.”
The marketing head of a large consumer goods firm, however, says that the rapid expansion of the business sometimes means that the discount chain gets into a bind over cash and payments tend to get delayed. “It faces supply chain issues as the ordering process I feel is not fine-tuned, so I guess they may end up carrying more inventory,” says this executive. But, in the same breath concedes that the throughput of goods that Subhiksha offers makes it a key account for all FMCG firms. But, these are mere hiccups for RS as he hurtles towards his objective of making Subhiksha a $5-billion company and the country’s largest retailer by 2011.

Mktg - Heard outside on Radio

Radio’s still reigning at home. But FM radio stations are not content with that as they look for potential listeners out of home, wherever they can be spotted – be it the cafe, the mall or the gas station. If current trends are any indi cation, then FM radio is set for a song out-of-home. And thanks to the mobile phone and inexpensive FM radio handsets, radio listenership on the move is also catching on thick and fast.
Today, radio in the country is listened to mostly at home (80-85 per cent). Only 15 per cent is out-of-home (OOH) – through cars, mobile phones and at offices and public places.
While the “mainstay” of radio listening is still at home, out-of-home is slowly growing. And with more ‘OOH’ platforms likely to emerge in a big way – such as the Internet and public transport, the future is gravitating towards outdoor radio.
With mobile phone makers using the ‘FM radio’ tag to woo buyers, FM radio players have a lot to gain, says Ashit Kukian, Executive Vice-President and National Sales Head of Radio City, which is promoted by Music Broadcast Pvt Ltd. “There are a sizeable number of phones today which are FM radio-enabled. Even the basic phone carries this feature. So, with handset makers increasingly using FM radio to sell mobile phones, the radio listenership base is all set to grow,” says Kukian.
Agrees Anand Chakravarthy, Vice President - Marketing, BIG 92.7 FM, Adlabs’ radio venture: “In an increasingly mobile world, out-of-home consumption is only going to increase. The mobile phone revolution has put a handset into the hands of millions of Indians. Most handsets by default are FM-enabled, allowing consumers to access our station wherever they are. With the growth of mobile phone penetration, the consumption of FM on the move will only increase.”
“Certainly mobile phones have helped in increasing FM consumption. Today, FM-enabled handsets are standard and available at very affordable price points. However, it is still early days to attribute significant growth in listenership to FM-enabled handsets. Certainly the share of consumption is going up. RAM estimation studies clearly indicate that 30-35 per cent of listeners also listen to FM on their mobile handsets.” And with the mobile phone platform waiting to be tapped, radio marketers are exploring co-branded efforts with mobile handset manufacturers as they see “immense value for both sides.”
To promote radio-enabled phones and FM radio, Radio City teamed up with Nokia about six months ago. While Radio City promoted Nokia’s FM-enabled model on air, Nokia’s handset boxes carried Radio City’s logo. Big FM too has done work with Reliance Mobile on CDMA handsets as well as wireless phones. It is in advanced dialogue with other mobile handset brands in India. Jupiter Capital’s Radio Indigo also believes FM stations can drive listenership through fixed frequency mobiles and is evaluating co-branded activities in this direction.
Several other locations too have emerged out of home for radio play-out – public places such as restaurants, multiplexes, retail outlets and malls. Big FM has invested in radio seeding – putting in single frequency radio sets – in malls, retail outlets, rickshaws, taxis and buses to give consumers the opportunity to stay tuned to Big FM no matter where they are.
It has also done play-outs in Reliance Web World cafés across the country, Big Bazaar , Mongini’s outlets in Surat, KFC in Chandigarh, ‘365’ stores in Delhi, rickshaws in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Currently, it has play-outs in Nirmal Lifestyle in Mumbai and the Iskon Mall in Surat. It has also explored local restaurants, college canteens, local petrol pumps and youth hangouts in the country.
Radio Indigo too has tied with up with various cafes, restaurants, pubs and lounges for on-ground and on-air activities. Radio City is in discussions with retailers to air its content at retail outlets and malls, says Kukian. Apart from public play-out, radio stations have gone a step ahead by literally taking its studio outdoors! For instance, Radio Indigo once went live on-air from a party at a pub in Bangalore.
“We also collaborated with Lenovo to bring in a larger-than-life radio experience. The Indigo studios were set up in a giant Lenovo laptop model 20 feet above the ground. Innovations like this drive the excitement element for the audience, helping to retain the stickiness factor,” says Jayyant Bhokare, COO – Media, Events & Contract Marketing, Radio Indigo.
What is it that makes marketers bullish on out-of-home? Explains Bhokare: “Out-of-home radio consumption has huge potential. With cities getting de-clogged and the formation of new business districts and residential townships, people are bound to spend much more time out of home. We should definitely see listenership growing in ambient areas. Marketers have enormous potential. Given that high traffic density is a favourable factor, listeners today experience a lot of compulsive listening.”
The radio’s ability to converge and blend into any surrounding, anywhere, anytime, and its growing popularity has prompted the increased exploration of the outdoors to boost brand stickiness. Says Big FM’s Chakravarthy: “Radio play-outs are a great sampling opportunity for our brand. Qualitative understanding certainly indicates this helps get more listeners into the fold and get the brand noticed as well. Mass single frequency radio play-outs across various platforms is something we pioneered and drove in a big way. It has been a very successful sampling and brand-building strategy and we will continue to invest in this form of marketing our product and brand.”
And the future appears merrier with radio players looking to conquer more outdoor space. FM stations could be made available on public buses, train stations, bus depots – like in many countries. The Internet also holds good promise – listeners can log onto their favourite stations outside home – at office, in the Internet café, or on their laptops or Blackberry while on the move.
“Uninterrupted access to FM stations wherever consumers are will certainly help in building even more stickiness for the category. However, music royalty issues have created legal barriers to implement this,” says Chakravarthy of Big FM. Radio City’s Kukian hopes the country will soon get government approval for Internet radio. Surely, the FM radio segment is catching the wave.