Aug 9, 2008

Lifestyle - A posher domestic first class

Take a Boeing 757, remove 40% of the seats and give customers lots more room, better food and flat beds. Does that sound like a typical recipe at a US airline these days? Hardly, but that’s exactly what United Airlines did with two of its busiest, most important routes, and last year they were the best routes financially for the airline in the country.

In late 2004, United launched an experiment converting all its flights between New York and Los Angeles and New York and San Francisco into a premium service it calls United p.s. With p.s. flights, half of the entire cabin is devoted to first- and business-class seats, and the space offered to passengers is close to what you get on premium international offerings (p.s. has the only domestic lie-flat bed in first class). “It’s been a home run in all perspectives,” says John Tague, United’s chief operating officer.
Many passengers love it. After visiting clients in San Diego, Carol Ruth took a commuter flight to Los Angeles to catch a p.s. flight back to New York rather than fly directly home from San Diego on Delta Air Lines Inc. or AMR Corp.’s American Airlines. A recent flight in first class on Delta didn’t come close to what she enjoys about p.s. business class.
“On Delta, I was complaining, ‘Where are my headphones? Where is my legroom?’” says Ruth, president of a PR firm (p.s. business-class seats have 16 inches more legroom than Delta’s domestic first class).
“P.s.” shows that at least on some routes, domestic US travellers will pay extra for very nice service, and not just chase the cheapest fare (p.s. fares go as high as $3,235 or Rs1.36 lakh round trip for business class, and $5,167 for first class). That may become an important lesson as airlines struggle with high oil prices and push up ticket prices. To get business travellers to pay more and not simply shift to discount airlines, big airlines may have to find ways to offer premium service that travellers will value—something different from what they can get on the cheapest ticket, and yet better value than sky-high domestic first-class tickets.
Andrew Watterson, a partner at the airline practice of Oliver Wyman, says that to weather the current crisis, airlines are going to have to find more ways to simultaneously cut costs and boost revenue—what United did with p.s.
“It’s a great example of finding a situation where people will pay more for a better seat,” he says. “There are select markets around the world where you can have these kinds of products.”
The number of markets in the US is probably small, however. Airlines need long flights and lots of business travellers to make premium service offerings work. And in the midst of the current financial crisis, officials say it is unlikely airlines will be investing in new products.

Yet p.s. itself was born out of bankruptcy cost-cutting. United had to ground some of its Boeing 767 wide-bodies coming out of bankruptcy reorganization, but it didn’t want to lose “premium” transcontinental customers—travellers from entertainment, finance and technology companies, who frequently jet back and forth between New York and California and are willing to pay for international-type business-class and first-class seats.
So, United designed a 757 with roughly the same number of premium seats as in the 767. That left room for only 72 coach seats. The airline made those seats all “Economy Plus” with 34 inches of space for each row, three more inches than United’s standard coach seating.
Because of the dominance of business-class and first-class seats, and because customers are more willing to pay for premium cabins on p.s., United averages significantly higher average fares on those flights than other domestic trips. In the fourth quarter, according to government data, United’s average ticket between New York and Los Angeles was $884 round trip, while regular United service between Newark, New Jersey, and Los Angeles averaged about half that—only $448 round trip.
That means that the United p.s. flight on a 757 generated about 20% more revenue per trip than the United 757s flying between Newark and Los Angeles, even though Newark flights had many more seats. Tague says the two p.s. markets last year had “much stronger margins than the rest of our domestic system”.
Indeed, aviation consulting firm Simat Helliesen and Eichner Inc. estimated that last year United had operating profits in Asia, Europe and its transcontinental markets. All other domestic routes and Latin America had operating losses.
For many coach customers, there’s not much premium about the coach cabin on p.s. flights, except for the extra legroom. United launched p.s. with free meals in coach, but has cut that to save money and now sells snacks, sandwiches and salads. Entertainment in coach consists of low-tech video shown on small ceiling-mounted TVs, a far cry from JetBlue Airways Corp.’s free satellite television.
Kay Grogan of Connecticut was surprised not to be offered a meal on a 6-hour flight sold as “premium service”, and she was unhappy with the Mediterranean chicken salad she purchased. “It was horrible. It hardly had any greens in it,” she says. ”What does this p.s. mean? This is premium? It’s a cattle car in the back.”
Both routes—New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco—have long had “quasi-international airplanes”. American flies wide-body 767s on its transcontinental routes with three classes of service, the only domestic markets where it offers business class and first class in addition to coach.
American, which carries more passengers than United in transcon markets, launched a $20 million upgrade of its domestic 767s that compete head-to-head with p.s., refurbishing the interiors, installing fully motorized first-class seats and expanding the menus in the front two cabins.

American contends customers prefer its wide-body, twin-aisle jets to United’s single-aisle, narrow-body planes because there’s more room for passengers to move about the cabin. United says its p.s. jets give customers more room at their seats than American. United’s first-class seats in p.s. are set in 68 inches of room, are 21.5 inches wide and lie flat, though at an angle. American’s first-class seats on its transcon jets have 6 inches less space and are 2.5 inches narrower. American’s business class seats have less legroom and are narrower as well.
Kendrick Bales, a frequent business traveller from New York, says he’ll pay more for United’s p.s. business class than a first-class ticket on other airlines. With only 100 passengers, getting on and off the plane is faster and luggage delivery is often swifter on p.s. flights, and extra space allows him to conduct meetings with colleagues in flight.
When he upgrades to first class, it’s the VIP treatment in Los Angeles, where United lets him wait in the international first-class lounge, then escorts him to the plane right before the door closes.
International air service has drawn sharp lines between those who want the cheapest ticket and passengers willing to pay for comfort, and Bales, for one, would like to see more options for consumers on domestic flights. “Maybe that split will happen here so that people willing to pay have something nicer,” he says.

Lifestyle - E-xistence:What's your cyber personality?

Emails have become the new scented letters. Victorian maidens who wanted to impress suitors used to sign off with a flourish on scented letters that were hand-delivered by coach boys. Now, we are left with intangible airwaves that carry our missives to friends and enemies. Today, we use email for birth announcements, birthday parties, thank-you notes and occasionally, to send stinkers. The “what-the-hell” messages and the “just-where-do-you-get-off-speaking-to-me-like-that” communiqu├ęs that used to be delivered by phone or in person have become the purview of email. Naturally, how we appear online is in some cases, more important than how we are in person. As for me, I think I have better online relationships than real-life ones. My kids might think I am Frankenstein, but on email, I can be polite, charming, even gay, without gritting my teeth, tapping my toes and looking at my watch. I can wait till I think of a witty response before hitting the reply button.

One thing I’ve noticed with email is how people sign off. The Aussies and the Brits prefer the impersonal yet cheery “Cheers,”; Indians like “Regards,” or “Warm regards,” which seems a lot more pleasant than the American “Best,” which has to be the coldest sign-off amongst nationalities.
Some people have quotations attached to their signatures. Most of them are forgettable. The only one I remember is, “Character is what you do when no one is looking”. I thought that was pretty cool. For a while I considered appending it to my emails. Then I thought it would be totally out of character, considering that most of the things I do are purely for the benefit of people who are watching. I don’t mind appearing like a shallow two-faced hypocrite but I draw the line at being a pseudo.
The body of the email draws on different styles of writing. My friend, Ann La Rue, writes the most plaintive emails: no hello, no greeting, and no sign-off. Just succinct messages sans segue as in, “Did you book the train tickets from Delhi to Agra? What do you think of the Obama cartoon in The New Yorker? I found the pink slipper you left behind in my house years ago.”
One corporate head honcho I know writes very civilized emails, complete with quaint paragraph indents, cordial greeting and warm sign-off. Most people write the first email with all the requisite civility and then resort to tapped-out replies. This is, as it should be, I think. It would be very boring to do the “Dear Sheela,” and “Warm regards,” each time.
When I reply to people I don’t know, I usually copy their format, especially when it comes to superiors. When an editor who I haven’t met writes to me, I basically mimic their approach. If they say, “Hi Shoba,” I say it right back. If they prefer a “Dear Shoba,” I’ll repeat it. If they sign off with the “Best” I detest, so be it from me.
Brand managers say that mimicking is a great way to suck up to clients. The theory is simple: You basically mimic the gestures of the person in front of you a few seconds later. If they gesture expansively with their hands, you do the same thing; if they nod in a certain way, you follow; if they scratch their ear, you echo the gesture. A few minutes of this and the person will take an inexplicable liking to you without realizing why. At least, that’s what the theory says. I haven’t tried practising it. I would like to do this but I am afraid nothing cogent will come out of my mouth if I am so caught up with the gesture-mimicry.
The thing I hate is stationery. Fonts I can handle; paragraph formatting is fine by me. But every now and then I will get an email using the “Sunshine splash” in-built stationery that Windows supplies. I was an offender too. For a while, all my emails went out with “Ivy” crawling up the left corner. I squirm now but I was trying way too hard to be cool, you see.
Fonts are another matter, especially the ones on my Apple OS X. I read Steve Jobs’ commencement address for Stanford’s graduating class and he talked about taking a calligraphy class, which came in handy when designing fonts for the computer. I personally like Apple Chancery and pretty much every font that looks like a Victorian maiden’s writing: Edwardian Script, for instance, is how I wish I could write. So occasionally, when I am composing stuff such as this, I compensate for the drivel by upping the ante with the font. Even though you, dear reader, are perusing these pages in the standard news print font, the words as they appear on my computer are full of flourish and up-curved brushstrokes. Again, much as I love them, I don’t try these fonts on email because they fall under the “trying too hard” category.
The worst thing about my current email existence is that people are continuously prodding, bumping, or throwing things at me. My niece registered me on Facebook and LinkedIn and we have both forgotten the password. So I routinely get emails stating that Anjali has written on my wall when I didn’t even build a wall, even online. I am amazed by the number of people who want to be my friend. What amazes me even more is that most of them are strangers. The only thing is that when I try to “approve” them, the darn thing doesn’t let me because I can’t remember the password. So for now, I am like a free-floating amoeba in cyberspace, gathering plankton and the odd moss, but unable and unwilling to commit.
Shoba Narayan has 73 connections that she is trying to approve Not. Write to her at

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi

Heath Ledger - The most convincing joker ever

I know that Lounge has already devoted an entire issue to the new Batman movie (The Dark Knight). So forgive me for going over some of the same territory again. My defence is that I’m not writing about Batman but about his most famous enemy: The Joker. Of course you know who The Joker is. The hype surrounding the release of The Dark Knight has focused less on Christian Bale, the British actor who makes an excellent Batman and more on Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker. Partly, this is because Ledger died some months before the film was released. His sudden demise in dramatic circumstances led to a long and tedious debate about the ethics of using his likeness in the movie’s publicity campaign.

And partly, this is because Ledger is very good in the movie. He has a menacing, compelling presence and his performance is so brilliant that he outshines such actors as Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Bale (all Brits, oddly enough). Only Aaron Eckhart seems to hold his own.
But even before The Dark Knight, The Joker was hot property. The publicity campaign for the first of the Tim Burton Batman movies, released way back in 1989, ignored Michael Keaton (who made a so-so Batman) and concentrated on Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Of course, Nicholson was a far bigger star than Keaton but he also effortlessly stole the movie.
If you are as old as I am, then your memories of The Joker will go even further back in time. There was the Batman TV show (which ran from 1966 to 1968 but is still repeated) in which veteran Latin seducer Cesar Romero made a very bad Joker (the old rogue refused to shave off his moustache so they had to smear the white Joker make-up over it). There was the movie version of the show (also featuring Romero’s Joker) and there were rumours to the effect that Frank Sinatra had wanted to play The Joker.
And if you are a fan of comics/graphic novels—which I guess many of you are, given that Lounge features such an excellent column devoted to the genre—then you’ll know the original Joker, the guy who fought Batman in the comic books.
What makes The Joker so special that he is regarded as Batman’s No. 1 enemy, that Sinatra and Nicholson wanted to play him, and that Ledger will probably get an Oscar nomination for his portrayal?
My guess is that it is the relative credibility of the character. Of course, when you talk about Batman, the word “credibility” seems strangely inappropriate (a man who dresses up as a bat? That’s real?). Part of the problem with comic book heroes is that you can’t have them fighting normal criminals. Do we really need Batman (or Superman or Spiderman, for that matter) to foil a bank robbery, to catch a smuggler or arrest a murderer? These are things that normal people—policemen, detectives, etc—can easily do.
A superhero needs a super-villain, somebody who is his equal, if the story is to have any dramatic balance. So Spiderman fights the Green Goblin; Superman has General Zod. And Batman fights people in costumes (Catwoman, The Riddler etc.) or with special powers (Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy etc.)
Once you enter the realm of super-fantasy, of men and women in tights beating each other up, it becomes difficult to imagine the action as occurring in the real world. Jim Carrey’s Riddler was ridiculous. Tommy Lee Jones’ Two Face was a joke. And when Danny DeVito tried to make the Penguin seem darker, he made him too repulsive for us to care.
Originally, The Joker was a mere cartoon character. He first appeared in 1940 with crimson lips, green hair and a purple suit. As time went on, he got even more cartoonish, telling silly jokes, wanting to be regarded as the world’s greatest comedian, driving a Jokermobile (like the Batmobile) etc.
It wasn’t till 11 years later that the comic book explained his origin: He was a crooked lab worker who had fallen into a vat of chemical waste while robbing a playing card company. This explained both, his complexion and, why he called himself The Joker.
Of course this explanation was totally unrealistic. Who gets white skin and a silly grin from falling into chemical waste? But it was in keeping with the tone of the comic books of that era.
The conventional wisdom is that Batman was reinvented in 1986 by British writer Frank Miller who wrote a story set in the future called The Dark Knight Returns. But almost as influential was Miller’s Batman: Year One series dealing with the character’s origins which also came out in 1986. Miller’s conception of Batman as a lonely, driven figure who appears only at night became the basis for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie.
The Joker, however, was really reinvented by two other British writers. Alan Moore made him a psychopath in The Killing Joke, a theme further developed by Grant Morrison in Arkham Asylum in 1989. This version differed substantially from Miller’s —his Joker was gay and called Batman “darling”. The Nicholson portrayal preserved the traditional vat-of-chemicals origin but emphasized the lunatic nature of The Joker’s criminality.
Now, in The Dark Knight, Ledger has given us our most convincing Joker yet. He is not a cartoon in a costume. He is a psychotic murderer whose madness makes him act randomly. The funny skin colour does not come from a chemical accident. It is make-up, the sort of war paint that a psychopath might wear before a massacre. The motivation for Ledger’s Joker is not criminal greed. He wants to fight Batman because in his mad way, he enjoys it so much. More than any other Batman villain, The Joker seems like a real person.
My concern now is with the proposed third Batman movie (of the Christian Bale series). In the first one, they dealt with Batman’s origin. In the second, they made him fight a psychopath. But what will they do for a plot in the third?
If Batman goes back to fighting costumed, cartoon villains then, that’s it for the credibility and tone of the series. Sadly for all fans of the series, both Heath Ledger and The Joker are now dead.

India - No child's play

Who thought bringing up a baby — or even bringing one into the world — was a matter so fraught with heartache, legal tangles and tasteless jokes. More so in a country acknowledged among the world’s record-holders in ill-treating its children: starving them for want of essential nutrition, enslaving them into labour and killing or giving them away at birth because they are unwanted burdens.
Nikita Mehta’s unborn child, which the Mumbai court said could not be aborted despite its damaged heart condition, has split opinion vertically down the middle on an old, thorny debate about abortion: pro-choice vs. pro-life, or when precisely does a foetus acquire “life”, and all the medical, legal and social ramifications that go with it. Then there is Manji Yamada, the Japanese baby born of an Indian womb in Jaipur, whose future also hangs in the balance, her situation made more heartrending because she is alive and kicking, but hinges on the equally thorny issue of divorce and the parameters of parenthood. And, capping the controversies, we have a seriously bad joke from the acting principal of Delhi’s snobbish St Stephen’s College, which has set the cat among the pigeons in the Groves of Academe. Asked by the college magazine about the possibility of co-ed hostels, M S Frank replied: “If that comes to pass, I’ll have to create a maternity centre alongside.”
Are these rites of passage stories or just teething troubles? They may appear Indian in their context but they are universal in the debatable worth of their arguments. (Except for the college principal’s retrograde sexist remark, which confuses co-ed hostels for co-habitation and sounds like an advert for unprotected sex.)
Many medical and legal experts believe that by international standards the Indian Termination of Pregnancy Act is liberal, allowing women a choice of abortion up to 20 weeks — on a par with the US and ahead of most European countries. In dominantly Catholic countries like Ireland or Italy, abortion is still illegal or allowed only under certain conditions — and up to 12 or 13 weeks. The conditions depend on medical diagnosis. As a result, illegal abortions are common and women often cross frontiers in search of a liberal regime; in India village quacks and illegal neighbourhood clinics are the norm. So Nikita and Haresh Mehta’s decision to seek the court’s sanction because of diagnostic delay was an honest and brave act. It could have set a legal precedent. Could the court have been more generous in its dispensation? From the judges’ viewpoint it would have set a bad example. The Mehtas tested the law and failed; but they have generated a debate which could result in redefining the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.
Their future and that of their child won’t be easy and it must be as stressful a situation for Ikufumi Yamada, the father of the Japanese baby, whom he can claim biologically but not legally. Here, again, it is India’s proactive child adoption laws that are blocking his path. Yamada’s wife has divorced him and adoption by a single parent is much harder than by a couple. Yamada’s 70-year-old mother, who is looking after the child, is no advantage, either. Indian adoption experts believe that Indians should have precedence over foreigners in the adoption queue but that an adoptive couple’s age, compatibility and emotional stability are more important than financial security. They would rather give a child to a local bus conductor than to a rich but divorced Japanese. They have a point.
The only irony is that vocal, argumentative and liberal opinion about such matters is voiced in a country with amongst the highest number of children in distress.

India - Real Estate Blues

Is real estate the answer to India’s infrastructure problems? So it would seem, judging by some recent examples. The Delhi Metro in 2006-07 got more revenue from real estate than from its transport operations (Rs 252 crore, against Rs 223 crore). The previous year, the metro had raised even more (Rs 296 crore) from real estate selling and leasing. The Hyderabad metro, which is to be built by private concessionaires at zero cost to the state government, will get a couple of million square feet of space to use commercially. The Delhi airport project too will see a substantial part of its project cost financed by selling or leasing land that has been handed over to the project, for housing hotels, offices and airport-related companies.
The risks inherent in this are obvious, especially when real estate deals do not always have the full value paid by cheque. Or, as happened with the Bangalore-Mysore highway, which was given out to a private company, critics created a controversy by alleging that too much land had been handed over along the length of the highway, together with the rights to develop the real estate. Or, land prices crash and so the assumptions made at bidding time no longer hold true.
Still, the trend is catching on. The Delhi Transport Corporation hopes to dig itself out of its financial hole by re-developing its bus depots into multi-purpose centres — using the real estate for hotels, shopping malls and the like. The 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi are being part-financed by taking the Yamuna’s flood plain and selling apartments built on it (to house athletes during the games) to subsequent owners. Some of the more important special economic zones that are planned in the vicinity of the big towns and cities are more in the way of real estate developments than the term SEZ would lead you to believe — but that seems to be the price to pay for getting functioning IT parks and industrial estates.
Indeed, the primary attraction of many industrial locations would also appear to be the amount of land made available — Tata Motors’ Singur project in West Bengal, for instance, has been given about 1,000 acres at nominal charge. Why, even the large software companies have taken land at throwaway prices on a scale that would seem far in excess of their business needs. Everyone, it seems, is either a disguised real estate developer or sees the virtue of having land banks — even if they are not in the same line of business as DLF and Unitech.
It is possible to defend this, of course. After all, everyone knows that metros are not viable in most parts of the world, so why not allow them to develop shops and offices above their depots and stations so that they become self-sustaining enterprises? The alternative would be for the government to fork out the capital cost and then recurring running costs as well. In the case of the Hyderabad metro, for instance, the project concessionaires are being allowed to build and lease shops at stations, and offices above the terminal depots; indeed, it is explained that no extra land is being given for this (as has been done for the Delhi metro, though); the project concessionaires have to build above ground, within the existing floor-area ratio.
This then is the flip side to India’s real estate story. Everyone is familiar with the fact that governments and developers have taken land prices so high that it makes it very difficult for ordinary working people to afford for themselves even a small flat. But it is those same high prices for land that help subsidise so many infrastructural projects, and indeed make them possible in the cities.

India - Mumbaikars spend the least on education

Spend 2.8% of income versus 6.7% for Delhi.
Due to the vastly different size of population (79 million in megacities versus 20 million in boom towns and 8 million in niche cities), the average size of various markets differs widely.
So, while Mumbaikars spend a smaller proportion of their incomes on food, beverages and tobacco (33.2 per cent) than Surat-ites (37.5 per cent), the total market for food, beverages and tobacco products in Mumbai in 2007-08 was Rs 28,590 crore as compared to a much smaller Rs 6,600 crore in Surat.
In education and recreation, similarly, Mumbaikars spent just 2.8 per cent of household expenditure versus 5.4 per cent in Surat — the size of this market, however, was Rs 2,420 crore in Mumbai in 2007-08 versus Rs 940 crore in Surat. Delhi had the largest market in this segment at Rs 4,480 crore.
On an average, niche city households spend around a fourth more than their megacity counterparts on housing, 18 per cent more on education, 23 per cent more on health and 27 per cent more on social spending.As a result, 40 per cent of households in niche cities own a washing machine as compared to 33 per cent in megacities and 22 per cent in boom towns.
More than a quarter of niche city households own a car, marginally higher than that in megacities and much higher than the 15 per cent in boom towns.Interestingly, niche cities fare the worse when it comes to the usage of financial products like credit cards (under five per cent of the population in towns like Amritsar, Ludhiana and Jalandhar have credit cards) and insurance policies (35 per cent for niche cities versus 47 per cent in boom towns).
As in all such cases, what drives consumption is a combination of rising income levels (reported yesterday) and changing consumption patterns across income groups as well as across cities for the same income groups.
While just 4.3 per cent of those with an annual household income of under $3,000 (Rs 1,20,000) own a car in the top 20 cities, this almost doubles as households reach the next group of aspirants (with maximum incomes doubling to Rs 2,40,000) and then again by almost seven times to 55 per cent in the case of the middle classes (where incomes range between Rs 2,40,000 and Rs 12,00,000).
In the case of mobile phones, around 16 per cent of low-income households own such modes of communication and this jumps to 53 per cent in the case of aspirant households and then to 77 per cent in the case of middle-class households. In the case of high-income households (who earn more than Rs 12,00,000 per year), this rises to nearly 90 per cent.
The combination of increasing income levels (more than half the population in niche cities is middle class as compared to 29 per cent in boom towns) and changing consumption patterns mean that the drivers of consumption are quite different across the cities.
Thus, over 70 per cent of car ownership in megacities like Delhi and Mumbai emanates from middle class households, it is just around 50 per cent in the case of the boom towns and almost as high as 80 per cent in niche cities.
In the case of mobile phones, while both aspirant and middle class households account for roughly the same proportion (45 per cent each) of ownership in megacities, the figure is 52 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively, in the case of boom towns.
In the case of air-conditioners, aspirants account for around seven per cent of ownership in megacities while this rises to nearly 30 per cent in the case of boom towns. In DVD players, similarly, the market is evenly divided among aspirant and middle class households (45 per cent each) in megacities; in the case of boom towns, however, aspirants account for around half the market while middle class households account for just around a fourth.
These are the findings of The Next Urban Frontier: Twenty Cities to Watch, an NCAER-Future Capital Research (of the Future Group) jointly written by Rajesh Shukla and Roopa Purushothaman.
Eight megacities like Delhi/Mumbai/Kolkata are the largest cities in terms of population and consumer markets, seven boom towns like Surat/Kanpur/Coimbatore represent the next set of large population cities with high expenditure levels; and five niche towns like Faridabad/Ludhiana/Jalandhar have smaller population but spend much more than cities of comparative size.

Sports - The Mittal Football Club

Amit Bhatia, vice-chairman of soccer’s Queens Park Rangers (QPR), says the team’s new billionaire owners plan to lift the second-tier club to the level of west London rival Chelsea with sound business practices, not buckets of cash.
“Throwing money is not the right way to do it,” said Bhatia, 28. “Will we spend enough money to make sure we are competitive because it’s a sport where money needs to be spent? Of course and that’s what we are committed to doing.”
Bhatia, the son-in-law of billionaire Lakshmi Mittal, oversees his family’s investment in QPR from his office in London’s Mayfair, where he runs his private equity and hedge fund businesses, Swordfish Investments and Swordfish Capital Management LLP.
QPR starts its first full season tomorrow under new owners Mittal, chairman of ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker; Bernie Ecclestone, chief executive officer of the commercial arm of Formula One; and Flavio Briatore, managing director of the Renault F-1 team. The club finished 14th in the 24-team Championship league last season, yet it was 9-1 second- favorite with UK bookmaker Ladbrokes to finish first and win promotion to the Premier League. QPR hosts Barnsley tomorrow.
The new owners have focused in the offseason on adding players with potential rather than proven stars. Their acquisitions included 19-year-old Spanish youth international Dani Parejo on a season-long loan from Real Madrid and Argentine-born Emmanuel Jorge Ledesma, 20, on loan from Genoa.
They hired a coach with experience getting a team promoted to the Premier League: Iain Dowie, who led London’s Crystal Palace to the top division in 2004.
No Chelsea: It’s a different strategy than the one followed by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who made the Blues a European powerhouse 3.5 miles away by spending more than $1 billion on players since buying the club in July 2003.
Ecclestone and Briatore bought QPR in September for £14 million, including 13 million pounds of debt. Mittal, their friend, bought a 20 per cent stake three months later.
Mittal is Britain’s richest man, according to the Sunday Times; he and his family have a fortune of £27.7 billion, the paper said in April. The paper has reported that the three owners together are worth about £30 billion.
Reaching the Premier League would provide an immediate return. It’s soccer’s richest circuit, with revenue topping £1.5 billion. Teams are guaranteed £30 million a year each in television money, according to accountant Deloitte & Touche LLP.
Record Sponsorship: The new owners already have revenue gushing in at an unprecedented rate for the second echelon. Bahrain-based Gulf Air agreed to a three-year jersey sponsorship deal, which the Sunday Times says is worth £7 million — more than four times the previous record for a second-tier club of £500,000 a year. Lotto Sport Italia SpA signed a £20 million, five-year contract to provide the team’s uniform.
The profile and wealth of Mittal, Briatore and Ecclestone have driven the new sponsorship agreements, says Gareth Moore, international sales director for Cologne, Germany-based sports marketing consultant Sport+Markt AG.
“The aura that comes with them is going to have significant interest for investors,” he said.
Images of Bhatia’s 2004 wedding to Mittal’s daughter Vanisha — the ceremony cost $55 million, according to the BBC — were beamed around the world. Briatore, 58, is married to 28- year-old model Elisabetta Gregoraci and has dated models Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum, with whom he has a child. Briatore says his friendship with Real Madrid President Ramon Calderon helped the club land Parejo.
In Administration: The changes may mean the end of a 13-year absence from the top league. In 1993, QPR was the highest ranked of six London clubs then in the Premier League, and was relegated in 1996. By 2001, it skidded to the third tier and was under administration, a form of protection from creditors.
“Rangers looked like going out of business before the money men came in,” says Michael Lynagh, a 56-year-old fan who’s lived his whole life in the White City housing project next to the club’s Loftus Road stadium. “I think every QPR supporter is overjoyed with it.”
As painters apply the club’s royal blue and white colours to the 104-year-old stadium, fans’ expectations are high. Season- ticket sales are up 40 per cent even after a 30 per cent rise in prices. The most expensive cost £699; the cheapest £450.
Lynagh, an unemployed electrician, still found the money to pay for his seat.
“I’d like to see them put us in the Premier League,’’ he says, smoking a cigarette in the doorway of the Springbok, a pub festooned in Rangers memorabilia about 50 yards from the stadium. “I’m born and bred here, and I’ve been coming since I was a kid when I used to sneak in.”
Bhatia said his family sees QPR as a value investment.
“If we thought it was a second-tier club we would never have been involved in it,” Bhatia says, rolling up the sleeves of his starched white Oxford shirt. “One day QPR is going to be a romantic story. That romantic story just happens to begin with the club where it is today.”

India - Consumers postpone upgrades

Monetary tightening by the Reserve Bank of India to control the sharp rise in prices has checked the march of Indian consumers up the consumer electronics value chain.
Several dealers as well as manufacturers told Business Standard that there is a sharp fall in “repeat” customers that upgrade their buying choices by as much 40 to 50 per cent, it is learnt.
“Given the economic situation right now, it is natural that consumers have deferred their purchase or upgrade time,” said Godrej & Boyce Chief Operating Officer (appliances division) George Menezes.Last year the market for premium air-conditioners recorded a growth rate of nearly 60 per cent. This year, growth has dropped to around 27 per cent. For high-end frost-free refrigerators growth has slowed from 30 to 10 per cent over the past two years.
Premium consumer durables typically accounted for 25 to 30 per cent of sales last year; this year, the proportion has shrunk to 15 to 20 per cent.However, flat panel display(FPD) televisions, being an emerging category in India, still haven’t seen a significant slowdown.
“Many people have deferred their decision to upgrade to premium products,” confirmed Samsung India Managing Director Ravinder Zutshi, adding: “The sentiment to upgrade exists but the current economic conditions have led to a delay in purchases.”“Many second-time buyers who wish to upgrade come and inquire about the discount or finance schemes available but since neither option is available they choose not to buy,” said a Delhi-based dealer, unwilling to be identified, adding: “The sale of high-end products has suffered the most in this situation.”
Over the past few years, customers in the Rs 32,000-crore consumer durables market had been upgrading at a fast clip. In televisions, the market had moved from curved screens to flat screens and there were signals that it would now move to LCDs. Customers also rapidly migrated to high-end fridges, washing machines, microwave ovens and air-conditioners.But the speed of this upgrading has now decelerated. According to sector expert Harish Bijoor Consults Inc CEO Harish Bijoor, the inflation spiral and the lack of easy availability of consumer finance have created a definite “postponement of purchase syndrome” in the durables market.
Not only have interest rates gone up sharply in the last few months, several consumer finance companies have stopped lending for purchase of consumer durables. With GE Money, ICICI Bank and Citibank now out of the segment, only Bajaj and Shriram are left in the field, apart from the smaller in-house lending from dealers.Naturally, consumer durable makers are worried. “Fewer financing options will have a definite bearing on sales,” said LG Electronics India Director (marketing and sales) V Ramachandran.
“Manufacturers will definitely have to re-look their pricing if they want sales to pick up, otherwise they will have a big inventory pile-up to deal with. They will then also need to look at newer ways of liquidating inventories,” added Bijoor.Even as the industry gears up for the upcoming festival season, most companies are wary of what lies ahead. “The impact on the bottom line is evident but the top line is still not under stress. But we are concerned about the uncertainty that lies ahead,” said Ramachandran.

India - Rangarajan resigns from EAC,replaced by tendulkar

C Rangarajan, 76, chairman, of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Economic Advisory Council (EAC), has resigned from the post.
He is expected to get a Parliamentary berth and may perhaps be elevated to the Union Cabinet with responsibility for an economic portfolio.
Economist Suresh Tendulkar, who is currently a member of the Council, is taking over as the new chairman. When contacted by Business Standard, Tendulkar confirmed that his elevation.
Tendulkar, a Ph. D in economics from Harvard University, is a part time member of the EAC since January 2005. He is also the part time chairman of the National Commission on Statistics from July, 2006. He is also on the central board of directors of the Reserve Bank of India from June 2006.
Rangarajan, an illustrious economist, who has also served as Andhra Pradesh governor and chairman of the Twelth Finance Commission, is believed to be headed for the Rajya Sabha, which saw a vacancy after the death of veteran Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande earlier this May.
Although there is no rule against the elevation of a nominated member to the Cabinet, Parlimentary experts say by convention they are not made ministers. In the past, only two nominated members had been so elevated. One of them was Maragatham Chandrasekhar in the 1970's and the other was Nurul Hassan in the 1960's. However, following an uproar both were made to resign and were reinducted into the council of ministers after they became elected members of the Rajya Sabha.
Rangarajan also served as Reserve Bank of India Governor between 1992 and 1997. He was instrumental in enhancing the bank’s autonomy and helped put in place a monetary policy regime to boost growth.
The EAC is preparing its annual review of the Indian economy for 2008-09, which is likely to be released here this Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Rangarajan had said the Indian economy is expected to grow 7.5 to 8.0 per cent in 2008-09, slower than the RBI’s estimate, while inflation would cool by the end of the financial year.
In its 2007-08 review of the economy, the Council had cautioned about several perceptible risks for the economy in 2008-09 and had predicted that there would be continued inflationary pressure.

Sport - Race for Gold

The gold rush at the Beijing Olympics has begun. “The most important thing in the Olympics is not to win but to take part,” its founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin said. However, for the next 17 days, the media will be tabulating the number of gold medals won by each country. And MNCs throughout the world will be identifying individual champions who can endorse their products. “You don’t win silver, you lose gold,” a Nike billboard said at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Now some 12 years later, China sees this as a golden opportunity to cash in on the advantage of competing at home to overtake the US as the country to win the maximum number of gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

Forgotten in the race for medals is the fact that the Olympics is also about sportsmanship, as envisioned by Coubertin. When Berlin hosted the 1936 Olympics, Hitler wanted to use the event to promote the myth of Aryan superiority over other races. However, the Afro-American Jesse Owens punctured that myth by winning four gold medals in the 100- and 200-metre sprints, the 4x100-m relay and the long jump, a feat equalled only 48 years later by Carl Lewis. Owens was on the verge of being disqualified in the long jump when he fouled his first two attempts.

It was then that his German rival Luz Long suggested that Owens make a mark several inches before the take-off board and jump from there. When Owens won the gold, the first to congratulate him was the blue-eyed, blond Long, who looked like a model Nazi but wasn’t. As Owens would himself acknowledge, “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy, watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War Two.” Long lost gold but won the respect of one of the greatest Olympic champions

Business - 3G in India

Following the guidelines for 3G issued by the department of telecommunications (DoT) on August 1, consumers can expect a new breed of services in the coming months. 3G services will make it faster and easier to access internet, download music or videos, mobile TV among other things. Although two years overdue, the guidelines are a good indicator of how far India has moved towards creating a coherent regulatory environment and the considerable distance still left.

The guidelines spell out how the government will allocate and price 3G spectrum or, more accurately, the radio frequencies required for such communication. Now, a company will have to procure 3G spectrum in an open auction. Unlike the case for 2G — where companies receive fixed amount of spectrum with the licence — 3G spectrum will need to be paid for explicitly. All 2G licensees — whether or not they have started operations — can bid. Prospective new entrants without 2G licences can also bid, provided they have 3G experience and pay an additional 2G entry fee of Rs 1,651 crore(US $400 million) for a nation-wide licence.

The guidelines explicitly separate entry fees for 3G licence from the amount bid in the spectrum auction. While we will return to the indefensibly huge amount proposed for entry fees, the conceptual separation between the two fees meets an important demand from experts for a change in India’s current rules, which include the price for spectrum in the licence fee. This has created several well-known distortions that prevent efficient use of a strategic scarce resource.

This will be the first time the price of spectrum is sought to be explicitly discovered through an auction. While the DoT bureaucrats have failed to say this unambiguously and some future mischief cannot be ruled out, it would be difficult to argue again that the price of spectrum allocated for commercial use can be determined administratively without a market-based process. Especially, since Trai too has recommended auction for all spectrum other than that for 2G operations. Current rules, where acquiring a set number of subscribers automatically entitles a licensed operator to additional spectrum, have drawn much deserved criticism for encouraging inefficiency. Acknowledging explicitly that the price of spectrum should be discovered in the market makes the current practice, which is economically indefensible, untenable. This is a plus.

But, the guidelines are also problematic. For a start, the claim that they promote competition is bogus. In a business where extensive infrastructure, large customer base, better market intelligence, etc., give incumbents massive advantages, it is absurd that new entrants will have to pay a whopping $400 million in addition to the bids for spectrum, expected to be in billions of dollars. New players need 3G experience to apply, not 2G players. This, when most regulators facilitate new entry by imposing additional restrictions on incumbents to prevent market abuse. New comers rarely pay any fees and are seldom regulated at all. To levy a large entry fee is then not to facilitate competition but to thwart it.

Indeed, the practice in most mature regulatory regimes — the European Union, US, Canada and Australia, for instance — is to have no licence (entry) fees at all. A prospective entrant to the market, typically, requires little beyond a virtually free ‘authorization’. It must, however, pay for spectrum at market prices.

The nine companies — largely telecom novices — who are currently trying to sell at a premium the over 100 telecom licences they recently got at bargain prices will surely welcome the ’tax’ on new players. As newspapers confirmed, 3G guidelines have driven up the value of these licences, more so since they now have some spectrum. This will be far more attractive to the new 3G players who will still need a 2G licence even if they win in the spectrum auctions than spending $400 million for licence that is veritably a piece of paper with few rights. So, high entry fees mean that private speculators, not the exchequer, get the money.

Moreover, recent norms for mergers and acquisition of telecom licences made it easier for new players to acquire existing players and difficult for existing ones to merge. So, the new players will need to pay up before they bid for 3G and seek a UASL (Unified Access Licence Seekers) licence when mergers would be almost impossible. So, both cost and regulation are pitted squarely against new players.

The DoT has resurrected the old ghost of subscriber-base linked allocation of spectrum by proposing that for spectrum for CDMA services in 800 MHz band “the seniority for allotment shall be the subscriber base in telecom service area.” It says elsewhere that in case of a tie between two existing players, “preference will be given to the bidder with the larger subscriber base”. The guidelines have no explanation why, when it has been decided to conduct an auction, the final winner in each such a case should simply not be the company that bids the highest. This has dented the credibility of the government’s landmark decision to price spectrum along global best practices.

The provision to disallow companies from lowering their bids in subsequent rounds of auctions and to insist that the highest bids in the first auction will become reserve price for subsequent auctions, is equally questionable and will prevent a genuine correction if speculators play havoc in the early phases. The priority for government should be to discover a fair market price of spectrum and not to artificially raise its pickings. It has a duty to deter speculators in a strategic sector and create conditions conducive for serious players willing to compete fairly.

The bureaucratic flaws in the guidelines notwithstanding, at least some of the existing 2G players seem poised to offer 3G services in the near future. The proposed auction of 3G spectrum will deter — if not prevent — bureaucrats’ current practice of giving away valuable spectrum at arbitrary prices. But, to expect them to embrace time honoured regulatory principles and forgo an opportunity for discretion is perhaps too much to ask.

Health - Cloning update

Scientists in South Korea have successfully cloned dogs, and a recent attempt has created five pit bulls from Booger, a pet dog's genetic material. The request was from an American woman who lost Booger to cancer and who sought to replicate him with his genetic material. Among animals that have been cloned successfully for commercial purposes are cows that produce higher yield and better quality milk, and racing horses known for their speed.

Scientists are also trying to clone genetically modified pigs that pose the least threat of rejection when their organs are used to replace human ones — in a procedure that is referred to as xeno-transplantation — to save patients' lives when
viable human organs are not available. However, the most useful application of animal cloning technology could be in the recreation of service animals that are trained to acquire special skills, some of which might get imprinted in their genes.

The police and customs officials often rely on the expertise of trained dogs that are capable of sniffing out dope or detecting bombs and so help retrieving them before causing threat to human lives. Even more promising is the life-saving application of animal cloning in recreating animals that have the capability to detect diseases like cancer through their sophisticated sense of smell. Marine, a retriever in Japan, could sniff out the scent that cancer cells give off from a patient's breath or urine samples.

Trained Labradors are known to have alerted patients an impending stroke. And who can deny the invaluable services of the friendly guide dog without whose assistance a visually challenged person might have to lead a very limited life? If these skills could be easily replicated in a cloned animal, the technique's commercial viability would increase manifold, helping to cut down costs that are high right now.

Could the technique of cloning to recreate a loved one move from pets to human beings? It needs to be said here that a clone is not a perfect photocopy of the original, as things like upbringing, environment and perhaps even volition conspire to produce the characteristics of an individual.

However, despite the current ban on efforts to clone human beings for reproductive purposes, the sheer desire to bring into being replicas of loved ones, coupled with advances in animal cloning, might one day make replication of the Booger experiment with human beings inevitable.

Fun - Inflatable Church

ROME: Catholic nuns and priests in Italy are following their flocks to the beach this summer, establishing an inflatable church and a beach-convent in the sands to lure sunbathers.

The 30-metre long blow-up church - staffed by priests ready to take confession - will debut on Saturday on the Adriatic coast in the Molise region, an organizer said.

"There will be four or five people singing, with music about God," said Chiara Facci with Catholic group Sentinelli del Mattino. Night time activities, which will not include Mass, will run from 10pm to 1am.

The first attempt to inaugurate the inflatable church last month on the holiday island of Sardinia failed after strong winds forced organizers to relocate, she said.

Big cities like Rome and Milan empty in August, when Italians head to the beach for summer holidays, leaving streets empty and many businesses closed. Churches are hardly immune, and also see their congregations thin.

On the Mediterranean coast, nuns from a convent near the southern Italian city of Naples have relocated to beach cabins to join holidaymakers saying the rosary. An adjoining altar was set up under two tents. "The concept of a beach-convent is something that is appreciated by vacationers and the nuns themselves," priest Antonio Rungi, who helped spearheaded the initiative, told Italian news agency ANSA.

Mktg - Advertising for insurance products come of age

In a category where an emotional pitch is often made by the advertiser, here?s a turnaround of sorts. Life insurance, which was hitherto sold through a rather guilt-inducing ?buy me? proposition, is now being pushed differently.

Take for example Contract Advertising?s intrigue-building campaign for Aegon Religare Life Insurance, a new entrant in the life insurance category. Prior to its launch, the agency ran a week-long teaser campaign across the country. The ads featuring actor Irfan Khan warned people against KILB, an abbreviation which was later revealed was short for ?Kum Insurance Lene Ki Bimaari.?
Aegon Religare chose to use underinsurance as the differentiator, almost to the point of calling it a bimaari (disease). Raghu Bhat and Manish Bhatt, executive creative directors at Contract Advertising, said AIDS or cancer kills only the infected person. ?But underinsurance can ruin the entire family.?
Aegon Religare said their research provided an insight into how people usually didn?t remember their exact insured amount or how much they were paying as premium. Rajiv Jamkhedkar, CEO, Aegon Religare Life Insurance, said, ?There is usually a huge gap between the lifestyle that people lead and the lifestyle that their insurance covers.?
The Rs 10 crore campaign will be unveiled across the country over the next six weeks and will include television, radio, internet and outdoor ads.
The call-to-action TVCs and hoardings that were unveiled to the public on Friday urge people to call a toll-free-number to know about the ?right amount? that they should invest for getting a life insurance cover. Aegon will take into consideration the consumer?s current lifestyle, expenses, family size and other factors to determine the amount.
Like Aegon Religare, other insurers are also striving to be different in their brand communication.
Max New York Life and Sahara Life Insurance have also taken a different approach in their brand-building activities. Incidentally, both play on the common theme of fear in their ads, albeit in totally opposite ways.
Euro RSCG created a campaign called ?Sanju? for Max New York Life, wherein it stressed on the fact that problems always arrived unannounced and so one has to be prepared.
Percept/H, on the other hand, doesn?t make any attempt to sell Sahara Life Insurance?s products directly through its ads Aatm Vishvaas ki Nayi Taaqat. Instead, the ad shows a rather meek-looking man challenging Gabbar Singh, the meanest of Bollywood baddies. The agency?s aim was to convey that even an ordinary person could gain extraordinary confidence and fearlessness by taking an insurance cover.
?The message we wanted to convey was that whatever situation you are in life, your self-confidence will see you through,? Anurag Chhabra, VP, Percept/H Lucknow, said. ?Most insurance players target only metros. Our target audience is rural areas, especially the states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, wherein penetration of top 10 insurance players is less. It is important to realise that insurance is generally sold over the table. Advertising is largely a brand building exercise.?
These new creative approaches summon a refreshing change from the conventional insurance pitches that only spoke about the importance of buying an insurance product, even to the point of making the audience guilty for not having bought one yet. In a category where product differentiators are hard to spot, ad agencies till now have only tweaked emotions to create campaigns for insurance firms.

Business - Skoda recalls Fabia

NEW DELHI: Czech automaker Skoda has recalled the petrol version of its Fabia hatchback for rectifying a technical glitch that was affecting fuel efficiency and performance of the car.

According to sources, the company has called back the 1200cc and 1400c variants of the Fabia petrol for a "technical upgradation". When contacted, the company confirmed that it had recalled the car, but blamed "inconsistent fuel quality" behind the step.
Due to inconsistent fuel quality in India, Skoda India has done minor change in the software to attain better fuel economy and driving performance, the company said.

Skoda is assembling the Fabia at its Aurangabad factory. Many of the critical components on the car are imported and may not be suitable for local conditions or available fuel quality. According to sources, several customers had experienced problems with the car and some even complained that the brake pedal became hard, while driving at a high speed.

Skoda officials said they would rectify the problem free of cost. "We are not charging anything for this and customers would just need to spend about 20-30 minutes at the dealerships," a company spokesperson said. All manufacturers do constant upgradations of their products so that the customer always enjoys the best quality and service, the company further said.

Fabia, which also has a diesel version, is expected to lead Skoda's charge in India and get volumes for the company. The company had launched the 1200cc version of the car only in May this year to compete with models like Suzuki Swift and Hyundai Getz.

Fuel efficiency is a very important factor in determining the success of cars not only in India, but even in developed markets like the US and Europe, considering high price of crude. Recalls for replacing faulty parts or rectifying technical glitches are not a common phenomenon in India as companies fear negative publicity would impact demand for the model. Globally it is not uncommon to see that companies are making recall announcements.

Last year, Honda India had recalled 2310 units of its luxury sedan Accord sold in 2005 and 2006 for replacement of a faulty relay in the fuel-pump of. This company had done this as part of a global recall. In 2005, Maruti had also recalled about 500 units of its Zen model for coolant leakage. Bajaj Auto had also recalled its scooter Kristal last year for a fuel pump problem.

Skoda has lined up an ambitious strategy for the Indian market. The company not only plans to bring in an all-new small car in the Rs 3-5 lakh range but will also introduce an all-new low-price "successor" to its Octavia sedan that would be priced below Rs 10 lakh. It also plans to bring in 'Greenline' Fabia range, currently sold in major European markets.

India - Surat Households most prosperous

SURAT: After the bombs were found in Surat last week, here is reason for a beaming smile. Surti households have been declared most prosperous in the country by National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and Future Capital Research's Roopa Purushothaman in their latest study.

The average annual household income (AHI) in the diamond city is Rs 4.57 lakh - the highest in the country. It has displaced Chandigarh in a list of 20 cities because of its lower cost of living.

Gujarat, in fact, is the only state with two cities in the top five - Ahmedabad has been ranked fifth, ahead of Mumbai and Delhi. "The ranking is natural, given Gujarat's growth. Surat's employment generation is equal to many fast-growing cities of the world," says Dr YK Alagh, economist and former member of Planning Commission.

The study says Surat's AHI is almost equal to China's per capita income of 2007 and double the national per capita income. Even its GDP growth of 11.5 per cent for the last consecutive years is the fastest in the country. Here is why Surti households have bulging pockets. The city has become the heart of diamond polishing and textile manufacturing globally. It processes eight out of 10 diamonds polished in the world, accounts for 80 per cent of India's Rs 80,000 crore gems and jewellery exports and employs nearly seven lakh people in diamond cutting and polishing. Surat's Rs 45,000-crore textile industry accounts for 20 per cent of India's total textile output and provides employment to eight lakh people. Given the boom, people from across the country have been migrating to it.

The 2001 census showed that Surat had the fastest population growth nationally at 62 per cent. "The study has shown that Gujarat is more prosperous than 90 per cent of the country," says former IIM-A director Bakul Dholakia.

India - Free coffee/biscuits for Truck Drivers

KANCHEEPURAM: Bleary-eyed truck drivers on their way to Chennai wake up to piping hot coffee and crunchy biscuits these days.

Worried by the high number of road accidents on the highways leading to the city, the collector of the adjoining district of Kancheepuram has initiated a welfare programme aimed at heavy vehicle drivers.

Transport officials have been instructed to serve drivers undertaking perilous night drives with biscuits and coffee, besides handing out lessons on safe driving.

Truck drivers cruising down NH 4 (Bangalore-Chennai Highway) at daybreak are therefore being stopped at various points and asked to step out, stretch their legs and help themselves to refreshments. "Between 4 am and 5 am, the time when accidents usually happen, we stop the trucks and ask the drivers to wash their faces. We then give them water to drink, biscuits to munch and coffee or tea as they prefer," says T M Sampath Kumar, regional transport officer, Kancheepuram district.

The initiative comes at a time when the accident rate in and around Chennai as well as other urban centres in the state is on the rise. Across Tamil Nadu, the number of road fatalities rose to 12,036 in 2007, up from 11,009, making it one of the most accident-prone states in the country. Chennai, with a much lower vehicular population, currently ranks next to Delhi among all metros in road accidents and fatalities, and trucks are easily the biggest killers.

World - Interpreter of Jihad

What is jihad? From an India-Pakistan perspective, few people can answer this question better than Pakistani-American writer and Mary Richardson professor of history at Tufts University, Ayesha Jalal.

Her latest book, Partisans of Allah: Meanings of Jihad in South Asia (2008), puts this core concept of Islam in perspective for the subcontinental audience.

Jalal began her India tour last week with a talk on the subject at New Delhi’s India International Centre.

This doubled up as her first book launch ever despite authoring as many as seven books. “Historians don’t need book launches,” she says, “politicians do.”

Diminutive and small-framed, but with good-looking angular features typical of Lahore women, Jalal hardly looks like one who can ruffle feathers. But you have to know who she is. Her ancestry is legendary: she is the grandniece of well-known Urdu writer Sadaat Hasan Manto. Her qualifications are thoroughbred: a BA from Wellesley; and PhD from Trinity College, Cambridge.

Jalal’s credentials earned her a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship worth $265,000. Many people found it strange that a Pakistani was teaching Indian history on a global platform.

History may be cast in stone, but historians are all about posturing. Jalal enraged her countrymen when she stated that Mohammed Ali Jinnah had “feet of clay” and that he never actually wanted a separate Muslim state.

Then another torrid saga played out. Jalal shocked the US academia when she sued Columbia University alleging bias after her tenure as professor there was discontinued. She alleged that a lobby of faculty members from India objected to a Pakistani woman teaching Indian history and had “blocked her tenure application”.

Jalal opposed Columbia’s decision to accept a windfall grant from the Hinduja group to set up an institute for India studies. A federal judge in New York’s Southern District dismissed her case because the evidence of bias was, though “suggestive”, rather “thin”.

As a historian, Jalal is a rarity out of Pakistan. In the West, most subcontinental historians focus on India instead and along with Gardiner professor of history at Harvard, Sugata Bose, Jalal forms a formidable duo whose works have thrown bright flashes of light on the cultures of India and Pakistan. Now, we have a historical chance to know Jalal’s partisans of Allah, with her as their chief interpreter.

“Muslims have distorted the normative concept of jihad. The concept of jihad has changed throughout history, from being a spiritual exercise to a temporal one,” she tells the HT during a brief interview. As an original concept, it was meant to be a philosophical jadd-o-jehed or literally a struggle to live an ethical life.

“You are never born a Muslim. You struggle to become one,” she says.

As an armed struggle, jihad could have been called only by the state, upon the advice of the clergy and it could only be fought when Muslims were prevented from practising their religion. “And even then,” Jalal says, “it was meant to be taken up only if there was a reasonable degree of success assured.”

Jalal enters jihad from South Asia rather than from the Arab world. And how. The battle of Balakot, she says, was one prominent example. Syed Ahmad Shaheed of Rai Bareilly in UP fought the Sikhs, who — as allies of the British — had taken the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Jalal uses instances from undivided India to show how the concept of jihad changed.

Now, “non-state actors” had entered the stage of jihad. It began to be fought for territorial purposes and would soon turn into a political weapon to wage war against perceived enemies of Islam. Finally, we would have self-styled jihadis. (Bin Laden?)

But then the two prominent figures who also took it up were Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a member of the Congress, and Maulana Mawdudi, the founder of Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami. Even Mawdudi, considered a fountainhead of mujahideen-like organisations of today, maintained that jihad was duty of the state, and not any private individual or organisation. (al Qaida?)

Today’s jihad may be about the mujahideen and their bomb blasts, but this may change too. “As a historian, I cannot predict how,” she says and “it really depends on what actions we take today, which will determine the future.” Jihad, she argues, is an arrow that may well have missed its mark.

Business - Airtel,Vodafone have 3G edge over other players

Vodafone’s expertise in 3G and Bharti Airtel’s partnership with SingTel may them take lead over other operators. While Bharti Airtel will roll out its 3G services in Sri Lanka by year-end, thus having a six-month lead to test its services, Vodafone will look to bring its global 3G expertise to India.

While Bharti Airtel has already launched 3G in Seychelles, Jersey and Geurnsey, Vodafone is credited with rolling out 3G services in global markets like the UK, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Spain and others. On the other hand SingTel, which owns a little over 30% in Bharti Airtel, is a major player in the 3G space as it has already rolled out such networks in several markets across Asia.

Bharti Airtel will also have a six-month advantage of testing its 3G services in the region as it rolls out services in Sri Lanka by December, 2008. Bharti Airtel plans to rollout 3G in India by mid-2009 only. Both Vodafone and Airtel may import their successful products and applications to India.

“We just gave the request for proposal to Ericsson and Nokia for 3G networks in Sri Lanka,” Bharti Airtel president for mobility Sanjay Kapoor told ET. “Most of the content will be Sri Lanka specific, but we can also share some content from our operations here. Over the last year, a bulk of the deals we have entered into with content developers have been done keeping 3G in mind. So most of this can be extended to our 3G platform easily,” Mr Kapoor added.

In contrast, Vodafone marketing head Harit Nagpal said that Vodafone has already rolled out 3G services in Egypt, parts of Africa and Turkey—markets similar to India. “With a global subscriber base of 280 million, Vodafone’s 3G expertise is unmatched. We have the capability of handling migration of customers from 2G to 3G in markets like Egypt and Turkey. We will also see such migration in India. Moreover a strong leadership presence in metro cities, will give us an advantage over others,” he said.

Interestingly, Vodafone and Bharti Airtel are competitors in India, but this has not stopped the companies from extending their alliance to markets abroad. Jersey Airtel and Guernsey Airtel, subsidiaries of Bharti Enterprises, last year entered into an agreement with Vodafone to jointly offer telecom services in Jersey and Guernsey (islands in Europe, close to UK). (Bharti was granted licenses to operate 2G and 3G mobile services in Jersey and Guernsey in 2006.)

While the two rivals have partnered globally, they may not replicate the same model in India. Meanwhile, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone will begin selling the new generation 3G-enabled iPhone from August 22. This will also give them an additional edge over other operators.

Bharti and Vodafone, which account for a significant number of the high ARPU (average revenue per user) subscribers in India, will have a further edge as a large segment of their high end users already have 3G compatible handsets.

Interestingly, the move to partner Airtel and Vodafone marks a major shift in Apple’s global strategy of ‘one country-one operator’. With India emerging as the fastest-growing cellular market, Apple wanted to maximize its exposure here as Airtel and Vodafone have a combined subscriber base of over 120 million.

India - Buying sim cards may need 2 guarantors

NEW DELHI: If the home ministry has its way, a person wanting to buy a SIM card will have to provide the names of two existing mobile phone customers as guarantors - on the lines of opening a bank account - before he gets the connection. This will be in addition to other requirements like identity and residential address proof.

This is among several measures suggested by the home ministry to the department of telecommunications (DoT) in its bid to stop terrorists from using mobile phones to launch attacks in the country - by using it to trigger blasts and also to keep in touch with each other.

These and other issues were discussed at a meeting convened by the home ministry with chief secretaries and police chiefs of states here on Friday.

Mobile phones are being rampantly used by terrorists, who have not only been using phones to trigger IEDs - as they did to attack Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad in May last year - but also to pass messages to their handlers across the border.

The home ministry has also suggested that DoT come out with guidelines that make it mandatory for SIM card vendors to take instant photographs of new customers using web cameras.

These should then be passed on to the service provider with reference number. Though the issue had come up before the ministry after the Mecca Masjid blast investigation, the matter has not been resolved as DoT is still in the process of consultations.

Incidentally, the CBI, which is investigating the Mecca blasts case, had hit a dead end when it found that the perpetrators of the crime had not only used fake address to get the SIM cards but they had also used photographs of a Noida-based yoga teacher to procure the connection.

"We wanted to have a mechanism where a common person can get a SIM card without any hassles and other security concerns are also met," home secretary Madhukar Gupta said after the meeting. To drive home his point, he cited a case where one person had been issued 50 SIM cards in a period of three months.

Besides expressing the need for strict guidelines for new mobile connections, the officials also discussed ways to strengthen the intelligence mechanism and modalities to pass on terror-related cases for investigation to central agencies like CBI at the earliest.

The meeting - chaired by the home secretary - also deliberated upon the suggestion of setting up a central committee comprising representatives from states to decided about the nature of specific cases which could be passed on to the CBI for investigation. Making it clear that the Centre had no intention of intruding into the jurisdiction of any state with a federal system in policing, Gupta said the Centre was looking for an enforcement agency which will have "power to investigate and ability to gather intelligence".

A committee could be constituted which could immediately look at a case and see whether it has any inter-state, international and other ramifications, he added.

"So institutionally, there will be an in built mechanism for consultations with the state through the representation of the state through these chief secretaries and the DGPs," Gupta said while replying to a question whether there was any discussion on forming a federal agency.

"We did have a discussion on federal agency. There are two things - federal crime and federal agency. There is no relevance of federal crime in India. This is a concept in the US where every state has its own definition of every crime. In India, every penal law is a federal law... so there is no question of federal crime," Gupta said.

"Investigation of any terrorism case is not possible though a single agency. So what we are really looking at is - the cases where there are inter-state and international linkages, arms and drugs smuggling, it is difficult for any state agency to get to the bottom of the case," he added.

Fun - Television Viewing

I’m still trying to catch my breath. I watched the opening of the Beijing Olympics (DD Sports) and was blown away. The sheer scale of the show, the spectacular mix of culture and technology was truly jaw-dropping. I wish DD’s commentators had kept quiet more often and allowed us to just enjoy the spectacle. But they insisted on talking pretty much non-stop (“This shows the harmony of man and nature… The little girl is holding a kite, we also fly kites in India, in fact, with our Independence Day coming up, there’s going to be a lot of kite-flying…” etc etc).

My latest attempt at catching a new soap (it’s no longer very new but it’s newer than Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi) was something called Kis Desh Mein Hai Mera Dil (Star Plus). The name itself gave me the beginnings of a headache, but I persisted bravely. I seem to have caught a particularly dramatic episode where the cameraman, perhaps inspired by all that high drama, had decided to be very innovative. So instead of the standard zoom in-zoom out, the camera kept revolving around the scene of action. It went round and round, again and again, and the net result (once again): an acute attack of dizziness. Meanwhile, the actual action involved a patriarch-type gentleman shouting at a younger woman while all the other members of the family stood around like statues (they were also in a neat circle formation). But the moment the old gent yelled, “Tum aurat ke naam pe kalank ho!” (You are a blot on the face of womanhood) and slapped the younger woman, I hastily switched channels. There’s only this much I can take.

I’m not a fan of the new fad of ‘mean TV’ — basically programming where everyone is nasty to each other for no particular reason. There is a school of thought which believes that cruelty makes for great TV. Maybe that’s true for some viewers — there’s no accounting for people’s taste, is there — but personally, I find it revolting.

However, it’s hard to take something like Dadagiri seriously. This is television’s self-proclaimed “meanest game show” and it airs on a youth channel (Bindass). But more than the youth, the programme seems to be earnestly courting viewers with an IQ of minus zero. This is the deal: some poor misguided young men and women come to the studio to be bullied by three weirdos. One of the bullies kicks open the door in the manner of a Gestapo agent and lumbers into the studio. He then orders one of the contestants to lift a pair of dumbbells ten times and when he can’t, gives him a roll of toilet paper instead. He keeps talking, but you can’t follow much because it’s mostly expletives and they’re all beeped out. The couple of lines you can make out go something like this: “Style maar raha hai beep? Kya samajhta hai apne aap ko beep?”

The Gestapo type gives way to a fellow with spectacles who conducts a GK quiz. Every time a participant answers a question, he has to simultaneously pick up an egg and break it over his own head. The quizmaster offers his own share of abuse. Eventually, some poor sod loses, has to eat food kept inside a WC as a punishment and declares to us morosely, “I feel like such a loser.” True. Only a loser would agree to participate in a show like this.

And finally. I saw Zara Nachke Dikha on Star One with Malaika Arora and Chunky Pandey as the judges and while there was nothing wrong with the show, I have a question: just how many more times can we see men, women and children dancing, listen to the judges offering their expert opinions and watch the inevitable tears and tension and wardrobe malfunctions and…

India - Voice of the unheard

It has, indeed, been a long-drawn battle: one that started more than a decade ago, where lawmakers had to be convinced about the very existence of domestic violence.

This year, for the first time India will be represented on the panel of the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) — a crucial committee that extensively defines gender discrimination and sets up an agenda to end it.

But it’s really the ‘face’ of this battle — lawyer-activist Indira Jaising, the first representative — that’s the cause for all the heightened optimism. For, Jaising’s own track record is a testimony to the fight for legal rights for those who have been rendered as have-nots by the Indian legal system. The homeless, as in the Olga Tellis case; the OBCs as in the Ashok Kumar Thakur case; the victims of communal and domestic violence; of the Bhopal gas tragedy; and of sexual harassment at the workplace, as in the Rupan Deol Bajaj case.

Jaising hopes her appointment will “compel the Indian legal system to extend non-discrimination of women, in all spheres, more seriously”. “After all, we cannot send a representative to a world body to sit in judgement over the rights of women globally and continue discrimination at home,” says the senior advocate, also the first woman to be appointed judge in the Bombay High Court in 1986.

Jaising raised the bar as one of the few women to study law in 1962, after studying law at both Mumbai and Bangalore.

“Till this day, however, discrimination in the profession exists, albeit subtly. There is a tendency among judges and male colleagues to trivialise the contribution of women or patronise them. If a woman raises her voice to be heard she is ‘aggressive’. If a man does so, he is presenting his case forcefully and is admired.”

While Jaising may fret that the Supreme Court still has no women judges — “even when there are, it’s a token gesture” — and rue that the apex court has never had a woman senior law officer in all these years, the “biases” have not really held her back.

Not when she fought the Mary Roy case in 1986 for Christian women’s equal inheritance rights, the Daniel Latifi case for Muslim women’s maintenance rights after divorce and the Geetha Hariharan’s case for Hindu women’s guardianship rights. These are cases that have gone a long way in the fight against gender-specific discrimination.

It is, however, the ground-breaking Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 she drafted and campaigned for, that has now become the highpoint of her contribution to law.

Not only has the Act broadened the definition of ‘violence’, but it has also restored the victim’s right to reside. For Jaising, the need arose from the realisation that prosecution does not end a matter; women want shelter.

The Domestic Violence Act, 2005, perhaps, is one of the most creatively drafted laws, says Kamala Sankaran, Reader at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. “It takes domestic violence beyond a criminal offence, and provides a civil remedy in terms of the victim’s right to reside,” says Sankaran.

But the 68-year-old Jaising now rues that this very right is in danger of being eroded by the courts.

“The SC has held that if the matrimonial home belongs to the mother-in-law, the daughter-in-law will have no right to reside, despite the definition making ownership irrelevant.”

With her appointment to the CEDAW, law experts like Sankaran hope that India will sign the optional protocol, where women can directly approach the committee with a complaint.

Much like this law then, Jaising is rather categorical in her critique of the Indian legal system.

“The Indian legal system is slow, period. We have known of women who have entered court rooms and killed a perceived rapist, such is the decay in the system. I am dealing with a case of the wife of a magistrate, who has got maintenance of Rs 55, and her case was adjourned for a year,” she says.

Having spent close to four decades in the legal profession, Jaising — who co-founded the Lawyers’ Collective in 1981 to address unmet legal needs — advocates speedy justice.

“The system responds only to those who have well-oiled lawyers and can leapfrog the system.” But then, with lawyers like Jaising, there’s hope yet.

Columnists - Barkha Dutt

A hardwired dispute

Almost a decade ago Kashmir-watchers were startled and disturbed by the newest peace balloon to be pushed afloat — this time by a furniture magnate based in America. Farooq Kathwari, a Kashmiri-American, and the influential and controversial head of the upscale Ethan Allen company, was proposing the carving up of Jammu and Kashmir to create a “sovereign entity” without “an international personality” from the state’s Muslim-majority areas.

Kathwari, whose own son died fighting in Afghanistan, could have been dismissed as a lone maverick, except that his think-tank, the Kashmir Study Group, had several worthy diplomats (both American and Indian) on board, and seemed to have the ear of the US administration as well. His idea was a regurgitation of the so-called Dixon plan. In 1950, Owen Dixon, a UN mediator, had asked for cutting open J&K along the Chenab river, along its religious and ethnic faultlines. Now with groups like the Panun Kashmir also demanding a separate homeland for ousted Pandits, trifurcation suddenly became the ominous new buzzword bandied about in the state. It took the then Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani, to formally rubbish the idea before the rumours got relegated to the dustbin of history.

But watching the tumultuous agitation within the state over the past month, one must stand face to face with a horrible new reality. An invisible line of hatred threatens to draw itself across the psychological map of Jammu and Kashmir, putting the two areas on different sides of the enemy line. And while the conflict is rooted more in historical divisions of region rather than religion, the coincidence of which side the state’s Hindus and Muslims stack up, is an inescapable truth.

India has always drawn comfort and confidence from the fact that the turmoil within the state of Jammu and Kashmir has never defined other national loyalties or agendas. Even the Kashmiri Muslims of the Valley concede that the separatist sentiment has been largely political or ethnic, finding little or no resonance with Indian Muslims outside the state. And while the forced exile of the Kashmiri Pandits is one of most brutal human rights violations of our time, Indians have never really seen the conflict in the Valley through the Hindu-Muslim prism. But even that threatened to change this past week. With the Amarnath yatra at its centre, the upsurge of anger in Jammu was in definite danger of tapping into a simmering pan-Hindu discontent. Ironically, the anger in either region began feeding off each other, drawing sharp boundary lines across geographies, religions and, sadly, even political parties.

So, how did a few hectares of land come to divide an entire people?

To read the divisions within J&K as a dispute about land is to misread the situation entirely. In both Jammu and in the Kashmir Valley, the land has come to be a symbol of political and psychological alienation. In both cases it is more about identity and neglect and the explosion of a once-subliminal but always abiding anger. And in both cases, not just did the governments (both Centre and state) misdiagnose the disease; they were too late with the medical treatment as well.

In the Valley, giving the former Governor control of the land amid reports that permanent structures would be erected on it, played into a larger suspicion about military presence and control. Remember that the earlier Governor was a General famous (or notorious, depending on your point of view) for his sledgehammer style. Peace-hawkers also mistook the tulip bloom and the tourist flood for tranquillity. And rabble-rousing statements about “changing demographics” didn’t help either.

In Jammu, the protests have been emblematic of a bitterness that comes with living in the constant shadow of Kashmir. The perception that the Valley’s temperature always sets the season for both domestic intervention and international focus has grown into a fierce resentment over the years. Despite several proposals of regional autonomy for Jammu and Ladakh, equitable attention across the state remains a myth. It is this deeper anger at being pushed to the margins of public energy that has drawn doctors and homemakers onto the streets of a once-quiet city.

In both cases, an inordinate length of time lapsed before the government reacted. It took ten days of violence in the Valley and 39 days of stormy protests in Jammu for New Delhi to sound the alarm.

Tragically, while we lament the communal polarisation underlining these demonstrations, the law itself is tainted by religious divisions. According to the state’s Shrine Bill, the Governor, ‘if Hindu’ shall manage the Amarnath and the Vaishno Devi shrines. And the Chief Minister, ‘if Muslim’ gets to or control the wakf land. In a state where Muslims and Hindus alike agree that the yatra is a proud symbol of an essentially syncretic tradition, why should political control be categorised by religion? In fact, why should there be any political control at all?

In a crippled little limp towards peace, an all-party delegation will be in Jammu by the time this column goes to print. Its task is clear — to make sure that the divisions don’t deepen and leave a wounded state split wide open. But after that, the politicians have to get out the way. An election season notwithstanding, Jammu and Kashmir’s parties have to agree to amend the current law. A multi-religious body of independent state residents should be entrusted with the job of managing the religious bodies on either side of the divide.

Governor NN Vohra inherited a problem he did not create. But as someone who has been a peace mediator in his earlier avatar, let him lead the way by surrendering his own seat on the Amarnath Shrine Board. This will make way for an entirely homegrown team of people from both Jammu and Kashmir to look after the yatra. That should be the first step towards ending the insidious and illicit relationship between politics and religion.

Otherwise, the siege within will prove to be much more fatal than the opponent across the border.

Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV

Entertainment - Deepika chosen India's hottest by Maxim

Bollywood's new entrant Deepika Padukone, whose second film Bachna Ae Haseeno is due for release Aug 15, is considered the hot favourite actress by Indian audiences across the globe. She tops the popular Maxim Hot 100 girls worldwide list.

The Maxim Hot list makes its debut in India and the Om Shanti Om star, Deepika, is winner of the first edition.

"To be honest, personally I never thought of myself as 'sexy' or 'hot' but if that's the call that people have taken, then I hope I live up to it. I am so excited about this," Deepika said in a press statement.

She joins the likes of previous Bollywood celebrity-winners like Bipasha Basu, Katrina Kaif and Kareena Kapoor.

"Deepika was our choice as the winner because apart from her huge fan following with the new generation of Indians, she also has the potential to be an international face. This calls for a huge party," said Anup Kutty, editor of Maxim-India.

Deepika will be felicitated August end in Mumbai

Columnists - Ravi Shastri

Another horror show with bat

India would be disappointed by their effort on the first day of the final Test. An important toss was won, the start was fabulous but then the story of this tour repeated itself.

The Fab Four have one more innings to redeem themselves but it seems the Sri Lankan spinners have tied them in knots.

Only, it was not the spinners but a rookie pacer who added to their misery. Dammika Prasad isn’t genuinely quick but he moves the ball off the seam.

He claimed Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar with deliveries that moved in sharply, both in the air and off the wicket.

That he also accounted for Virender Sehwag, clearly tells his potential. Ajantha Mendis added to another of his now trademark five-wicket hauls. His has been the most impressive debut for a while now. He has been the reason India have consistently struggled to put 250 runs. The fact that he could spin the ball both ways with disguise even on a first day track makes him special.

Then there was Muttiah Muralitharan, who at the moment, is having a complete hold on Sourav Ganguly. Murali is forcing the left-hander to chase his prodigiously turning off-spin and Ganguly is like a moth drawn to his doom.

One wouldn’t be exaggerating in stating that the Indian middle order greats are probably low on confidence. I detect an extravagant movement of the front foot across the off-stump by Dravid and Tendulkar, which is making them prime candidates for lbws. This usually happens when you are not sure of your off-stump or haven't spent too much time at the crease.

It isn’t the first time they have been dismissed so in this series. But you dismiss them at your own peril.

There is too much class in these men to doubt them.

The last wicket pair of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma showed what common sense could still achieve and their last wicket stand of 51 runs could turn out to be priceless. They also inflicted a dent in the Lankan innings by close, which should allow the tourists to approach the second day with more hope than trepidation.

Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene hold the key to their response. The fate of this series lies squarely in the success and failure of these two men tomorrow.

Health - WB girl has 'world's 1st' VHL liver transplant

Payel Bhattacharya is doing well after an 18-hour surgery at Sir Gangaram Hospital, Delhi

KOLKATA: Almost a year of agony hopefully ended for Kolkata girl Payel Bhattacharya when she became, doctors claimed, the first von Hippel-Landau (VHL) case in the world to undergo a liver transplant.

After an 18-hour marathon surgery at Sir Gangaram Hospital, Delhi, on Thursday, Payel is doing well, the doctors said.

Payel’s story is one of indomitable courage in the face of stern adversity. VHL is a rare genetic disorder. Shibajyoti Ghosh, associate professor of surgery at RG Kar Hospital, Kolkata, said only 3-4 cases per million are detected worldwide. Payel’s is said to be the only recorded case in India.

The disease is characterised by the formation of tumours in blood-rich organs of the body such as brain, liver and pancreas. As such, a fine needle biopsy is not possible since the tumours could burst.

After undergoing a major brain surgery in December 2006, Payel was diagnosed with several tumours in her liver last year. Doctors advised immediate liver transplant last August.

However, there was a problem. The transplant cost a whopping Rs30 lakh. For the last one year, Payel ran from pillar to post to raise funds but never lost hope. She had to rush to Delhi earlier this year after the tumours began to bleed and since Kolkata has no history of liver transplants.

Help came only from strangers, including a group of hospital staff in a Bengal village – poor but generous, the group sent her a money order of Rs150.

On Wednesday night, Payel needed an emergency transplant. Her brother could not be the donor since he too is in danger of becoming a VHL patient. Hope was almost lost till Kolkata boy Kingshuk Bhattacharya came forward.

AS Soin, head of liver transplant at Sir Gangaram Hospital, who conducted the surgery, told DNA over phone: “It was like any other liver transplant, but the challenge was removing the rather large tumours without bursting them.

“Payel’s is a rare case because only 5% of VHL cases have liver tumours.”

Business - Bharti Wal-mart to start operations in 2009

CHANDIGARH: Bharti Wal-Mart, a joint venture between Bharti Enterprises and US-based retail giant Wal-Mart stores, on Friday said it will commence its wholesale cash and carry operations by early next year from the northern region.

"We will be starting our operations from from the first quarter calendar 2009," Bharti Wal-Mart CEO and Managing Director Raj Jain said.

Bharti Wal-Mart has set up a distribution centre of one-lakh square feet in Banaur near Chandigarh for facilitating its operations.

At a conference organised by industry body CII, Bharti Wal-Mart CEO and Managing Director Raj Jain said over 80 per cent of the goods including perishable items would be sourced locally to cater to small business enterprises.

Jain said, under the venture, efforts would also be made to facilitate credit to small stores from banks to run their operations.

Wholesale cash-and-carry operations would provide small retailers and business owners a wide range of products at the wholesale prices. This would help them to enhance their businesses and profitability, Bharti-Walmart said.

It would also serve kirana stores, fruit and vegetable resellers, restaurants and other business owners, the company added.

World - Paying the price for neglect

Cyclone Sidr, Cyclone Nargis, the Indian Ocean tsunami. Natural disasters are striking with greater frequency today than at any time in recent memory. Yet disasters are still not recognised for what they are: a growing threat to development and the painstakingly-built lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Unless policy leaders see how the rising incidence of natural calamities hurt the growth of their economies, actions will continue to fall short, leaving nations and peoples progressively vulnerable to devastation and loss.

Increasingly, disasters stem from man-made causes. It has been weather and water-related events such as floods and windstorms that have risen sharply, rather than geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanoes. And, it’s ever more evident that the severity of these floods and storms and their damages are linked to human actions such as deforestation, soil degradation, and the emission of pollutants that affect the climate.

If in the past, policymakers thought that safeguarding the environment is a drag on growth, the story now is clearly the opposite. Neglecting the environment and suffering the damages from natural disasters and other consequences is emerging as the central threat to long-term growth.

The data tell a startling story. Between 1980 and 1984, some 800 natural disasters were reported worldwide, affecting the lives and livelihoods of some 400 million people. Twenty years later, this number had soared to over 2,300, affecting almost four times as many — or some 1.4 billion people. The losses incurred after each disaster have shot up even more. In the past decade alone, the direct losses from natural disasters may have reached a trillion dollars, 20 times higher than five decades earlier. Clearly, disaster-prone countries are losing a growing share of their GDP to natural catastrophes.

India, like many other densely populated developing countries, is especially vulnerable. The Bay of Bengal’s warm shallow seas and still air provide ideal conditions for cyclones to rise. The young mountains of the northern Himalayas and the plains that border them are prone to devastating earthquakes. Floods used to occur only in the Indo-Gangetic belt, but over the past 50 years they have spread further afield to Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu and even to regions of Rajasthan. The Indian Ocean tsunami left more than 10,000 people dead and about 5,600 missing in India alone, with damages estimated at 0.18 per cent of GDP.

By one estimate, one third of India’s 603 districts are hazard prone, placing about half the country’s economy potentially at risk. In all this, the poor, who are most likely to live and work in harm’s way without adequate protection, are often the hardest to be hit.

A top priority is to prevent natural disasters by dealing with their man-made causes. Wetlands, for example, have always provided a buffer against storm surges. But over the past century, half the world’s wetlands have been lost due to their draining for agriculture, the channelising of rivers, and the turning of floodplains into aquaculture zones. Forests, too, are a key source of protection against flash floods and landslides. But they are also shrinking because of their conversion into agricultural land, expansion of human habitat, and illegal logging.

Fortunately, appropriate and timely actions can make a difference. When typhoon Wukong ravaged Vietnam’s coast in 2000, communities that had replanted lost mangroves remained relatively unharmed whereas neighbouring provinces suffered significant loss of life and property. Mangrove forests provided similar protection from the ravages of a cyclone in Andhra Pradesh, India, in 2002. Clearly, the restoration of degraded environments in these vulnerable areas made the critical difference.

Equally important is being prepared for disaster. “Be Prepared” has long been the Boy Scouts’ motto — and Bangladesh provides a striking example of how true this is. In the early 1970s, a cyclone killed more than 300,000 people. But after the country put in an extensive early warning system and prepared communities for a possible disaster, a recent cyclone of similar intensity did far less damage, taking over 3,000 — not 300,000 — lives.

But, while the payoffs to prevention are high — by some estimates providing a return of $4 to $12 to a dollar invested — our actions fall short as they don’t carry the same visibility and political appeal as immediate post-disaster reconstruction.

India has a good record in the area of recovery and reconstruction. That same capability now needs to be extended to prevention and preparedness, including investment in early warning systems, better land-use planning, the adoption of appropriate building standards, and the development of risk transfer mechanisms, including insurance schemes.

Finally, better links need to be established between planning and budgeting, and coordination improved between government agencies themselves as well as with civil society and communities. Local government units need to be empowered with information, capacity and resources, and calamity funds increased both at national and local levels.

In the end, preventive measures and disaster preparedness will not end up diverting resources from efforts to generate economic growth. Instead, they will reduce the risk of natural disasters — without which sustained growth will remain an elusive goal.

(Vinod Thomas is the Director-General of the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group.)